Irish headquartered Starlite Aviation recently added a BK-117 helicopter to its fleet, which is being used on contract with the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) in Mali. The operator took delivery of the aircraft in Germany and the Starlite crew of chief pilot Monster Wilkins, Steve Lodge and Harry Rice were given the task of transporting it to Mali.
Wilkins reports on the ferry flight: “The job was to fetch the company's BK-117 helicopter in Baden-Baden, Germany, and ferry it to Bamako in Mali for use as a HEMS aircraft for the EUTM. This was not exactly a hardship!”
The aircraft had to be de-registered from Germany and put onto a South African registration. Upon completion, and once the insurance was in place, Wilkins flew a few circuits at Baden-Baden to familiarise himself with the aircraft.
He says of the 117: “This is a spirited twin-engine machine with plenty of performance. Her only downfall is short range, so the length of ferry flight legs had to be worked out rather carefully.”
After two weeks in Baden-Baden the crew was ready. Lodge received his type rating and they set off. Lyon, France provided the first refuelling stop, before another stop at Beziers and then a crossing into Spain's Costa Brava. From Valencia and Almeria the team then headed to Morocco and on to Casablanca. The route also took in Senegal before making it to Mali, with 3,000 nautical miles travelled in five days and 29 hours of flying. Upon arrival, the crew joined up with the Starlite team working on contract for EUTM in Mali. Two more pilots received type ratings on the BK-117 and route checks were carried out, along with a check ride for a co-pilot on the Puma.
Starlite deploys two HEMS helicopters for EUTM in Mali, and Wilkins describes a recent flight which occurred during the crew's time in Bamako: “Our Puma 330J was tasked to pick up a motorcyclist who had fallen off his bike with no helmet and was in a poor way. We picked him up at a level field 2 hospital on the banks of the Niger River at Koulikoro and successfully transported him in the specially equipped HEMS aircraft.
“It was a fitting end to our journey to deliver an additional HEMS helicopter to Mali.”