55th Combat Group, Air Command of the Cyprus National Guard at Andreas Papandreaou Air Force Base, Cyprus
The 55th Combat Group is located at Andreas Papandreaou Air Force Base, approximately 10 km distance from the city of Paphos, on the North side of Paphos International Airport. The 55th Combat Group was formed in September 1995 as an independent, operational Group, under the Cyprus Air Force Command with a typical NATO organization. It initially included the 420 Air Defence Squadron and 4 independent Companies. In 2001 the 450 Attack Helicopter Squadron was formed and set under the Group. In 2010 the 4 independent Companies merged to form the Combat Support Squadron. In that same year the 460 Search and Rescue (SAR) Squadron was also formed and set under the Group’s command. The latest addition in the Group is the 470 UAV Squadron which was formed in May 2019.
Present, Organization and Mission:
The 55th Combat Group contains 5 squadrons: The Combat Service Support Squadron, 457 Air Defence Squadron, 450 Attack Helicopter Squadron, 460 Search and Rescue (SAR) Squadron and 470 UAV Squadron. The staff of the Group is divided in two directorates, the operations and the support directorate and there is also a personnel department. The mission of the 55th Combat Group is to maintain a high level of readiness and effectiveness, in order to conduct succesful air operations whenever needed in accordance with current plans. It is achieved by the appropriate organization, training of personnel and maintenance of the available means and systems. At this moment the 55th Combat Group consists of 450 personnel in total.
The Combat Service Support Squadron is reponsible for combat service, real life support, medical support and also infrastructure maintenance and transportation.
The mission of the 457 Air Defence Squadron is to provide Air and Ground Defence to the Group in the Air Base. The squadron is equipped with the Othello Shorad Air Defence System, which consists of the Skyguard Radar, the Aspide 2000 missile launcher, the Oerlikon 30mm cannon and the Atlas and Mistral MAN Portable air defence systems. The Squadron is also equipped with all the necessary means to provide protection against ground attacks. This includes a unit with guard dogs in addition to the main force that is based on man power.
In 2001 the 450 Attack Helicopter Squadron was founded. The mission of this squadron is to provide Close Air Support to National Guard ground units and to execute antitank missions. For this the squadron is from the beginning armed with Mi-35P Helicopters followed by SA-342L Gazelle helicopters in 2010, which were transferred from 449 Helicopter Squadron then based at Nicosia following its closure. The Gazelle is a French helicopter which is flown by a crew of two and may carry four antitank missiles which are capable of penetrating 1.300 mm thick steel from a range up to four kilometres. The Mi-35P is a Russian Helicopter and it may carry a combination of weapons including Anti-tank missiles, anti-armour unguided rockets, a 30mm calibre fixed position cannon and 23mm calibre cannons. At this moment the squadron has four SA-342L Gazelles and eleven Mi-35P in it’s inventory, unfortenately one Mi-35 crashed in 2006. The Mi-35P is the export version of the well known Mi-24 Hind helicopter. The P stands for the Russian word ‘Pushka’ which translates to cannon. The SA-342 Gazelle Helicopters belongs to the platoon nicknamed ‘Scorpion’ and the Mi-35 Helicopters belong to the platoon nicknamed ‘Panther’.
In 2010 the 460 Search and Rescue (SAR) squadron was founded. The primary mission of this squadron is to provide Search and Rescue (SAR) and Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) along with helicopter basic training. The squadron is also involved in Tactical Transport, Special Operations, aerial photography and Fire-Fighting missions. This squadron is equipped with the Italian made multi-role Augusta Westland AW-139 helicopters for SAR, MEDEVAC, tactical tranport, specials operations and fire-fighting missions and the Bell 206 Long Ranger utility helicopters for the basic training and Aerial Photography. At this moment the squadron has three AW-139s, which were delivered between december 2010 and july 2011, and two Bell 206 helicopters in it’s inventory. The crew of the AW-139 consists of 2 pilots, 1 hoist operator and 1 rescuer.
In 2019 the 470 UAV Squadron was founded. The mission of this squadron is to provide a high level of readiness and effectiveness, in order to conduct intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, in day and night, whenever needed. For this the squadron is equipped with four Aerostar air vehicles and two Ground Controlled Systems. Two out of four Aerostar air vehicles are also equipped with camera for patrolling and aerial photography. External pilots are being trained in Israël and are responsible for take-off and landings. The weight of a UAV is 230 kg, it has a total flying time of 12 till 14 hours depending on the altitude, operates at a range of 250 km. and can carry a maximum payload of 50kg.
The maintenance on all the helicopters is being done at Andreas Papandreaou Air Force Base itself except for the bigger maintenance. If helicopters need bigger maintenance then they will go to the manufacturers. About 80% of the entire helicopter fleet is operational at all times.
There is a political discussion going on about the continuous renewal of the helicopter fleet. The rumours about the Mi-35s being sold to the Serbian Air Force could not be confirmed or denied. The Mi-35s were received in 2001 so they are now twenty years in active service. Also nothing could be said about new helicopters. Time will tell.
Still in storage in a shelter at Andreas Papandreaou Air Force Base are one PC-9 and one BN-2 Islander. Both are still in a very good condition and it is unknown what the future will bring them. Both aircraft belonged to 450 Squadron when it was established in 2001 and transferred in 2010 to the newly established 460 Squadron. The PC-9 made it’s last flight in 2015 and the BN-2 Islander made it’s last flight in 2017.
Training and Cooperation:
New pilots go to Tatoi, Greece for the basic helicopter training. All helicopter pilots graduate from the Hellenic Air Force Academy in Tatoi, Greece. Both basic and operational training is conducted in both Squadrons. The initial helicopter training is carried out in Bell-206 and Gazelle helicopters and then selected pilots continue their training in AW-139 or Mi-35P.
The role of Andreas Papandreaou Air Force Base has been upgraded in recent years with increased requirements for participation in bilateral and multinational exercises in civil military cooperation as well as in bilateral Search and Rescue exercises. The 55th Combat Group is constantly and actively participating in small and large-scale exercises with other counties such as Greece, Israël, USA, France, Italy, Egypt, Germany and UK. Moreover it participates in Search and Rescue exercises within the exclusive economic zone demonstrating the readiness of the country for undertaking SAR missions.
Base Commander – Lt. Colonel Michalis Michael:
Lt. Colonel Michalis Michael was born in Paphos town on 6th January 1970. In 1987 he joined the Hellenic Air Force Academy. He graduated in 1991 and was awarded with the rank of Second Lieutenant Air-Force Pilot. He also graduated the Hellenic Air Force Staff College as well as several Air-Force specialization schools. After these graduations he stayed for another year in Greece and returned to Cyprus in 1992.
He served as commander of the 450 Attack Helicopter Squadron from 2009 till 2012. After that he was Director of Operations & Training and as Deputy Commander of the 55th Combat Group between 2012 and 2021. Since 3 March 2021 he is the Base Commander of the 55th Combat Group at Andreas Papandreaou Air Force Base.
Lt. Colonel Michalis Michael has been trained in five types of Airplanes (T-41, T-37, T-2, PC-9 and BN-2 Islander) and two types of helicopters (Gazelle and Mi-35). At this moment he still is an active pilot on the Mi-35 helicopter and he has over 3.000 flight hours in total.
The authors of Lowpass Aviation.com would like to thank the personnel of the 55th Combat Group – Cyprus for their hospitality and help during our visit at Andreas Papandreaou Air Force Base!