The Esquadra 751 'Pumas' has deployed three of its AgustaWestland AW101

This is the Merlin, the large Portuguese military helicopter that transported the Pope to Fatima

This week World Youth Day 2023 is celebrated in the sanctuary of Fátima, in Portugal, with the assistance of Pope Francis.

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Francisco arrived on August 2 at 9:44 a.m. local time (10:44 a.m. CET) at the Figo Maduro Air Base in Lisbon. On his trip to Fatima, he was transported by helicopter by the Portuguese Air Force, specifically in an AW101, known in the United Kingdom and in Portugal by the nickname "Merlin". This excellent helicopter, manufactured by the Italian-British company AgustaWestland, is used by the Portuguese Air Force for transport and SAR (search and rescue) tasks. Since 2006, Portugal has had 12 Merlin helicopters, part of Esquadra 751 "Pumas", a unit of Operational Group 61 that is based at the Montijo Air Base, south of Lisbon.

Esquadra 751 always has an AW101 on alert in Montijo, in case a notice is received to carry out a rescue operation. In addition, the squadron usually has two AW101s deployed at the Porto Santo Air Base (Madeira) and another two at the Lajes Air Base (Azores). Between 1978 and 2006, Esquadra 751 operated Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma helicopters.

You can see below a selection of photos published by the Portuguese Air Force about the boarding of the Pope in Lisbon in one of the Merlins of Esquadra 751.

The Pope's arrival at Lisbon International Airport on August 2. He arrived in Portugual on an ITA Airways Airbus A320neo, the EI-INB "Francesco Moser", named after a famous Italian cyclist .

Due to his state of health, the Pope is in a wheelchair, so he had to get off the Airbus A320neo using an elevator. Here we see him speaking with the President of the Portuguese Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.

For his trip to Fatima, the Pope was transferred to the Transit Aerodrome No. 1 of the Portuguese Air Force , the military terminal of the Lisbon International Airport. Here we see the arrival of the papal entourage at that terminal on Sunday, August 5.

Here we see the Pope arriving in a Toyota Corolla Cross with the license plate SCV1 from Vatican City. On the left we see the Merlin helicopter.

There were three Merlin helicopters at Transit Airfield No. 1 when the Pope arrived. The papal entourage traveled to Fatima in three of them: 19607, 19608 and 19610.

The three Merlins deployed in Lisbon for the papal trip to Lisbon. We see on the left the 19607 with the Vatican Flag (this helicopter has been the one that has transported the Pope), in the center is the 19608 and on the right we see the 19610.

The Merlin is a fairly large helicopter. Its fuselage measures 19.53 meters long. It has a height of 6.62 meters, and its main rotor has a diameter of 18.59 meters. It has an empty weight of 10,500 kilograms. It carries between 3 and 4 crew members and can transport up to 30 seated soldiers, 16 stretchers or 3,050 kilos of cargo. Here we see the 19608.

For the transport of the Pope and his entourage, the Portuguese AW101s have been equipped with seats in a VIP configuration, more comfortable than the rather spartan seats in which soldiers usually sit. Here we see the interior of the helicopter from its rear ramp.

Esquadra 751 "Pumas" has placed a commemorative emblem of this trip on these three helicopters, with a red pate cross (a Templar symbol from which the current Cross of Christ was derived, symbol of Portugal since the Middle Ages and that Portuguese military aircraft wear today) and the keys of Saint Peter (a distinctive symbol of the papacy).

The small Vatican Flag that was carried on AW101 19607, the helicopter that transported the Pope to Fatima.

The Pope greeting the airmen of Squadra 751 "Pumas" upon their arrival at the Lisbon Transit Airfield No. 1. The aviators wear the identification patch of their unit on their arms, with a very nice motto that summarizes the reason for their rescue missions: "So that others live".

The Pope already inside the AW101 19607 that has transported him to Lisbon. The great advantage of the rear ramp of these helicopters has facilitated the access of the Pope, since he had to go in a wheelchair.

Another image of the AW101 19607 helicopter that has transported the Pope. In the background, in the building, you can see the coat of arms of the Trânsito Aerodrome nº1, which includes the Belém Tower in Lisbon and bears the motto "Ad maximum cum minimo" (Do the most with the least).

The AW101 19607 taxiing in front of the terminal building of the Transit Aerodrome No. 1. Above the building we see two agents of the Portuguese security forces deployed for this occasion. Next to one of them there is a precision rifle with a bipod.

The three AW101s of the papal entourage taxiing through the platform of the Aerodrome de Trânsito nº1. In the background you can see gate 147 of the civil terminal of the Lisbon International Airport.

The moment of takeoff of the three AW101s. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Portuguese Air Force for the extensive graphic material published for this visit, it is an example of good management by its communication team.

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