07 Dec 2017
#DefenseDiairies: The lifeline of Siachen troops, Cheetah helicopter
The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited's (HAL) Cheetah is a light single-engine helicopter serving the Indian armed forces for over four decades.
The Cheetah, a licensed-built version of the French Aérospatiale SA 315B Lama, has been the lifeline of the Indian Army troops stationed at the Siachen Glacier, the world's highest battlefield.
The armed forces are looking to phase-out this vintage workhorse. Here's all about it.
Cheetah/Lama developed on Indian military's request
In 1968, the Indian Air Force (IAF) sent a request to France's Sud-Aviation (later Aérospatiale) for a helicopter capable of operating at high altitudes.
In 1969, the first SA 315B, nicknamed Lama, undertook its maiden flight and earned operational service in 1971.
In 1971, India placed a major order for the Lama. The first India-manufactured Lama, renamed Cheetah, flew in 1972.
Cheetah can fly to altitudes over 6,000-meters
The Lama/Cheetah combined the airframe of the Aérospatiale Alouette II with the more powerful Alouette III components and power plant.
The helicopters can fly higher than 6,000-meters. They can carry up to five passengers, including two pilots.
The choppers can be used to ferry passengers, transport cargo, and mount search and rescue missions.
Machine guns and rocket launchers can also be attached to them.
Lama set world record for highest helicopter flight
In 1972, French pilot Jean Boulet set an all-time helicopter altitude record by flying a Lama to a height of 12,442-meters or 40,820-feet.
Cheetah's role in maintaining India's Siachen supremacy
The Cheetah's ability to fly at high altitudes make it ideal for Siachen operations.
The IAF's 114 Helicopter Unit, also known as Siachen Pioneers, has been skilfully braving inclement weather and icy winds to ferry lifesaving supplies to soldiers deployed as high as 6,700-meters high.
They routinely land in the world's highest helipads pushing the choppers to the edge of their performance capabilities.
Series of crashes prompt India to replace venerable Cheetah
A series of recent crashes have, however, blemished the safety record of the Cheetahs.
The armed forces are looking to replace the Cheetah and its upgraded variant, Cheetal.
India has selected the Russian-made Kamov Ka-226T light-utility helicopters to replace them.
However, the final deal for the commissioning of 200 Ka-226T choppers hasn't been inked.
Until then, the Cheetahs remain the armed forces' primary workhorse.