The first AW101 heavy helicopters for the Indian air force’s VVIP contract are being made ready for delivery.

The first two AW101s are being prepared at London’s Stansted Airport for air freighting to India on board an Antonov An-124 cargo aircraft in the next few days. AgustaWestland is continuing to build Indian air force AW101s at the company’s factory at Yeovil in Somerset, the center of production for the type.

The Indian government ordered 12 AW101s in March 2010 as part of a €560 million ($754 million) contract. The aircraft will be used by the Indian air force’s Air Headquarters Communication Squadron for the VIP/head-of-state mission, replacing a small fleet of specially modified Mil Mi-8s.

Four of the aircraft feature a VVIP cabin to carry senior members of the Indian government, while the other eight aircraft will be configured to carry security personnel and members of the entourage. Instead of a rear ramp, the VVIP are fitted with a door and integrated staircase, allowing vehicles to drive up underneath the tail boom and improve security for passengers boarding the aircraft. As part of the contract, a number of Indian air force pilots have received conversion training for the new type in the U.K. at an AgustaWestland training facility at Newquay, Cornwall. A ceremony to mark the successful training of the first batch of Indian personnel was held earlier this month.

The purchase of the AW101 has proved highly controversial in India, with a number of media reports questioning whether senior officials involved with the aircraft’s procurement had received “kickbacks” from AgustaWestland and its parent company, Finmeccanica. Earlier this month, Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony said there would be no government probe into the claims. He reportedly said that no credible evidence has emerged other than some conversations hinting at the possibility. All the Indian AW101s should be completed and delivered by 2014.

The completion of the order will leave just a small number of AW101s left to be built, including six combat SAR-equipped aircraft for the Italian air force. The air arm also has options for a further six. The company has recently completed a pair of VIP-equipped aircraft for the government of Turkmenistan and another pair for the Royal Saudi Air Force.

AW101 photo: AgustaWestland