. Agusta A 129 Mangusta

Dimensions: rotorspan, 39 feet; length, 40 feet, 3 inches; height, 11 feet Weights: empty, 5,575 pounds; gross, 9,039 pounds Power plant: 2 x Rolls-Royce 1004D turboshaft engines

Performance: maximum speed, 183 miles per hour; ceiling, 14,900 feet; range, 120 miles Armament: 8 x Hellfire antitank missiles; various gunpods Service dates: 1990-


he mighty Mangusta is the first European attack helicopter and Italy’s most effective antitank weapons system. It is also the first such machine to utilize a fully computerized, integrated management system to ease crew workload.

The utility of helicopters as antitank weapons greatly increased in the 1970s with deployment of such armored behemoths as the Mil Mi 24 Hind and the Hughes AH-64 Apache. In 1972 the Italian army followed suit by advancing specifications for a new light attack helicopter, the first such ma­chine designed in Europe. This helicopter was in­tended to be unique from the start because of its highly automated nature. Once airborne, both flight and armament functions were to be monitored and controlled by an integrated computer system. Agusta, fresh from its success with the A 106 model, advanced a prototype in 1983. The new A 129 Mangusta (Mongoose) utilizes the rear half of the earlier A 106 with a totally redesigned front portion. It is heavily armored and highly angular, with stepped seating for the pilot and gunner. The
two high-powered engines are well protected and fed cold air to reduce infrared heat signatures. The main rotor has four blades and is made primarily from light composite materials. These are tough, able to withstand direct hits from Soviet-style 23mm cannon shells.

The A 129 is especially designed to function in a combat environment without excessively tiring the crew. For this reason the integrated flight system monitors and displays only seven basic functions to pilot and gunner so as not to distract them. The Mangusta is also capable of nighttime activity and mounts state-of-the-art night vision with infrared de­tection gear. For offensive purposes it usually car­ries eight Hellfire antitank missiles and a plethora of smaller rockets and gunpods. The Italian army has procured 60 of these hard-hitting machines, and they proved effective during UN peacekeeping ef­forts in Somalia. However, the Mangusta has yet to find customers abroad. They remain potent fighting systems, but the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 may render them redundant in the antitank role.