Friday, we published part 1 of the Everest Mystery chopper landing debate. "An aircraft is considered 'landed' when all wheels (or skids for helicopters) are in full contact with the ground and are motionless with respect to it," wrote one of our contributors, a researcher, and ruled a 'right skid touchdown' leaving the final word for the Federal Aviation Authorities.
The probe-in committee of CAAN (Investigation Committee), formed in the aftermath of the incident, went further: Not only did the Captain himself admit to not landing on the summit, they wrote, he didn't even request or get a landing permit for it. CAAN calls Eurocopter's claims "hypothetical, illusive and hence misleading."
But a Commercial Pilot in helicopters and airplanes (the source has asked for his name to be withheld), e-mailed ExWeb disagreeing with both and offering some facts in favor of the Everest Mystery Chopper:<cutoff>
<b>Getting it right</b>
"I am writing in response to your article, 'Everest Mystery Chopper: It's the summit. Next question: Landing or touch down?' Much of the article quotes Bill Lougheed. While Mr. Lougheed may be an expert on Everest, is he a helicopter pilot? It would seem not from many of his comments."
"Your web site does a great job overall of covering the high altitude mountaineering scene. You were one of the leading sources for the recent phenomenal story about the helicopter on the summit of Everest. Other media come to sites like yours to source their stories. This makes the need to present factual information even greater than the direct impact it has on your readers. It increases your credibility to 'get it right'."
<b>Aeronautically unqualified opinions</b>
"Yet, it seems you are willing to publish aeronautically unqualified opinions and conjecture on aviation matters. While we obviously have great interest in this accomplishment, climbers should use caution debating aeronautic subjects. We would not be happy to read unqualified remarks of pilots concerning matters of climbing published as fact. Should we be happy to perpetrate the same? Worse if those inaccuracies are picked up and repeated by others."
"I think this whole issue arises from a confusion of languages, both linguistic and aviator/non-aviator, what constitutes a 'landing', the nature of the terrain and environment at the summit of Everest, and what Mr. Delsalle did and didn't do."
<b>Eurocopter to CAAN: We landed alright!</b>
"You state the landing was without a permit. That statement issued by the CAAN was widespread by the Indo-Asian News Service. Their reporting seems a little biased, nationalistic (jingoistic even), and defensive of the Indian Air Forces recent high altitude helicopter efforts. Eurocopter has responded to that allegation:
<i>Mount Everest landing and take-off: Eurocopter statement
Marignane, June 7, 2005
Further to the Civil Aviation Authorities of Nepal (CAAN) statement released from Katmandou on June 3rd, 2005, Eurocopter does confirm that its serial Ecureuil AS 350B3 did achieve the World Record performance of high altitude landing and take-off on Mount Everest (8850m) on May 14th and 15th 2005 as per FAI (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) standards.
Eurocopter regrets the misunderstanding with the CAAN.
Indeed the permission given by the CAAN to the Eurocopter team was very clear and did concern Everest High Altitude Heli Flight Test, including landings and take-offs as per Eurocopter flight test programme given to CAAN in March 2005.
This Mount Everest landing and take-off feat has been performed under control of a FAI Official Observer and according to the FAI rules, i.e. the touch down/take-off ensure that the rotorcraft maintains contact with the ground at least 2mn.</i>
<b>Landing is not parking!</b>
"This World Record is currently under validation. As shown in the video on our Eurocopter website this was the case as the Ecureuil AS350B3 remained landed 3mn 50 on May 14th and over 4mn on the next day."
"Mr. Lougheed states, 'An aircraft is considered 'landed' when all wheels (or skids for helicopters) are in full contact with the ground and are motionless with respect to it.' Who considers this? That would be the definition of parked. I would be interested to know where he came up with this definition. I cannot find his definition, or equivalent, in any official aviation publication."
"The Pilot/Controller Glossary, part of the Aeronautical Information Manual includes a definition, TOUCH-AND-GO LANDING - An operation by an aircraft that lands and departs on a runway without stopping or exiting the runway. Nothing there about all wheels (or skids for helicopters) in full contact with the ground, or motionless. Even dictionary definitions of 'land' and 'landing' include, 'to alight on a surface' and 'the act of coming down to the earth (or other surface)'. No mention of 'full contact with the ground' or 'motionless'(also see Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) Part 1 - DEFINITIONS AND ABBREVIATIONS)."
<b>Besides, FAA has nothing to do with it</b>
"Mr. Lougheed assures us, 'It will be up to (U.S.) Federal Aviation Authorities to determine officially exactly what record has been set here.' Wrong. The FAA has no jurisdiction or interest in this matter. It was a French helicopter and company operating in Nepal. The FAA is not the organization that addresses aeronautical records, even in the U.S. It is the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI - International Aeronautical Federation) http://www.fai.org (represented by the National Aeronautic Association - NAA within the U.S.). You can review records and claimed records pending ratification at their site. http://records.fai.org/rotorcraft/ (links section).
