The Czech Republic on 17 August received its third Bell AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter and first Bell UH-1Y Venom utility helicopter.

At the same time, the country ceremonially retired its Soviet-era Mil Mi-24 gunship transports.

Czech AH-1Z

Source: Czech Republic Ministry of Defence & Armed Forces

Prague intends to field 10 Bell AH-1Z attack helicopters, a mix of new orders and refurbished existing aircraft provided by the Pentagon. In return, the Czech Republic will retire its fleet of Soviet-era Mil Mi-24V/35 rotorcraft and provide them to Ukraine

Officials from the defence ministry commissioned the new AH-1Zs on 17 August and marked the type’s first public flight with a Czech crew.

“Today marks a new beginning not only for our helicopter air force,” Czech defence minister Jana Cernochova said on 17 August. “The gradual transition to new helicopters means another step in reducing our dependence on Russian technology and at the same time a shift to the strongest ally in NATO.”

Cernochova posted a photo showing one of the American-made attack helicopters in flight over a formation of Czech soldiers on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter.

The first two AH-1Zs arrived in the country on 26 July, aboard a US Air Force Boeing C-17 strategic transport. The Czech Republic ultimately plans to acquire 10 Vipers and 10 Venoms from the USA.

At the same time Prague activated the first of its new Western-sourced helicopters, the defence ministry ceremonially retired its legacy Soviet-era rotorcraft.

Just minutes after christening the newest AH-1Zs, Cernochova presided over the deactivation of the country’s Mi-24 attack helicopters.

“Today we also said goodbye to the Mi-24 helicopters of Soviet origin, which served the army for an incredible almost 45 years,” the minister says. “They have done good service, but apart from technical obsolescence we can no longer depend on parts from the East.”

In 2019, Prague signed a contract to acquire four new AH-1Zs and eight UH-1Ys from Bell through the USA’s Foreign Military Sales system. However, that acquisition expanded after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as the NATO allies sought options to better equip Kyiv’s forces.

In May 2023, US arms control regulators in Washington granted approval for the Czech Republic to receive another six Vipers and two Venoms, this time used airframes that had been retired from service with the US Marine Corps (USMC).

That deal included up to $650 million from Prague to refurbish the legacy aircraft, including 22 GE Aerospace T-700-401C engines, 14 Honeywell GPS navigation systems, along with weapon systems, radios and other communications equipment.

In return for the 10 additional Bell aircraft, Prague will provide its legacy Soviet helicopters to Ukraine, which has been fervently requesting additional combat aviation assets to help repel Russian invaders.

Cernochova did not explicitly address Ukraine in her statement marking the Mi-24 retirement. However, she did say “the story of the ‘24’ does not end yet”.

“We all probably suspect that they can find further application where any military equipment is now needed to defend against aggressors,” the defence minister notes.

“And that is where our help has been going for many months and will continue to do so,” she adds.

Czech mi-24-11_3

Source: Czech Republic Ministry of Defence & Armed Forces

The Czech Republic completed its final live fire training event with the Mi-24 in June, officially retiring the legacy Soviet gunship on 17 August

Lieutenant General Karel Rehka, chief of staff of the Czech armed forces, says Prague “must respond” to Moscow’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine – and the new helicopter acquisition is part of that response.

“We must place even greater emphasis on combat capability and a high level of readiness,” Rehka notes. “The H-1 helicopters represent a significant contribution and a big shift in capabilities.”

The Czech Republic expects to begin independent operations with its new helicopter fleet in late 2024. With the aircraft now in country, Czech pilots, crew chiefs and maintainers will spend the next year training with personnel from Bell and its services provider Pinnacle Solutions.

The USA’s Naval Air Systems Command, which is overseeing the fielding, says the first Czech aircrews and maintainers graduated from USMC light attack helicopter training programme at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland in February.

“The training we did with the Czechs provided the foundational knowledge to fly and maintain these machines,” said USMC Lieutenant Colonel Mark Koval, commanding officer of the AH-1 and UH-1 instructional squadron. “They now have the basic skills to transition to tactical training with their own fleet of helicopters.”

The USMC is the only military service in the USA to still operate the H-1 family helicopters made by Bell. The service received its final new AH-1Z in 2022 – officially closing the programme of record for H-1 acquisition.