Bristow is retiring its last two Aerospatiale AS332 Super Puma aircraft — VH-BHY and VH-BHX — in December after many long years of dedicated service to the company. These retirements are part of Bristow’s ongoing fleet rationalization strategy. The company has been actively managing its fleet by renewing older aircraft with newer technology aircraft, while also reducing the number of fleet types the company operates for oil and gas. Replacing older aircraft with newer technology aircraft provides greater efficiencies, more capabilities and improved reliability for clients, and is central to Bristow’s long-term success.
Most recently operated in Bristow’s Asia Pacific Region, the AS332s are fondly remembered by several Bristow employees, some of whom are the last in the company to see them go.
“I believe the MK1 Super Puma will be remembered in history as one of the best (if not the best) workhorses in the offshore oil and gas support arena,” said former Bristow Technical Services Manager Richard Tudge. “I was a licensed engineer in Aberdeen in the early 1980s as the Super Puma fleet was being introduced to Bristow. They were called ‘Bristow Tigers’ when they were introduced, and the company eventually operated more than 20 of them in Aberdeen alone. Those were busy days.”
“A few of us from Bristow Australia traveled to the North Sea in the late 1980s on secondment and gained valuable operational experience on the Bristow Tiger,” said Bristow Captain Alan Rose. “This was very helpful for its introduction into Australia.”
“The AS332L Bristow ‘Tiger’ took over from the S61 as the North Sea fleet stalwart,” remembers Captain Tim Glasspool, head of flight operations for Bristow’s Europe Caspian region. “In my 7,800 hours on the type, I was lucky enough to do all sorts of interesting flying, from lifting ski-tow pylons onto mountainsides, flying VIPs into football stadiums, oil and gas support from all the countries around the North Sea, various ‘flying crane’ and winching jobs and taking G-BLRY to its new owners in Germany.
“The Tiger was a tough machine, well built to withstand the rigors of the North Sea and it got me home safely for 16 years. I always had huge faith in the Tiger being able to take whatever was thrown at it. Whether icing or turbulence, the 332 was always up to the job.”
“Because of its reliability, the AS332 has been the mainstay of the offshore industry until the introduction of the Eurocopter EC225,” said Bristow Maintenance Controller Vic Myles. “The aircraft was originally designed with an operating life of 20,000 hours and many aircraft went on to exceed 30,000 hours prior to retirement.”
“I actually flew in the first Tigers that came,” said Mike Imlach, Bristow’s vice president operations. “They were on the Marathon Brae A contract, the primary one was ‘City of Dundee’ when aircraft were then named after locations. That was in 1983 when we were building the installation.”
“I joined Bristow in 1990 in Aberdeen, gained my first heavy helicopter license on the AS332, and have been involved with the type ever since,” said Bristow Engineering Manager Neil Seabrook. “This is why the 332 will remain my favorite aircraft, not just because it was my first civil type, but because throughout my time with Bristow, the ‘Tiger’ has always been there. It’s proven to be unbeatable in so many situations. The harder we flew it, the more reliable it became.
Brief history of VH-BHX
VH-BHX was built by Aerospatiale Helicopters in Marignane, France, in 1983. It began operation for Sealand Helicopters in Canada in April 1984 under registration C-GSLK, and went on to operate for a number of other companies prior to operating at Bristow. In January 1990, with 1806.7 hours, Bristow’s UK operation acquired the aircraft with registration G-BRWE from CHC.
In June 1991, Bristow transferred the aircraft to Bristow Helicopters Australia registered as VH-BHX with 2845.13 hours, and operated it at numerous bases throughout Australia, including Karratha, Darwin and Barrow Island.
“BHX was the first 332 on the Australian register,” said Keith Doyle, engineer at Bristow’s Asia Pacific region. “It arrived at Perth Airport in a heavy lift fixed-wing airplane and was put together at Perth airport and flown to Karratha where it commenced operations for Woodside. The aircraft was flown by Stuart Rawlinson and Ron Anderson (both now retired), and I was sent up there in advance to receive the aircraft as I was the only engineer licensed to maintain them in country at that time.
