Daily Archives: April 29, 2024

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

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.

Delta’s Ship 6301, N661US, completes its final flight, landing at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, Atlanta, Georgia, 9 September 2015. (Delta Flight Museum)

¹ FAI Record File Number 2203)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

29 April 1975

Major General Manucheher Khosrowdad ( منوچهر خسروداد ), Imperial Iranian Army Aviation, in the cockpit of a Bell 214A Isfahan.

29 April 1975: 3 days after delivery of first production Bell 214A “Isfahan,” (IIAF serial number 6-4651, Bell serial number 27004), Major General Manucheher Khorowdad, Imperial Iranian Army Aviation, with Clem A. Bailey, Bell assistant chief production test pilot, as co-pilot, took off from Ahwaz Commercial Airport (AWZ) in southwestern Iran to set five Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world records. The airport’s elevation is 66 feet (20 meters) above Sea Level. The air temperature at the time was reported to be 35–38 °C. (95–100 °F.).

The Bell 214A climbed to a height of 3,000 meters (9,842.52 feet) in 1 minute, 58 seconds; ¹ 6,000 meters (19,685.04 feet) in 5 minutes, 14 seconds; ² and 9,000 meters (29,527.56 feet) in 15 minutes, 5 seconds; ³ The helicopter reached a peak altitude of 9,071 meters (29,760.5 feet), setting a record for altitude without payload.⁴ It was able to maintain an altitude of 9,010 meters (29,560.4 feet) in horizontal flight.⁵

All five of these records remain current.

Major General Manucheher Khosrowdad was murdered by Islamic revolutionaries at 23:30, 15 February 1979. He and three other Iranian military officers were the first to be killed following the revolution. A “tribunal” found him guilty of “corruption on Earth.” His prized German Shepherd Dogs were also slaughtered. His remains were then displayed in public. Eventually, his body was interred at Behesht-e Zahra Cemetery, Tehran.

Bell 214A Isfhahan 6-4656. This is the fifth production BH 214A, manufacturer’s serial number 27009. It was photographed at Tabriz International Airport (TBZ) on 7 March 2023. (© Mehdi Piltan. Image used with permission.)

The Bell 214A was developed from the prototype Bell 214 Huey Plus (which first flew in October 1970 and was powered by a 1,900-shaft horsepower Lycoming T53-L-702 turboshaft engine) for Imperial Iranian Army Aviation. Bell built three prototype 214As, powered by the Lycoming T55-L7C (2,050 shaft horsepower). One of these was shipped to Iran in August 1972 for evaluation.

The helicopter is flown by a pilot and co-pilot. It can carry 15 combat troops.

The production 214A was powered by the Lycoming LTC4B-8D turboshaft, rated at 2,930 shaft horsepower.

Iran ordered 287 Bell 214As. Iran named the Bell 214, “Isfahan,” after a city in Iran where it was planned to build a Bell helicopter production facility to produce additional 214A/Cs, and as many as 350 of the stretched, twin-engine Bell 214STs.

The first production BH 214A, 6-4561 (Bell serial number 27004), was built in Texas and delivered in Iran on 26 April 1975.

Because of the Iranian revolution of 1978–1979, the Isfahan facility was never built. All of the BH 214A/Cs and BH 214STs for Iran were built in Texas: 287 214As, 39 214C search and rescue variants, and 48 214STs. Sanctions against the Iran regime have prevented any spare parts for these helicopters being delivered to Iran, but it is believed that that country has produced counterfeit parts. It is not known how many of these helicopters remain in service, but a 2018 estimate suggested just 22.

The Bell 214A was built using a strengthened UH-1H airframe. It had a semi-rigid rotor system without the stabilizer bar of previous UH-1 models. The 214A’s rotor system included elastomeric bearings.

The fuselage is 44 feet, 1.09 inches (13.4389 meters) long. The helicopter has a maximum height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.9116 meters). With blades turning, its maximum length is 60 feet, 2.27 inches (18.3457 meters). The 214A’s main rotor diameter is 50 feet, 0 inches (15.24 meters). The main rotor blades have a chord of approximately 3 feet (0.9 meters). As with all American helicopters, the main rotor turns counter-clockwise when viewed from above. (The advancing blade is on the right.) The tail rotor is mounted on the right side of the vertical pylon, and turns clockwise as viewed from the left side of the helicopter. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) It has a diameter of 9 feet, 8.00 inches (2.9464 meters). The tail rotor blades have a chord of 12.00 inches (0.3048 meters).

Bell 214 two-view illustration

The Lycoming LTC4B-8D (an uprated version of the T55-L-7) is a turboshaft engine with a 7-stage axial-flow, single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor section, a reverse-flow combustor, two-stage high-pressure gas producer and two-stage free power turbine. It can produce 2,930 shaft horsepower, but is derated to 2,250 shaft horsepower. The engine is 3 feet, 9.5 inches (1.557 meters) long, 2 feet, 1.1 inches (0.63754 meters) in diameter, and weighs 618 pounds (280 kilograms).

The Bell 214A has an empty weight of 7,588 pounds (3,441.9 kilograms) and gross weight of 13,800 pounds (6,259.6 kilograms). It can carry up to 7,500 pounds of cargo suspended from its cargo hook, in which case its maximum gross weight is 16,000 pounds (7,257.5 kilograms).

The Bell 214A has a maximum speed of 140 knots (161.1 miles per hour/259.3 kilometers per hour). Its range is 222 nautical miles (255 statute miles/411 kilometers). Its service ceiling of 16,400 feet (4,998.7 meters).

First flight, Bell 214A, Fort Worth, Texas. (Vertiflite May/June 1974)

Bell went on to produce a commercial variant of the BH 214A, which it designated the Bell 214B BigLifter. This model received a FAA Type Certificate 27 January 1976. On 3 February 1976, a second model, the BH 214B-1, was also certified. The BH 214B-1 has a lower gross weight than the 214B, but the only actual difference between the two models is the aircraft data plate and the flight manual. This was done due to certification standards of various countries which would place the 214B in a “large helicopter” classification. Only 70 of these commercial models were built.

A commercial Bell 214B BigLifter with Canadian registration. (Aircraft.com)

Another commercial BH214 variant was also produced, the 214ST. Initially called the “Stretched Twin,” this helicopter featured two turboshaft engines, a 2 foot, 6 inch (0.762 meters) increase in length, and a larger diameter main rotor system. This helicopter was also intended to serve with Iranian Army Aviation, and 350 were to be built at the Isfahan facility.

A Bell 214ST Super Transport, G-BKFN, of British Caledonian Helicopters, photographed at Aberdeen Airport, 8 September 1982. (Gary Watt via Wikipedia).

Marketed as the 214ST SuperTransport, this helicopter could be ordered with either fixed skids or fixed tricycle landing gear. A total of just 96 were built, with 48 for Iran. The others were for commercial customers, or the militaries of several countries.

Bell Helicopter transferred FAA Type Certificates for the Model 214B, 214B-1, and 214ST helicopters to Erickson Incorporated, Central Point, Oregon, in 2020.

¹ FAI Record File Number 1850

² FAI Record File Number 1849

³ FAI Record File Number 1848

⁴ FAI Record File Number 1879

⁵ FAI Record File Number 9935

© 2024, Bryan R. Swopes

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 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

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, D.F.M.; 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