Russia's defence ministry on 18 September confirmed that it is evaluating five Eurocopter AS355 helicopters for light transport and special mission duties, in the first formal admission that it is testing the French-built type.

The five aircraft were purchased in 2011, although Eurocopter has declined to comment on the purchase.

Confirmation of the deal came after Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta published a photograph on its website apparently showing Russian commandos jumping from an AS355 during an anti-terrorist exercise. Local media outlets had previously claimed that the aircraft, bought at the personal order of defence minister Anatoly Serdyukov, had lain idle and were unwanted by the ministry.

"The aircraft in question will be used for transport and special tasks in the interests of the military authorities," the defence ministry says. "We plan to carry out evaluation of the helicopters' capabilities in training young aviation specialists for the Russian air force."

French personnel will visit Russia to train technicians and aircrew in the use of the helicopters, which have been formally placed on the Russian register at Chkalovskaya air base in the Moscow region, it adds.

Source: Flight International