Meet Italian Army attack helicopter, the AH-129 Mangusta

A129 Mangusta Esercito Italian Army
Italian Army AH-129D Mangusta attack helicopter.

The Agusta A129 Mangusta (Mongoose), also known as AW129 or AH129, is the primary attack helicopter of the Esercito Italiano (Italian Army) and the first attack helicopter entirely designed and produced in Western Europe. It was then developed by the Italian aerospace company Agusta Westland, which later became Finmeccanica and Leonardo.

The nickname 'Mangusta' was given as a commercial move to highlight the A129's ability to defeat the Bell AH-1 'Cobra' helicopter, its main competitor in the tenders of the time.

Introduced in 1983, the Mangusta took part in several UN missions in the 1990s, including the Yugoslav Civil War and later in Somalia and Angola. The platform proved to be ideal as a peacekeeping aircraft and particularly suited to operations in warm climates. Since then, the Italian Army has widely deployed the type in several military operations abroad.

Development of the A129 began in the early 1970s to meet the Italian Army's need to introduce a light observation/anti-tank helicopter to address the threat from the Warsaw Pact. The design of the platform began in 1978 and the first of five prototypes made the first flight on 11 September 1983. In total, the Italian Army received 60 Mangustas.

A129 Mangusta Esercito Italian Army

The Mangusta is equipped with anti-tank and area-suppression weapons systems, which allow it to effectively perform its primary role of attack against armored targets, but can also cover ground attack, fire support, escort and armed reconnaissance/scout roles. It is an all-weather helicopter capable of operating day and night.

It is powered by twin Rolls-Royce Gem 2-1004D turboshaft engines with semicircular air intakes mounted along the top of the fuselage that are connected to systems developed to enhance mission capability such as simple engine controls with automatic engine management, fast start-up, high power for fast transit and low specific fuel consumption. The aircraft also features a low signature and fast engine response, and the engines also incorporate protective measures to reduce the helicopter’s infrared heat signature.

It was the first helicopter to make use of a fully computerized, integrated management system that helps reduce crew workload, and much of the helicopter’s functionality was designed to be automated. This includes parts of the flight and armament systems, which are monitored and directly controlled by onboard computers. This chopper is also equipped with infrared night vision systems.

A129 Mangusta Esercito Italian Army

The A129 Mangusta features a tandem cockpit that seats a crew of two—pilot and gunner. The fuselage is highly angular and armored to provide ballistic protection, while the composite rotor blades can also withstand hits from 23mm cannon fire.

Its five-blade main rotor is mounted on a turboshaft powerplant which allows it to reach a maximum speed of 170 mph (278 km/h) and maintain a cruise speed of 155 mph (229 km/h). It has a range of 320 miles (510 km) and a service ceiling of 15,500 feet or 4,725 meters, with a rate of climb of 2,025 feet per minute (10.2 m/s).

The offensive side of the helicopter is guaranteed by a 20mm main gun with three rotating barrels and side pods capable of launching 70 or 81mm rockets and missiles of various types such as AGM-114 Hellfire, BGM-71 TOW anti-tank, FIM-92 Stinger and MBDA Mistral anti-aircraft.

A129 Mangusta Esercito Italian Army

Many of these capabilities have been gained during the various upgrades the type has undergone over the years. The first upgrade to the A129C/CBT standard introduced a 20mm three-barreled rotating M197 gun installed in a turret under the nose, the five-blade rotor instead of the four-blade one, the ability to launch 70mm rockets (in addition to 81mm rockets), improvements to avionics and night flight/navigation systems, launchers for FIM-92 Stinger or Mistral anti-aircraft missiles and a new low visibility color scheme. Subsequently, with the A129D standard, it was further enhanced with the new Rafael TOPLITE III optronic system in place of the Saab HeliTow, which includes FLIR and a new laser with rangefinder function, target designator, target marker for other launchers and source discovery laser. In addition, the Spike launch pads can be elevated to simplify and improve the safety of the launch during combat.

The Italian Army A129 Mangusta helicopters are assigned to the 5th Regiment 'Rigel' in Casarsa della Delizia and to the 7th Regiment 'Vega' in Rimini. Both units are led by the 'Friuli' Air Brigade. Currently the Italian Army fleet includes 48 Mangustas: 32 are in the AH-129D variant and 16 in the AH-129C (used only for training tasks).

The Italian aerospace company Leonardo is currently developing the successor of the A129, the AW249, whose delivery is expected in 2035.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Images: Matteo Sanzani

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