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Developed in the early 1980s, the aircraft was used for the first time in Somalia. In 2002, it was updated with new weapons and next generation avionics
September 15th, 1983. An Italian military helicopter takes off for the first time, raising the viewers’ interest. The prototype, with a vaguely familiar shape, would become the A129 Mangusta, the first attack helicopter to be entirely built in Europe.
The A129 Mangusta (known as the AW129 since 2007) represents an evolution of the Bell AH-1 Cobra, its direct rival for the structural features. However, unlike the American model, the Italian aircraft has two four-bladed rotors.
After the tests, the Italian Army (Esercito Italiano) ordered 60 helicopters (which later fell to 45) to respond to the need of a light anti-tank helicopter that could hide behind natural obstacles before attacking its enemy. In its original configuration, the aircraft had BGM-71 TOW wire-guided missiles, 81 mm rockets and could integrate Hellfire missiles. Furthermore, its first version was equipped with autonomous navigation and NVG devices that had full capacity to fly in scarce visibility conditions.
In the video: The Mangusta's aerobatic display
The baptism of fire took place in Somalia, during the Operation Restore Hope between 1992 and 1994. During the war, on July 2nd, 1993, the Mangusta had a leading role in the popular checkpoint pasta battle, a bloody conflict between the Italian Army and the rebels near the infamous checkpoint pasta. In its anti-tank version, armed with 12.7 mm machine guns placed on specific pods, the A129 participated to operations in Angola, Albania (1997), Republic of Macedonia, and Kosovo, between 1998 and 2000.
NEW WEAPONS FOR THE MANGUSTA
In January 2002, the Italian Army signed a contract for updating the CBT version of the first operating 45 Mangusta helicopters. The main changes concerned: the installation of a 20 mm three-barrelled Gatling M197 cannon on a turret underneath the front part of the aircraft; the replacement of a four-bladed rotor with a five-bladed one; the possibility of using 70 mm rockets; updates in the avionics and in flight systems/NVG devices.
Apart from this, the CBT version also includes the installation of FIM-92 or Mistral surface-to-air missiles. In this configuration, the helicopter may be used for anti-tank, armed reconnaissance, ground attack, escort, fire support and antiaircraft purposes. Three models in the CBT version are currently operating in Afghanistan.
From the technical point of view, the A129 is fuelled by two Rolls-Royce Gem 2 engines that, along with quite contained tonnage and weight (its kerb weight is of only 2.5 tons), allow it to reach a maximum speed of 158 knots. The Mangusta has a maximum takeoff weight of 4.600 kg (slightly heavier than the AH-1), with a range of 316 miles. It is 13.31 meters long and 3.40 meters high, with a rotor diameter of 11.90 meters.