Daily Archives: April 29, 2019

28–29 April 2010

Annapurna I, north face. (Tomaž Humar)

28–29 April 2010: Captain Daniel Aufdenblatten, a helicopter pilot for Air Zermatt AG, and
Richard Lehner, Alpin Center Zermatt, a Swiss mountain guide and mountain rescue expert, were in Kathmandu, Nepal, training personnel of Fishtail Air Pvt. Ltd.¹ in the use of helicopters to rescue mountaineers injured or trapped high in the Himalayas. The training program was scheduled for two months.

The Air Zermatt crew, Richard Lehner, left, and Captain Daniel Aufdenblatten, with Fishtail Air Pvt. Ltd.’s Eurocopter AS 350 B3 Écureuil,  9N AJI. (Fishtail Air Pvt. Ltd.)

Air Zermatt used a “long-line” method of lifting victims from rock faces where landing was impossible. Lehner, or another rescuer, would be suspended from a 90-foot-long (27.4 meters) cable from the helicopter’s cargo hook, and Aufdenblatten would maneuver the helicopter to position the rescuer against the slope where he could reach a victim, attach him or her to the cable, and the helicopter would then fly to a location where they could safely land.

When they returned to Fishtail’s base after a day of training, the crew were informed of a distress call from a climbing expedition on Annapurna, the tenth highest mountain in the world. After succeeding in reaching the summit at 8,091 meters (26,545 feet), they were descending when they were delayed by blizzard conditions. One climber was missing, and two suffered from frostbite. All had snow-blindness and were displaying early symptoms of high altitude sickness. They were unable to descend any further, but would die if they remained where they were, at 6,950 meters (22,802 feet) above Sea level.

Fishtail Air Pvt. Ltd. Eurocopter AS 350 B3 Écureuil 9N AJI, c/n 4875. (Fishtail Air Pvt. Ltd.)

After loading their rescue equipment on board Fishtail’s Eurocopter AS 350 B3 Écureuil, 9N AJI,  Aufdenblatten and Lehner took off and flew to the Annapurna Base Camp, about 100 miles (161 kilometers) to the west. Fog moved in to the area, and further flight was impossible that day.

At 7:00 a.m., the following morning, 29 April, Aufdenblatten and Lehner took off to search for the stranded climbing expedition. They did not find the missing climber but did locate the camp where the others had spent the night. It was located on a very steep slope between a steep rock face and a shear cliff. There was no chance of a landing. High winds forced the helicopter crew back to Base Camp.

Terrain relief map of a small area of the Himalaya Mountains. Annapurna I is near the center. The Annapurna Base Camp is southeast of there at 4,130 meters elevation.

Stripping all unneeded equipment from the Écureuil (the helicopter is known as the A-Star in the United States), including seats and doors, they rigged a rope to support Lehner. At about 9:00 a.m., they took off again—this time with Lehner hanging under the helicopter.

Aufdenblatten lifts off at Annapurna Base Camp, 29 April 2010. Lehner is at the right, with a rope laid out in front of him. (Fishtail Air Pvt. Ltd.)

A first attempt to make a pickup was unsuccessful because of the gusting winds. Lehner had a small supply of oxygen, but it would not last much longer. They flew back to Base Camp. On their next attempt, the winds were even stronger and the oxygen was being sucked out of Lehner’s mouth. He began to feel the effects of oxygen deprivation. Once again, the helicopter returned to Base Camp without the climbers.

Daniel Aufdenblatten, flying Eurocopter AS 350 B3 9N AJI, hovers over the Annapurna Base Camp as he lowers a climber to the ground, assisted by Richard Lehner, 29 April 2010. (Fishtail Air Pvt. Ltd.)

After a third unsuccessful attempt, and with Lehner feeling ill from lack of oxygen, Aufdenblatten decided to leave Lehner at the Base Camp and attempt the rescue solo. The climbers were advised by radio that the helicopter would hover while they attached themselves with caribiners to the 90-foot rope, and would then lift them away from the mountain.

This fourth attempt succeeded. One of the climbers reached out and grabbed the rope, hooked himself up, and was carried away. Ten minutes later, he was set down at the Annapurna Base Camp, where he immediately received medical attention.

Aufdenblatten and the Écureuil flew back to Annapurna again. He had been informed that the two Sherpas in the group refused to be picked up and would make their own way down the mountain. This time, both of the two remaining climbers were picked up and flown to base.

