The mountainous kingdom of Nepal is well known for Mount Everest, but last year became the focus point of a significant relief effort after a massive earthquake. After that natural disaster, the Nepalese Army added two Mil Mi-17s to the one they already had, but that exacerbates a problem of having a small fleet spread across five different helicopter types, which is not particularly practical. Local reports list the active fleet as the three Mi-17s along with two AS350B3s, two Bell helicopters, two AS332L Super Pumas and a single Alouette. It also has Indian manufactured Cheetahs and ALH which have been captured in conflict situations. The earthquake response work also raised the issue of not having lifting capacity, and the Army has that high on its requirements list.
The Nepalese Army, who operate all government owned aircraft, are currently reviewing the AgustaWestland AW139 and the Bell 412EPI and plan to dispose of the Super Pumas and AS350s. Consequently, Bell has recently demonstrated the 412EPI to them, only a few months after they presented the 407GXP in Nepal which resulted in an initial order for one from commercial operator Simrik Air, due next month.
Bell test pilot Brent Berwick flew the 412 with Nepali pilots up to an altitude of 6,400m in the Khumbu and Annapurna Ranges around Jomsom Airfield in Western Nepal. This included landing and take offs from 15,200 ft., ground effect hover at nearly 18,000 ft. density altitude and then flew up to 20,000 ft. pressure altitude near Mount Everest. The 412 landed at Pheriche and climbed above Mt Everest Base Camp, as well as carrying out ridge landings in the Kali Gandaki Valley.
Nepali pilot Siddhartha Gurung of Simrik Air (Bell’s agent in Nepal) also got to test fly the 412 and is quoted locally saying that although it lacked the high-altitude capability of the AS350B3, the ability in rescue operations to carry three stretchers and 14 passengers would make it useful. The AgustaWestland product the 412 is competing against would also achieve that.
Jeremy Parkin – HeliHub.com
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