It is interesting to note the FAI recognizes records for Highest Take-Off (following at least two minutes contact with the surface), not landing. Maybe to discourage crash-landing for a record?
The definitions, including landing, that REALLY count in this case are those of the body governing aeronautical records, the FAI.
From FAI SPORTING CODE, SECTION 9, ROTORCRAFT CLASS E, DEFINITIONS AND CLASSIFICATIONS
2.2.0 Finish of Flight
126.96.36.199 THE LANDING: The point and/or time at which any part of a rotorcraft or its crew
a) first touches the ground, or
b) comes to rest after landing.
5.2 ALTITUDE RECORDS
5.2.5 HIGHEST TAKE-OFF
188.8.131.52 The touch down/take-off must ensure that the rotorcraft maintains contact with the ground for at least two minutes.
<b>Back to Everest summit</b>
"Pilot Didier Delsalle landed his helicopter in the manner that the terrain at the summit would safely allow. There was not enough level terrain for more than a single skid toe-in hover landing. If there were a patch of level snow large enough for a both skids full down landing, that would be much easier to accomplish and require less power 'The terrain characteristics prevent any full landing on the summit as you can see on the videos and only a hover landing, where a part of the landing gear skids stays in contact with the ground is possible there."
"When you are familiar with helicopters characteristics, you will know that this kind of 'landing' is much more difficult and requires much more power than to land on a rather flat area where all the landing gear can be fully set on the ground. But the 'hover landing' is essential to demonstrate to allow mountain rescue operation capability..."
<b>FAI will rule</b>
Our commercial pilot finally cites Mystery Chopper Pilot Didier Delsalle: "I have stabilized the hover landing with the skids in contact with the ground for 3 minutes and 50 seconds. These figures will be certified I hope by the 'Federation Internationale Aéronautique' (F.A.I.), the official international independant federation which is in charge to validate any world record attempt concerning aeronautical matters. Perhaps on the videos you have you can't see precisely the time I stayed there but the Official Observer of the FAI who was monitoring us during our attempts has seen on the original tapes the time we claim for. To validate the 'Highest take-off world record', a minimum of two minutes in contact with the ground is mandatory.
As required by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI - International Aeronautical Federation), the aircraft remained landed on ground more than 2 minutes on the top of the world before flying back to Lukla. This feat was renewed the day after.
Ends the commercial pilot on the landing issue: "Many seemed to take the 'Stepping out of his helicopter' line in the original press release to mean that was at the summit, and wanted to see the pictures of that. Having seen the videos you can appreciate the senseless nature of that interpretation."
<b>Call to climbers: No risk to you - but benefits perhaps</b>
Next the pilot writes about the records effect on climbers: "It seems some climbers are unhappy that a helicopter has invaded 'their' domain at the summit of Everest. Ironic, given that there are many other people that would level the same argument against climbers treading on these sacred heights."
"Attempting to deny or doubt this accomplishment will have an unfortunate effect. If efforts are successful in casting enough skepticism to the validity of the feat it will spur more attempts. Follow on efforts may not be as safe, conservative, or sensitive to the presence of climbers as Eurocopters. Didier Delsalle wrote:
'We have realized this project with a great respect for the Mountain, for the people who suffer incredibly and risk their life to climb there and for the Country which hosted us. One of my worrying matters was not to bother the climbers in any case if some of them were in the area, to avoid any risk of avalanche or any other life-risky troubles. For us it was pretty clear that we would reject any landing attempt in case climbers were on the summit or on its approaches.'"
<b>"Bravo to Didier Delsalle!"</b>
"Subsequent efforts to establish a more 'solid', or widely accepted landing at the summit of Mt. Everest by the criteria Mr. Lougheed has suggested will require clearing and packing a large enough flat area or (shudder) construction of a helipad. It seems most won't accept anything less than skids full-down, even engine off, to be a 'landing'. To know the nature of helicopter flight and extreme high altitude and the summit of Everest is to know this is absurd. I'll be surprised to ever see anyone do more than the single skid toe-in hover landing Mr. Delsalle did. I won't be surprised to see many tragedies trying to do otherwise."
"Bravo to Didier Delsalle and the rest of the Eurocopter team for their accomplishment, and doing it safely. They have stated this was to show the high altitude capabilities of their production machine, and the potential for high altitude rescues:
'Considering this record, I will be even more happy if one day, with the benefits of these flight test results, one of our helicopter can rescue someone in the 8000 meters region from a deep pulmonary or brain edema. This day, it will really be a great day and a great victory for me!'
"I would think climbers would be grateful to this pilot and his team for furthering the demonstrated capabilities of his aircraft that could one day save their life," ends the Commercial Pilot his e-mail.
<i>Although not (yet) licensed pilots, several climbers in team ExplorersWeb has up 20 hours of flight training and are well familiar with touch-and-go landings which are a regular part of the basic training. We have also witnessed several high altitude rescues in the mountains. Hover landings are very frequent and 2 minutes is commonly more than enough to pick up an injured person and fly him down to safety.</i>
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