This model is scheduled to be withdrawn from service on July 31

The emotive farewell of the Spanish Navy to the AB-212 helicopter in Operation Atalanta

The Aircraft Flotilla of the Spanish Navy is experiencing a moment of change, with the farewell of some of its old helicopters.

Farewell to the veteran Hughes 500 Cayuses of the 6th Squadron of the Spanish Navy
The beginnings of the Airbus H135 P3H Nival helicopters of the Spanish Navy

In June 2022, the Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King of the 5th Squadron, the largest helicopters in the Navy, said goodbye to each other after 56 years of service, being replaced by the SH-60F Sea Hawk. In June 2023 came the farewell of the Hughes 500 Cayuse after 50 years of service and the dissolution, in September, of its unit, the 6th Squadron.

An Agusta-Bell AB-212 "Gato" (the HA.18-14/01-318) of the 3rd Squadron aboard the aircraft carrier "Juan Carlos I" L-61 during a visit to Vigo on June 3, 2017 (Photo: Elentir).

July 31, 2024 will see the farewell of the Agusta-Bell AB-212, nicknamed "Gatos" (Cats) in the Navy for its radio callsign, and the subsequent dissolution of the 3rd Squadron, whose hangar will be occupied by the new 12th Squadron, equipped with Airbus Helicopters H135 P3H Nival. The 3rd Squadron was formed in 1965, initially being equipped with Agusta-Bell AB-204. The seven AB-212s arrived in Spain between 1974 and 1980.

The AB-212 "Gato" HA.18-14 / 01-318 flying over the Pontevedra Estuary on June 2, 2017 (Photo: Elentir).

The AB-212 of the 3rd Squadron are usually operated on the "Santa María" class frigates (the F-80), and also on the "Juan Carlos I" L-61 aircraft carrier, the amphibious assault ships (BAA) of the "Galicia" class and the maritime action ships (BAM) of the "Meteoro" class. The AB-212s have accompanied the F-80 frigates in Operation Atalanta for 9 years and 17 deployments in the Indian Ocean, being the wings of these naval units in the fight against piracy in the vicinity of the Horn of Africa.

Detail of the cockpit of the AB-212 HA.18-14 / 01-318, with the Aircraft Flotilla insignia on the door (Photo: Elentir).

This week, the F-82 "Victoria" frigate has returned to the Rota Naval Base after more than four months deployed in Operation Atalanta. Before its arrival in Spain and its passage through the Gulf of Aden, on February 14 the crew of this frigate said a solemn farewell to the AB-212 and the 3rd Squadron, forming up on the ship to to greet the last flight of the "Gato" and its unit in this operation, a few months after its withdrawal from service. The Spanish Navy has published today the video of this emotional farewell (the video is in Spanish, you can activate the automatic English subtitles in the bottom bar of the player):

The 3rd Squadron is the second oldest in the Aircraft Flotilla (the 4th Squadron, the oldest, was founded a year earlier, in 1964). Throughout this time it has carried out transport, medical evacuation, close support, vertical replenishment (VERTREP) and search and rescue missions. In 2013, a deep modernization process of its AB-212 began, which included a FLIR scope, a loading crane, a scanning radar, auxiliary fuel tanks and other improvements.

One of the AB-212 of the BHELMA VI of the Army, based in the Canary Islands (Photo: Ejército de Tierra).

According to analyst Juanjo Fernández, the AB-212 of the Navy will continue to serve Spain in the Maneuver Helicopter Battalion VI (BHELMA VI) of the Army, based in Los Rodeos (Tenerife), which still operates three AB-212 helicopters but which have not been modernized. The three AB- 212 of the Army should have already been retired in 2017. As Juanjo points out, the BHELMA VI will welcome the arrival of modernized AB-212s like those still operated by the Navy.

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