But they’re about to take flight again
by ARNAUD DELALANDE
The Libya Dawn Air Force, one of two competing air arms in Libya, is overhauling two former Libyan air force CH-47C Chinook heavylift transport helicopters at Mitiga air base in Tripoli, with the goal of returning the twin-rotor copters — serial numbers LC-017 and, probably, LC-010 — to service in Libya’s grinding civil war.
The CH-47Cs are old … with an incredibly rich history.
In 1976, Italy signed several huge arms contracts with Libya, including one for delivery of 20 Italian-built CH-47Cs produced under license by Elicotteri Meridionali, the helicopter division of Agusta SpA.
The Italians delivered all the Chinooks between 1977 and 1980. The Libyan air force formed №1347 Squadron at Umm Aittitiqah/Mitiga near Tripoli to operate the helicopters, which carried the serial numbers LC-001 to LC-020.
The air force later transferred 14 of the copters to the Libyan army.
On July 18, 1980, the wreckage of a Libyan air force MiG-23MS jet fighter was discovered on Mount Sila, in Calabria in southern Italy. Inside the cockpit of the crashed aircraft, Italian authorities found the body of its pilot, 1st Lt. Ezzedin Koal, a Syrian air force pilot assigned to one of two MiG-23MS squadrons at Libya’s Benina air base.
Koal’s aircraft was unarmed and carried no external fuel tanks. The investigation determined that the pilot was wearing an oxygen mask that was too big for his face. He went into hypoxia. His MiG — set to autopilot — flew straight and level until it ran out of fuel and crashed in Italy.
Three weeks later between Aug. 6 and Aug. 9, 1980, CH-47C serial LC-020 flew to Italy with Rome’s permission. Piloted by Capt. Mustafa Krazah, the Chinook transferred 14 people from Crotone airport to Vergiate via a refueling stop at Frosinone on Aug. 6.
The following night, the Libyans surveyed the crash site. Over the next two days, the CH-47C hauled the MiG-23’s wreckage to Crotone airport. On Aug. 9, a Libyan C-130 arrived from Tripoli to haul the debris to Benina.
During the Libyan air force’s deployment in Chad in the mid-1970s, Libyan officials recruited a number of American mercenary pilots and technicians to fly and maintain the CH-47s and C-130s in that country.
This enterprise involved a number of ex-Central Intelligence Agency operatives headed by Edwin Wilson, who had been recruiting pilots and engineers for Libyans through an office in London.
The American mercenary pilots flew transport and support sorties into Chad, often at the controls of U.S.-designed CH-47s and C-130s. At the time, the Libyan air arm’s transport branch was its best-developed element. Squadrons equipped with CH-47s, Il-76s and C-130s succeed in keeping Libyan ground forces in Chad adequately supplied.
But there were setbacks for the Chinook force. On March 19, 1987, three Libyan officers defected to Egypt aboard a CH-47C. In a coup de grace in August 1987, Chinooks carried Libyan special forces into the contested town of Aouzou in northern Chad.
Having recaptured the town, Libya promptly agreed to a ceasefire with Chad.
In 2002 and 2003, Libya sold 12 of Chinooks — recently upgraded with new T55–712E engines — to the United Arab Emirates in batches of eight and four. On Oct. 31, 2002, four of them — carrying Emirati roundels — were on a cargo vessel transiting the Gulf of Oman when the Canadian frigate HMCS Montreal intercepted the ship.
In August 2012, Libya expressed interest in acquiring a number of used CH-47Ds from the U.S. Army. By then Libya possessed 12 CH-47Cs but only one — LC-010 — was operational.
Libya later revised its proposed order to six CH-47Ds and 16 new CH-47Fs. But the resumption of the civil war halted the transaction. And now two overhauled CH-47Cs — each as old as 39 years — represent the future of Libya’s heavylift helicopter fleet.