“The aircraft now has in excess of 20,000 hours showing that a good part of its life was spent in Australia,” Doyle added. “I feel that the 332 has been the best offshore helicopter to date and it’s been a joy to maintain the 332 fleet over the years.”
In May 2012, VH-BHX underwent a rebuild at Jandakot Airport in preparation for sale after being in storage since 2010. On September 28, 2012, it commenced flying again.
As of November 30, 2015, VH-BHX had completed 20,168.34 airframe hours and 27,252 landings. Coincidentally, VH-BHX was the first aircraft Bristow Australia introduced of the 332 Super Puma type and the last to finish flying for Bristow Australia.
Brief history of VH-BHY
VH-BHY was built by Aerospatiale Helicopters in Marignane, France, in 1984. It was exported to Panama and operated there by another provider until 1991 before being imported to Bristow at Aberdeen. Some are lead to believe it had an interesting history in Panama and was possibly involved in illegal activities prior to purchase.
On January 14, 1991, at 959:18 airframe hours, VH-BHY was entered onto the British register as G-BTCT.
On August 18, 2000, Bristow entered the aircraft onto the Australian Register as VH-BZY with 11,771 airframe hours, and obtained a special flight permit for the ferry flight from Fremantle Docks to Perth Airport.
On July 15, 2002, VH-BZY officially changed to VH-BHY on its Australian Certificate of Airworthiness at 12,532:45 airframe hours to correlate with other aircraft having VH-BH registrations.
As of November 30, 2015, VH-BHY had completed 20,789.52 airframe hours and 34,380 landings.
Numerous adventures along the way
The AS332s were involved in numerous adventures and lifesaving missions during its more than 25 years of operation at Bristow. Bristow Captain Garry Hubbard, who accrued approximately 5,000 hours of operating the aircraft type, shares his memories of the AS332.
“I’m sure Bristow staff around the globe would agree that the AS332 would have to be the most versatile and reliable aircraft in our fleet,” said Captain Hubbard who joined Bristow in 1988. “In 1996, I flew the 332 in support of emergency evacuations for the Katherine floods (Northern Territory, Australia). I recall myself and Captain Eddie McGregor working alongside crewmen Bernie McClean and Murk Schoen to evacuate 92 indigenous people from Daley Waters, south of Katherine, over three mercy flights. Our last evacuation flight had 41 passengers on board plus four crew, yet we were still under limits for maximum take-off weight. We also winched 10 people from a rooftop in Katherine in the same floods just prior to their house being swept away. Aerospatiale published an article in their magazine about these rescues, recognizing the task as a testament to their aircraft’s capabilities.”
Captain Hubbard added, “The AS332s have been utilized extensively in the South China Sea for the Bristow/COHC joint venture as oil and gas production in the area expanded. During typhoon season, the AS332 was a workhorse on many occasions operating up to 40 flights per day in an array of weather conditions and at all hours of the day and night.
“Another example of the versatility of the aircraft is during the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) contract. The 332 would be tasked to do anything from a 130 nautical mile sling load, to a night medevac, or police and army extraction and rapid response deployments. The main selling point of the contract was that Bristow was able to provide an aircraft which could cover a radius of 300 nautical miles and return to Honiara without refueling.”
Bristow Pilot Captain Andrew Chapman and Deputy Head of Flying Operations also spoke of his time in Honiara.
“This period of operation in Honiara revealed to me the versatility of the aircraft,” said Captain Chapman. “You would go from carrying out an instrument flying rules (IFR) flight in bad weather at night, to completing a sling task the next day, or landing on a beach with an extremely uneven surface to deploy RAMSI personnel the day after. In addition, the power margins that the aircraft offered made it ideal for jungle-type confined area operations.”
“When I was involved with Bristow International, we had the 332 operating in bases such as China, Australia, Nigeria, Kenya, Libya (Malta), Malaysia and Mauritania,” said Seabrook. “It was the 332 that our clients associated with Bristow, and it set some of the benchmarks we now measure the more modern aircraft against. Australia has the privilege of being the final operator of the 332 for Bristow, and it will be missed by a lot of us.”
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