Captain Aufdenblatten had just completed the highest long-line helicopter rescue ever attempted.

For their accomplishments, Aviation Week & Space Technology presented Aufdenblatten and Lehner its Laureate for Heroism Award in March 2011.

Fishtail Air Pvt. Ltd.’s 2009 Eurocopter AS 350 B3 Écureuil 9N AJI.

The helicopter used in this rescue, 9N AJI, was a 2009 Eurocopter AS 350 B3 Écureuil, serial number 4875. Originally registered in France as F-OKFF, 4875 was sent to Eurocopter Southeast Asia, Singapore, in October 2009. The new helicopter was sold to Fishtail Air Pvt. Ltd., Kathmandu, Nepal, and delivered 1 March 2010.

The Eurocopter AS 350 Écureuil is a  6–7 place, single-engine light helicopter, operated by a crew of one or two pilots. Introduced by Aérospatiale in 1975, it remains in production today and is one of the most popular civil helicopters. The manufacturer is now known as Airbus Helicopters.

The AS 350 B3 is a high-performance variant, specially configured for high density altitude operations (“hot and high”). The overall length with rotors turning is 12.94 meters (42 feet, 5.4 inches). The fuselage is 10.93 meters (35 feet, 10.3 inches) long and the cabin is 1.87 meters (6 feet, 1.6 inches) wide. The helicopter’s overall height is 3.14 meters (10 feet, 3.6 inches).

In keeping with standard French practice, the Écureuil/A-Star’s main rotor system turns clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s left side.) The composite hingeless three-blade rotor has a diameter of 10.69 meters (35 feet, 0.9 inch). The normal operating range is 385–394 r.p.m. (320–430 r.p.m. in autorotation). A two-bladed tail rotor is mounted on the right side of the tail boom in a pusher configuration. It rotates clockwise, as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) Its diameter is 1.86 meters (6 feet, 1.2 inches.)

The AS 350 B3 has an empty weight of approximately 1,174 kilograms (2,588 pounds), depending on installed equipment, and maximum gross weight of 2,250 kilograms (4,961 pounds).

AS 350 B3 three-view illustration with dimensions. (Eurocopter)

The AS 350 B3 variant is powered by a single Turboméca Arriel 2B turboshaft engine. The Arriel 2B is a free turbine turboshaft engine which uses an electronic engine control system (EECU). The engine has a two-stage compressor section (single-stage low-pressure axial flow, single-stage high-pressure centrifugal flow); an annular combustion chamber; and two-stage turbine section (single-stage gas generator and single-stage power turbine). The compressor section turns 52,110 r.p.m. at 100% N1; The power turbine, N2, turns 39,095 r.p.m. at 100%. A gear reduction unit reduces the engine’s output shaft speed to 5,990 r.p.m.

The Arriel 2B produces 847 shaft horsepower, but is de-rated to the helicopter’s main transmission limit. Installed, the Arriel 2B is rated at 536 horsepower for cruise; 700 horsepower, Maximum Continuous Power; and 733 horsepower for take off (5 minute limit).

The Arriel 2B is 118.0 centimeters (3 feet, 10.46 inches) long, 50.0 cm (1 foot, 6.69 inches) wide, 62.0 cm (2 feet, 0.41 inches) high. It weighs 134 kilograms (295.4 pounds), dry. The Arriel series engines are now produced by Safran Helicopter Engines.

The AS 350 B3 has a cruise speed of 132 knots (152 miles per hour/245 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 155 knots (178 miles per hour/287 kilometers per hour). It carries over four hours of fuel and has a maximum range of 357 nautical miles (411 statute miles/662 kilometers). The maximum certified operating altitude is 7,010 meters (23,000 feet).

9N AJI was involved in an accident during a landing at Listi 5, Panglang, Sindhupalchowk District, Nepal, on 3 August 2014. A man was struck by the tail rotor and killed. The pilot, Sujal Shrestra, was placed under arrest by district police.

AS 350 B3 9N AJI rolled over when it lost its tail rotor during take off, 17 March 2016. (Nirajan Poudel/Nepal Republic Media)

On 17 March 2016, it was involved in another accident when it lost its tail rotor assembly during take off at Langtang, Rasuawa District. The helicopter rolled over and was damaged beyond economical repair. The pilot, Niklas, was only slightly injured.

