The IAF modified a batch of Russian Mi-17 V5 helicopters to meet the requirement of transporting VVIPs

About five years after the IAF modified a batch of Russian Mi-17 V5 helicopters to meet the requirement of transporting VVIPs, the fleet of five choppers is now being refurbished and upgraded.

The project involves an internal facelift of the modified cabin as well as replacement of accessories, fixtures, electrical items, panels and flooring and inspecting the avionics and other systems, IAF sources said.

The project is being executed by No.3 Base Repair Depot (BRD), which is responsible for the maintenance and overhaul of Russian origin helicopters.

According to IAF officers, the work of refurbishing the fleet is expected to begin in December and only one helicopter will be handled at a time. The entire work will take about six or seven months to complete.

After the Mi-8 helicopters that were earlier used for VVIP transport exhausted their service lifespan and plans to replace them with 12 Italian Agusta Westland helicopters ran aground due to allegations of kickbacks, the IAF opted for modifying a few newly acquired M-17 V5s for the role.

The modification included cabin refurbishment, furnishing, air-conditioning and soundproofing of the passenger cabin, fitting executive passenger seats as in commercial airliners, making provision for baggage compartments, a galley and a small toilet besides retrofitting the requisite security, communications and safety equipment. Some of the items were sourced from overseas.

These helicopters form part of the Air Headquarters Communication Squadron, also known as Pegasus, based at Palam Air Force Station in Delhi. It operates a mix of fixed-wing and rotor wing aircraft for VVIP transport which include the IAF’s latest induction, the Boeing 777-300ER that flies with the call sigh Air India One when ferrying VVIPs such as the president, vice-president and prime minister. A sister aircraft is expected to join the fleet soon.

Other aircraft in the 74-year-old squadron are three customized Boeing 737 business jets and four Embraer executive jets. Unlike the low-visibility grey drab worn by other IAF aircraft, those in service with the Communication Squadron wear a distinct white livery and are equipped with self-protection suites that include radar warning receivers, missile-approach warning and counter-measure systems such as chaff and flares.