Dubai 09: Lebanon reveals improvised Huey bomber

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Lebanon's air force officials on Saturday revealed how they had made a desperate modification to a Bell UH-1 Huey to drop bombs amid a bloody war against a barricaded terrorist haven in 2007.

The Lebanese military resorted to the "Huey bomber" idea after a failed attempt to restore Hawker Hunter jets to flying status. Lebanon's Hunters have been parked for more than 20 years since being crippled during Lebanon's long civil war, which ended in 1990.

In May 2007, fighting erupted between Lebanese troops and Fatah al-Islam militants barricaded inside Naher Al Bared, a populous Palestinian refugee camp. The siege dragged on for three months, in which time 130 people were killed and more than 1,500 wounded.

By August, the terrorist group had been isolated into a small area 250m (820ft) long and 200m wide, a Lebanese officer identified only as Lt Col Yassine told the Dubai International Air Chiefs conference.

At that time, Lebanon's post-civil war air force was limited to just four Robinson R44 helicopter trainers, a handful of UH-1s and Aerospatiale Gazelle helicopters donated by the United Arab Emirates.

Lacking proper bomb-dropping aircraft, Lebanese officers hatched a plan to modify the Huey with a bomb release system. The modifications fitted a mix of bombs, ranging from 50kg (110lb) to 400kg. The air force also calculated the precise envelope required to hit targets within a minimum range for accuracy.

The release envelope for the UH-1 bomber was tight. The pilot had to fly at precisely 90kt (165km/h) forward air speed and above 1,500ft (500m), Yassine said. Even a slight deviation from the speed and altitude parameters could throw off accuracy by several metres, he added.

In one month, Lebanese UH-1s performed 98 bombing sorties against the Fatah al-Islam haven inside the camp. The bombing opened paths through the rubble of the camp for Lebanese infantry and armoured units to advance, Yassine said. By 2 September, fighting inside the camp had ceased, as the last remnants of Fatah al-Islam had been killed or surrendered.