Eight months later, after salvageable equipment had been removed, the derelict helicopter was lifted as a sling load by another helicopter and flown back to Kathmandu, where it was to be placed in a museum.

9N AJI lifted by an Airbus Helicopters AS 350 B3e Écureuil, 9N AJQ. (Aviation Nepal)

¹ Fishtail Air is named for nearby Fishtail Mountain, so called because of a geological feature that resembles the tail of a fish. The company has changed its name to  Summit Helicopters Pvt. Ltd.

माछापुच्छ्रे , (Machapuchare, meaning Fishtail) is a 6,993 meter (22,943 feet) mountain in the Annapurna Himalayas of northern Nepal. (Faj2323)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 April 1988

N401PW, the first Boeing 747-400 airliner. (The Boeing Company)

29 April 1988: Boeing test pilots James C. Loesch and Kenneth Higgins take the new Boeing 747-400, serial number 23719, registration N401PW, for its first flight from Paine Field, landing at Boeing Field 2 hours 29 minutes later.

The 747-400 was a major development of the 747 series. It had many structural and electronics improvements over the earlier models, which had debuted 18 years earlier. New systems, such as a “glass cockpit”, flight management computers, and new engines allowed it to be flown with a crew of just two pilots, and the position of Flight Engineer became unnecessary.

Roll-out, Boeing 747-400 c/n 23719. (The Boeing Company)

The most visible features of the –400 are its longer upper deck and the six-foot tall “winglets” at the end of each wing, which improve aerodynamic efficiency be limiting the formation of wing-tip vortices.

On 27 June 1988, this 747-400 set a Maximum Takeoff Weight record for airliners by lifting off at Moses Lake, Washington at 892,450 pounds (405,659 kilograms).¹ At the time of its first flight, Boeing had already received orders for 100 747-400s. It would become the most popular version, with 694 aircraft built by the time production came to an end 15 March 2007.

Cockpit of a Boeing 747-400 airliner.
Cockpit of a Boeing 747-400 airliner. 

The Boeing 747-400 airliner can carry between 416 and 660 passengers, depending on configuration. It is 231 feet, 10 inches (70.6 meters) long with a wingspan of 211 feet, 5 inches (64.4 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 8 inches (19.4 meters). Empty weight is 394,100 pounds (178,800 kilograms). Maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is 875,000 pounds (396,890 kilograms).

Northwest Boeing 747-451 N661US
Northwest Boeing 747-451 N661US on approach to Osaka. (Wikipedia Commons)

While the prototype was powered by four Pratt & Whitney PW4056 turbofan engines, production airplanes could be ordered with PW4062, General Electric CF6 or Rolls-Royce RB211 engines, providing thrust ranging from 59,500 to 63,300 pounds.

The –400 has a cruise speed of 0.85 Mach (567 miles per hour, 912 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 0.92 Mach (614 miles per hour, 988 kilometers hour). Maximum range at maximum payload weight is 7,260 nautical miles (13,450 kilometers).

Northwest Airlines' Boeing 747-451 N661US on approach to Osaka Kansai International Airport, 11 June 2007. (Photograph courtesy of Dennis Lau)
Northwest Airlines’ Boeing 747-451, N661US, on approach to Osaka Kansai International Airport, 11 June 2007. (Photograph courtesy of Dennis Lau)

After the test program was completed, the prototype 747-400 was outfitted for airline service. It was operated by Northwestern Airlines and is currently in service with Delta Air Lines. It has been re-registered as N661US, and carries the Delta fleet number 6301.

N661US was the aircraft operated as Northwest Airlines Flight 85 on 9 October 2002 when it suffered a rudder hardover while over the North Pacific Ocean. The aircraft went into a sudden 40° left bank when a hydraulic power unit for the lower rudder failed due to a fatigue fracture. This incident is considered to be an excellent example of Cockpit Resource Management (CRM) as the flight crew successfully landed the airplane at Anchorage, Alaska.

