IT IS probably the Army's safest form of transport in Northern


The thumping sound of the huge twin rotor blades can be heard miles

away, but the troop-carrying Chinook helicopter is ideal for shifting

soldiers across a dangerous province.

The threat of landmine attacks by the IRA meant the military

authorities were virtually forced to introduce this method of movement.

It is simply too dangerous to travel by road in places like South

Armagh and over in the far west out towards Fermanagh and Tyrone, where

the provisionals bombed a military bus, killing eight soldiers, in 1985.

Several helicopters have been hit with heavy machine guns and missile

attacks, including one in Crossmaglen a few weeks ago, but the Chinooks

have not been touched.

They are generally used to fly soldiers to RAF Aldergrove on the first

leg of the trip home to mainland Britain.

The Army's main flight base in Northern Ireland is right beside

Belfast International Airport.

Soldiers with their tell-tale short hair and English and Scottish

accents are allowed to slip in through a side door at the terminal

building before checking in.

A former senior Army commander in Northern Ireland once said: ''If the

IRA ever took one of those out and killed everybody on board, then the

Government would have internment in by the morning.''

It is the high-speed Gazelles and noisy Wessex helicopters, all fitted

out with anti-missile defences, which are used for round-the-clock

military operations in Northern Ireland.

The pilots must fly low and fast across the countryside to avoid

coming into the terrorists' sight and range. Several have been hit over

the years, with many forced to make emergency landings.