MAZAR-e SHARIF, Afghanistan --- The Antonov AN-124 cargo plane floats down through the night sky to the runway at the edge of Camp Marmal, and touches down a short time later. It's 06:00 a.m. in Afghanistan, but some officers of the squadron deployed to Mazar-e Sharif and members of the press await in winter temperatures to witness the roll-out of the cargo the huge plane has brought from Leipzig.
But the important thing is not the transport, but its cargo, because inside its cavernous fuselage are the first two Tiger support helicopters (UH). The other two Tigers will follow in about a week. The folding nose section opens, the aircraft comes down and the nose ramp fold out. The first Tiger can now be seen. Only the sound of the hydraulic system to lower the bow ramp can be heard. All those present, soldiers and journalists, are looking inside the Antonov’s huge belly, amazed at its size. In the gloom of the rear cargo compartment, the second helicopter can be seen.
Soldiers of the air squadron detachment at Mazar-e Sharif (MeS EC) begin, along with the Russian crew members, to unload the valuable cargo. There are auxiliary ramps to be pulled out, and laid in front of the main bow ramp of the Antonov, while inside the aircraft soldiers are installing the cargo winches and, after a few minutes, the first helicopter begins to move. In slow motion appears the tail rotor, which stands out against the dawn light. Even without its claws, the first Tiger is impressive when, a short time later, it settles on Afghan soil.
It is towed into a tent, while the second Tiger is also unloaded and towed into a hangar, where the two aircraft are checked by technical staff. In the following days, the components that had to be removed for transport have been refitted, and the crews will complete the first check flight.
Two other Tiger will follow
It is planned that two other UH Tiger will arrive in Mazar-e-Sharif on 21 December 2012, although this could change because of the weather or other unforeseen factors.
During the first quarter of next year, once full deployment is completed, four UH Tiger helicopters will be available.
Colonel Ulrich Werner Ott, commander of the Mazar-e Sharif detachment and, in Germany, of combat helicopter regiment, 36, is pleased with the outsome: "The soldiers of my regiment have prepared themselves for well over a year to manage whatever they may encounter. They did a very good job and want to see the Tiger fly in Afghanistan."
Major Palin, operations officer of the American Helicopter detachment "Task Force Ready", which among others has deployed Apache attack helicopters to Mazar-e Sharif, is pleased to see an increase in air assets. "Oh boy, it looks great and I want to see this helicopter fly," he says.