Boeing 747-451 N661US, Delta Air Lines, landing at Tokyo-Narita International Airport, 25 July 2009. (Photograph courtesy of Kazuchika Naya)
Boeing 747-451 N661US, Delta Air Lines, landing at Tokyo-Narita International Airport, 25 July 2009. (Photograph courtesy of Kazuchika Naya)

After flying its final revenue flight, 9 September 2015, as Flight 836, Honolulu to Atlanta, N661US was stored at Delta Technical Operations. It is now displayed at the Delta Flight Museum, Hartsfield Jackson International Airport.

¹ FAI Record File Number 2203)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 April 1975

Air America helicopter evacuates refugees during the Fall of Saigon. (Hubert van Es)
Air America helicopter evacuates refugees during the Fall of Saigon. (Hubert van Es/Corbis)

This iconic photograph was taken 29 April 1975 by Dutch photographer Hubert van Es. A Bell Model 204B helicopter operated by Air America is shown parked on the roof of the Pittman Apartments at 22 Gia Long Street in Sài Gòn, the capital city of the Republic of South Vietnam.

Although commonly described as the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy, the actual embassy was a much larger building several blocks away. This building was a residence for U.S. diplomatic personnel.

Air America Bell 205D N47004 (s/n 3211) picking up evacuees from the Pittman Apartments in Saigon, 29 April 1975. (Phillipe Buffon/Corbis)

After this helicopter took off, hundreds of people waited on the roof, but no one else came for them.

The United States government’s decision to abandon the people of South Vietnam after propping up their government for over ten years led to the deaths of many thousands at the hands of the Communist invaders.

This is one of the most shameful events in the history of my country.

A Bell Model 204B helicopter operated by Air America.
A Bell Model 204B operated by Air America.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 April 1945

Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster Princess Patricia of No. 514 Squadron at RAF Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, UK, being loaded with food for Operation Manna, 29 April 1945, (Pilot Officer Penfold, Royal Air Force official photographer)
Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster “Princess Patricia” of No. 514 Squadron at RAF Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, England, being loaded with food for Operation Manna, 29 April 1945. (Pilot Officer Penfold, Royal Air Force Official Photographer/Imperial War Museum)
A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster heavy bomber drops food packages over The Netherlands.
A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster heavy bomber drops food packages over The Netherlands.

29 April 1945: With the defeat of Nazi Germany imminent, millions of Dutch citizens were still under the control of the occupying German army. Food was very scarce. The Allies tried to negotiate a cease fire so that American and British airplanes could fly into The Netherlands and drop food to the people.

The truce had not yet been agreed to by Germany, but on 29 April, Operations Manna and Chowhound began.

The first night, to test the feasibility of the project, two Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster four-engine long range heavy bombers of No. 101 Squadron—Bad Penny, crewed by Canadians, and a second ship flown by an Australian crew—were loaded with food at RAF Ludford Magna and flew into The Netherlands at barely 50 feet (15 meters) above the ground.

To drop the food they simply opened the bomb bay doors and the bags and packages fell to the starving people below.

A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster drops bundles of food in The Netherlands during Operation Manna, 1945. (International Bomber Command Center)

With Flight Sergeant Robert Fairful Upcott, D.F.M., Royal Canadian Air Force, [service number R187858] leading with Bad Penny, the two Lancasters ¹ dropped their food on the Racetrack Duindigt at Wassernaar, near The Hague, then returned along the same corridor they had flown on the way in. At 2:00 p.m. that afternoon, another 200 Lancasters followed.

Flight crew of Avro Lancaster, “Bad Penny.” Standing, left to right: Wireless Operator Stan Jones; Flight Engineer John Corner; Aircraft Commander, Flight Sergeant Robert F. Upcott,D.F.M.; and Navigator Bill Walton. Kneeling, Aerial Gunner Bill Demo; Mid-Upper Gunner Ossie Blower; and Bomb Aimer Bill Gray. (Canadian Historical Aircraft Association)

Over the next ten days, approximately 11,000 tons (9,979 Metric tons) of food were dropped by Royal Air Force Lancasters and U.S. Army Air Force B-17 Flying Fortress bombers.

A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster drops food packages from its bomb bay while flying at very low level over The Netherlands during Operation Manna.
A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster drops food packages from its bomb bay while flying at very low level over The Netherlands during Operation Manna.

¹ The second Lancaster was commanded by Flight Officer P. G. L. Collett, Royal Australian Air Force (A424149).

