For Saturday (30 June) two visits were scheduled; Hamat Air Base and Rayak Air Base. By now it was clear that the visits were extra special since the Lebanese Air Force normally only operates Monday to Friday. From Beirut the bus took us North towards Hamat, home of the A-29 Super Tucano and the Puma. On arrival at Hamat the procedure was somewhat similar to the previous day; meet the base and squadron commanders and explain what we wanted and allow time for questions. After that it was time to visit the platform. We had already noted three A-29s and three Puma helicopters outside. First we were taken to an armed Puma helicopter. The chopper was modified locally to a fully armed attack helicopter and bomber. Either a combination of machine guns and rockets pods or free fall bombs could be ‘added’. As such it was used against ISIS-pockets in the country.
While clearly being proud of the achievements (both the modifications of the chopper as well as getting rid of ISIS [the AC-208 was employed a lot for the latter as well]) the commander discussed the manoeuvres the A-29 and Puma, that were both launching for us on this Saturday, had to make for the best possible photos. Our briefing appeared to have been clear since the pilots were spot on in showing exactly what we wanted. Here also the visit continued by going through the hangars. This resulted in all A-29s being seen, several Puma and the final AC-208 (missing at Beirut).
After saying thank you many times (this was absolutely an awesome visit) we hit the road again. Well, to be honest, our driver did. We just had to sit and enjoy the environment while listening to the driver and our contact giving us additional info on the country. Our arrival at Rayak, the second base of today, was rather late on a Saturday afternoon. This visit was less smooth than the other two. The catering was great, but we had trouble getting what we were hoping for (both with regard to answers to our questions and photos of the helicopters). We were allowed to capture the museum aircraft and helicopters that were inside a hangar but it took some persuasion to get them to pull out a Gazelle for us. Eventually they did though. Since the sun was playing ball all the time this was a nice end of the visit here.
On our way back to Beirut we found out that the visit to the fourth base, Kleyate, would not take place on Sunday. A bit of a disappointment, but we were more than happy with the very rare visits to Beirut, Hamat Air Base that were more than brilliant.