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Flashback to August 1999: Bristow S-61N Helicopters Complete Humanitarian Relief Work in Kosovo

By Staff Writer | March 22, 2017
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Bristow August 1999

This originally appeared in R&WI's August 1999 issue.

This article was originally published in the August 1999 issue of R&WI and has been edited to comply with current grammar and style guidelines. Look for our special 50th Anniversary edition of the May/June 2017 magazine, in which we'll celebrate the past 50 years — and look ahead to the next 50 years —of rotorcraft innovations.

Bristow Helicopters, the U.K.-based offshore operator, completed the terms of an initial 28-day contract awarded by the United Nations World Food Program to provide two Sikorsky S-61N heavy-lift helicopters to fly flood and UN personnel into the war-ravaged Yugoslavian state of Kosovo.

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Bristow offered to perform the work and deliver the aircraft within 72 hours. “We believe that our ability to respond so quickly was what helped us win the contract,” says Bristow Commercial Director Howard Hollingsbee.

Bristow’s Aberdeen facility reconfigured the Sikorsky S-61Ns from their North Sea oil support roles to carrying cargo and personnel.

The first helicopter, designated DFS 001 (G-BFRI), arrived in Kosovo June 17; the second Sikorsky S-61N, DFS 002 (G-BBHM) arrived the following day. Bristow provided maintenance crews and two flight crews per helicopter so the Sikorsky S-61s could fly more sorties.

The two Sikorsky S-61Ns delivered relief agency personnel, wheat flour and plastic-encased ready-to-eat meals similar to military meals ready-to-eat (MRE) to areas where land mines mode ground transportation too dangerous, or where roads and bridges have been destroyed by the NATO bombing campaign.

During the first 13 days of the effort, Bristow carried 333,000 pounds of food and 577 UN aid workers into Kosovo. “We carried up to 3,500 pounds of humanitarian aid food packs per trip, and we flew from first light to last light each day,” Hollingsbee says.

The helicopters received blue UN lettering an dWOlrd Food Program decals at Bristow’s Redhill, U.K., facility before flying to their staging area in Skopje, Macedonia.

“Initially, we had to make some trips to Skopje because there was no fuel available in Kosovo, but we later managed to arrange a field fueling system. Certainly in Lipljan, near Pristina, [Kosovo], there’s fuel,” Hollingsbee says. The Royal Air Force supplied the fuel under the auspices of the UN’s humanitarian mission.

The initial contract terminated on July 15, with a one-week extension to allow Bristow to continue operating in the occupation zone. However, Hollingsbee says the company is now looking for ways to keep the helicopters working inside Kosovo.

“We’ve learned that other UN agencies may want our services, so we’re working on that at the moment,” he says.

On the domestic front, Bristow won a three-year contract form Italian offshore operator AGIP to service the Tiffany platform in the North Sea. The contract represents the latest in a series of Bristow victories in winning new North Sea offshore oil support contracts.

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