The fire at the Nandigram Marketin Burrabazar may not have blazed for nearly a week and many more lives could have been saved at the AMRI Hospital in Dhakuria had the Mi-17 V5 choppers - among the latest aircraft to be acquired by the Indian Air Force - been inducted at Barrackpore air force base earlier. The choppers, the first of which was ceremoniously inducted by Air Marshal S Varthaman, AOC-in-C, Eastern Air Command, on Friday, is the first helicopter in the country to be fitted-with a Bambi bucket fire fighting system.
""These could have been very effective in controlling the blaze that occurred in Kolkata recently. A large bucket can be suspended below the aircraft. This can pick up nearly three and a half tonnes of water and drop them on a fire. These helicopters can be used for civilian purposes. They are fitted with loud hailers and powerful search lights that cane be used for effective crowd control during disaster relief operations,"" said Air Marshal Varthaman.
While an open blaze can be completely douzed with the large amounts of water that the choppers can carry, in fires like the one at AMRI, the water can help to cool down the building substantially and aid in normal firefighting.
The choppers of the newly set-up 157 Helicopter Unit can also be used to ferry personnel of central police forces for anti-Maoist operations. With their added endurance and special features, they will also come in handy during flood relief operations. In the past, choppers had to be brought in from elsewhere for flood-relief operations in the state.
According to Varthaman, 30 of the helicopters will be inducted at three air bases under the Eastern Air Command. Barrackpore will get its full squadron of helicopters by the end of this year. ""The IAF has ordered 80 of these helicopters from Russia. Though of Russian-make, the avionics inside are western. There is a weather radar on board that allows the aircraft to operate in all weather conditions in any terrain. These choppers are also the first in the country to be equipped with Generation III Night Vision Goggles. This allows them to fly in pitch dark conditions,"" the AOC-in-C said.
Its superior equipment and weapons will also make the helicopters very effective for Special Forces operations in the North East. Their greater maneuverability and ability to fly at high altitudes will allow them to operate in Sikkim and other mountainous regions.