The first to fly experimentally in the arduous western Himalayan region
Having experimented in the eastern Himalayan region of Nepal over the last week, the Leonardo team headed towards the western Himalayan region of Nepal today. It is noteworthy that, for the first time in history, a manufacturer has decided to test the performance of a helicopter in the treacherous western Himalayan terrain of Nepal. The team was all set by 6:30 am and the AW119Kx loaded to its maximum take-off weight took off from Kathmandu with passengers and full fuel. Due to bad weather en route to Pokhara, a longer diverted route through the south was adopted while still maintaining an unbelievable ground speed in excess of 150 knots throughout the flight. The AW119Kx reached Pokhara by 8:00 am after which the helicopter was quickly refuelled to proceed towards the western Himalayan range. By 10:00 am the AW119Kx entered the Dhaulagiri region to carry out experimental high altitude mountain flying. In a span of two hours, the AW119Kx under the control of the highly skilled pilots, Capt. Oliva and Capt. Moro, made a total of 24 landings with the highest being at 15,800 ft at the Dhaulagiri base camp with passengers. The conditions soon after worsened and the AW119Kx braved the thunderstorms and heavy rain to safely reach Pokhara, where the Leonardo team stayed overnight.
The day began with bright sunshine in the early morning, showing signs of a great day of flying ahead. Taking advantage of the conditions, the AW119Kx was operational by 6:30 am. The crew maximised the opportunity presented and carried out experimental mountain flying for a record straight three and a half hours, demonstrating the AW119Kx’s high endurance even in extreme high conditions. The AW119Kx traversed through the Dhaulagiri range with over 30 landings including eight landings at both the Dhaulagiri advanced base camp (16,500 ft) and the Annapurna base camp (14,500 ft) both with passengers and fuel in excess of 200 kg. During this period, the AW119Kx reached a maximum altitude of 22,700 ft.
These missions were extremely commendable due to the fact that the base camp is located in an extremely confined environment with a very narrow approach. The entire region is comprised of very narrow valleys where the margin for error is almost zero, therefore the AW119Kx’s high manoeuvrability plays a major role in mission effectiveness. After a quick refuelling break, the AW119Kx resumed flying at 11:30 am where it flew continuously for over 40 minutes in 19,000+ ft altitude demonstrating the supreme performance characteristics of the helicopter. Braving the dense clouds, the helicopter returned to Kathmandu by 3:00 pm, ending a great day of flying.