Bulgaria's air force has received its first of 12 Eurocopter AS532AL Cougar transport helicopters, with deliveries of the 4.5t aircraft to continue until 2009.

Sofia's first Cougar arrived at the air force's Krumovo airbase near Plovdiv on 28 August, following a delivery flight from the manufacturer's Marignane facility in the south of France.

The lead aircraft is one of eight to be delivered in the tactical transport configuration, with the remaining four to be equipped for combat search-and-rescue duties.

The aircraft will replace some of the recent NATO entrant's current Mil Mi-17 transport helicopters and will "greatly improve the capabilities of the Bulgarian air force in national and international missions", the service says.

Eurocopter AS532AL 
© Anton Balakchiev

The Cougar purchase is part of drive to improve NATO interoperability

The Cougar acquisition forms part of a €360 million ($460 million) deal with Eurocopter that also includes six AS565MB Panthers to be delivered to Bulgaria's navy in 2010-11.

The rotorcraft deal is one element of Bulgaria's drive towards improved NATO interoperability, which also includes a recent order with Italy's Alenia Aeronautica for five C-27J Spartan tactical transports, plus three options. Sofia is also in the process of receiving responses to a May 2006 request for information on 16 new fighter aircraft to replace its MiG-21 interceptors from around 2008.

Source: Flight International