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 April 1918

Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker, 94th Aero Squadron, with a Nieuport 28 C.1 fighter. (U.S. Air Force)

29 April 1918: Lieutenant Edward Vernon Rickenbacker, 94th Aero Squadron, Air Service, American Expeditionary Force, while flying a Nieuport 28 C.1, scored his first aerial victory when he shot down a Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte Pfalz D.III fighter near Saint-Baussant, France. He was awarded the first of eight Distinguished Service Crosses. By the end of World War I, he had destroyed 26 enemy aircraft.

1st Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker in the cockpit of a Nieuport 28 C.1 fighter, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker in the cockpit of a Nieuport 28 C.1 fighter, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)

The Nieuport 28 C.1¹ was a single-place, single-engine, single-bay biplane fighter built by Société Anonyme des Éstablissements Nieuport for the French military. It was rejected, however, in favor of the SPAD S.XIII C.1. The new United States’ Air Service was in great need of fighters. There were none available of American manufacture, and because the new SPAD was in great demand, 297 Nieuport 28s were acquired by the American Expeditionary Force and assigned to the 94th and 95th Aero Squadrons.

U.S. Air Service Nieuport 28 C.1, N6215. (U.S. Air Force)
U.S. Air Service Nieuport 28 C.1, N6215. (U.S. Air Force)

The Nieuport 28 C.1 was 6.30 meters (20 feet, 8 inches) long with an upper wingspan of 8.160 meters (26 feet, 9¼ inches), lower wingspan of 7.79 meters ( 25 feet, 6-2/3 inches)  and height of 2.30 meters (7 feet, 6½ inches). The upper wing had a chord of 1.30 meters (4 feet, 3.2 inches), and the lower, which was staggered behind the upper, had a chord of 1.00 meters (3 feet, 3.4). The upper wing had very slight dihedral, while the lower wing had none. Its empty weight was 399 kilograms (880 pounds) and loaded weight was 626 kilograms (1,380 pounds).

Nieuport 28 C.1, serial number 6215.

The Nieuport 28 C.1 was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 15.892 liter (969.786-cubic-inch-displacement) Gnome Monosoupape 9 Type N nine-cylinder rotary engine with a compression ratio of 5.45:1. The Monosoupape had a single overhead exhaust valve actuated by a pushrod and rocker arm. As the pistons reached the bottom of their exhaust strokes, a series of intake ports near the bottom of the cylinder were uncovered. The intake charge was drawn from the engine crankcase. The Type N produced 160 horsepower at 1,300 r.p.m. and turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller with a diameter of 2.50 meters (8 feet, 2.4 inches). The engine weighed 330 pounds (150 kilograms).

The Nieuport 28 had a top speed of 198 kilometers per hour (123 miles per hour) at 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) and 1,380 r.p.m., a range of 290 kilometers (180 miles) and a service ceiling of 5,300 meters (17,388 feet). Duration at full power was 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Two .303-caliber Vickers machine guns were mounted on the cowling, firing forward through the propeller arc.

Pfalz D.IIIa 8413/17
Pfalz D.IIIa 8413/17

The Pfalz D.III was a single-seat, single-engine, single-bay biplane fighter built by Pfalz Flugzeugwerke. The fuselage was built of two layers of plywood strips laid over a mold to form one half. The two halves were glued together. This was then covered with doped fabric. The wings were made of fabric-covered wood spars and ribs, with wooden ailerons.

It was 6.95 meters (22 feet, 9½ inches) long with a wingspan of 9.4 meters (30 feet, 0 inches) and height of 2.67 meters (8 feet, 9 inches). Empty weight was 695 kilograms (1,532 pounds) and gross weight was 933 kilograms (2,057 pounds).

The fighter was powered by a 14.778 liter (901.812 cubic inches) water-cooled Mercedes D.IIIa single overhead cam inline six-cylinder engine with two valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 4.64:1. It produced 174 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m. The D.IIIa weighed 660.0 pounds (299.4 kilograms).

The maximum speed of the Pfalz D.III was 185 kilometers per hour (115 miles per hour) at Sea Level, and the service ceiling was 5,200 meters (17,060 feet).

It was armed with two 7.92 mm LMG 08/15 Spandau machine guns.

Approximately 1,010 Pfalz D.IIIs were built.

Pfalz D.IIIa 8413/17

¹ “C.1” was the French designation for a single-place chasseur, their World War I term for what we now consider to be a fighter.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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