Zimbabwe gets new VIP jet, Russian helicopters

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Zimbabwe’s government is taking delivery of dozens of new aircraft, including a new VIP jet and up to 50 Russian helicopters.

Eighteen Ansat helicopters handed over at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport on 18 May during a ceremony presided over by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, which was also attended by Rostec Director General Sergey Chemezov.

Most were in emergency medical services colours, but four were wearing police colour schemes. The government said the helicopters would be used as air ambulances, for search and rescue, and air policing. They will also be used for VIP transport and Air Force use.

Although the initial batch of helicopters delivered amounts to 18, Zimbabwe will have 32 by the end of the year. They are being acquired under a public-private partnership arrangement at a cost of $2.5 million each, local media reported.

During the handover ceremony, Mnangagwa said that “Zimbabwe is under sanctions, we are constrained unlike our neighbours and the rest of the world to acquire the tools we need to mitigate the impact of cyclones and disasters in our region. When I discussed with my brother President Putin, he recommended that their company, Russian State Corporation, (Rostec) produce the type of equipment we want and we have ordered these 18,” he said.

Late last year, Finance and Economic Develop minister Professor Mthuli Ncube said the Zimbabwean Police would receive new equipment, including four helicopters, to help tackle crime.

Rostec in September 2022 revealed for the first time that it was supplying Ansat helicopters to Zimbabwe. “Our vehicles have proved effective in the vast expanses of Africa. Many countries in the region highly appreciate the reliability and adequate performance of the Russian aircraft. I am sure that cooperation between the Russian Helicopters holding and the Republic of Zimbabwe will be also fruitful and the delivery of Ansat medical helicopter which allows patients to be promptly evacuated will be an important step in the development of the national medical services,” Chemezov said at the time while on a trip to Zimbabwe.

“The delivered Ansat is the first step in the establishment of medical aviation in Zimbabwe. About 50 medical helicopters will be required for the country. And it is very likely that this will be a large-scale cooperation project between Russia and Zimbabwe,” Rostec said in September.

The Ansat, manufactured by Russian Helicopters subsidiary Kazan, made its maiden flight in 1999. It features a fly-by-wire system and is powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW-207K engines. It is in Russian Air Force service as a trainer but has also been sold to Mexico, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, China, and Eritrea. Internal payload is 1 000 kg (a cargo hook can carry 1 300 kg) or one pilot and ten passengers. The fuselage has a pair of doors in pilot’s cab, and a pair of upwards and downwards opening side doors in transport compartment.

Zimbabwe, meanwhile, has received a new presidential jet, a Dassault Falcon 7X (registration P4-SIM). The Zimbabwean reported that the aircraft was delivered in March this year, and then used for presidential trips starting in April. The aircraft was acquired to save money on charters.

In April 2021, the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) received an Airbus H215 helicopter to replace an aged Cougar helicopter used to fly Mnangagwa around the country. The AFZ has lost several aircraft to crashes and obsolescence in the past quarter century. Under economic sanctions and a US and European Union enforced arms embargo, Zimbabwe has struggled to maintain its fleet of old Western-made military aircraft.