In February 2014 the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) air wing and Maritime Squadron took intensive training on deck landings, take offs and all the necessary procedures when a helicopter is onboard.
The AFM embarked on the final phase of a project to integrate an Alouette III helicopter with the landing and replenishment facilities aboard Patrol Boat P61.
The three phases project commenced in April 2013. In the first phase, which was co-financed by the European External Borders Fund (EBF), the AFM contracted the Australian company Prism Defence Ltd to conduct a study of the theoretical ship-helicopter operating limits (SHOL) for the Alouette-P61 combination.
In addition, the vessel was upgraded with a number of systems required to support the conduct of flight operations.
The second and third phases of the project were supported by national funding and involve the classroom training of the personnel involved and the conduct of practical flight trials and training of the embarked flight deck teams and bridge teams as well as the training of two AFM instructor pilots in the conduct of deck launches and recoveries.
The final practical phase of the project was when the helicopter conducted its first landings and take-offs from aboard P61 at berth and when patrol boat is underway.
The exercise was held in rough seas off Grand Harbour and involved landing, lashing, refuelling drill and take-off, some landings were also made in Marsamxetto harbour and deck landings on the patrol boat while berthed in Marsaxlokk were held a week before.
The P61 was commissioned on 3rd November 2003 and is the only patrol boat that can take a helicopter on the deck. A new and larger offshore patrol vessel is being built which will have pennant number P71.