Nov. 20 (UPI) -- Defense contracting company Leonardo announced Monday that the company has delivered the first of 16 AW101, medium-lift, all-weather search and rescue helicopters to the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security.
Leonardo said the aircraft departed it's Yeovil facility on Friday for Sola Air Base in southern Norway. The AW101 is set to undergo further operational testing and evaluation before entering active service with the Royal Norwegian Air Force in 2018.
The 15 additional aircraft will continue to be delivered to the Norwegian government through 2020, the company said.
"The delivery of the first aircraft marks a major milestone for the Norwegian All-Weather Search and Rescue Helicopter program and everyone is delighted to see the first AW101 in Norway," Bjørn Ivar Aarseth, NAWSARH project manager in Norway's Ministry of Justice & Public Security, said in a press release. "I would like to congratulate my team in the Ministry of Justice, key contributors within the Norwegian Defense sector, Leonardo and all other industry partners on achieving this milestone."
The AW101 is used both for military civilian operations by several foreign militaries, ranging from Italy to England. AW101 variants have been deployed to support U.S. and coalition forces during both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, where the aircraft's unique design to conduct medical evacuations and search and rescue missions has specifically been useful. Leonardo says the aircraft also has a full ice protection system for flight operations in known icing conditions.
"The AW101 we have developed for Norway is undoubtedly the world's most capable SAR helicopter and it is with great pride that we have delivered the first aircraft that will serve the people of Norway for decades to come," said Jon Clark, Leonardo's program manager.
"This contract is very much a long term partnership, consisting of industry, the Ministry of Justice & Public Security, the Royal Norwegian Air Force and the Norwegian Defense Materiel Agency, which has a common goal to deliver a SAR service second to none -- we are all looking forward to the aircraft entering operational service in 2018."
For search and rescue missions, the aircraft has a multi-panel Osprey AESA surveillance radar system along with two rescue hoists, searchlights and advanced communications equipment. For Norway's defense forces, Leonardo will be providing performance services and logistic support to deliver "approximately 90,000 flying hours" for the 16 AW-101 helicopters over a span of 15 years.