The typical altitude at which an older helicopter can travel is between 12,000 and 15,000 feet. Today, most helicopter manufacturers limited their machines to about 20,000 to 25,000 feet. But did you know that in 1972, someone set the record at about 40,000 feet?
Jean Boulet achieved the world record for the highest altitude reached in a helicopter at 40,820 feet in 1972. His engines failed during the descent, and he landed the aircraft without power, setting a new record for the highest unpowered helicopter landing.
Who was Jean Boulet?
Jean Boulet was a French aviator born in Brunoy, near Paris, on November 16, 1920. He was an Ecole Polytechnique graduate and began his career as a fighter pilot in the French Air Force, in 1940. He was then hired in 1947 by the SNCASE, which eventually became Sud Aviation and then the Société Nationale Industrielle Aérospatiale’s Division Hélicoptères.
He was one of the first foreign pilots to fly a helicopter in the United States Air Force, having been trained in the United States earlier in his life to become a military pilot with the French Air Force. He would become one of the most important pioneers in the history of rotorcraft flight testing. Boulet holds multiple rotorcraft distance, height, and speed records.
During his career, he logged over 9,000 flight hours. The brave pilot was recognized for his exceptional flying abilities, but he was also admired for his modesty and unpretentious demeanor.
The book History of the Helicopter As Told by its Pioneers, 1907-1956 by Boulet was published in 1982 and included firsthand interviews with Hanna Reitsch, Carl Bode, Heinrich Foche, Anton Flettner, Colonel Frank Gregory, Igor Sikorsky, Bartram Kelly, Arthur Young, Frank Piasecki, Stanley Hiller, Rene Mouille, Jean Boulet, Floyd Carlson, Joe Mashman, Kaman test pilot Bill Murray, F. The History of the Helicopter, another book by Boulet, has become a standard reference for rotorcraft engineers and scientists. On February 15, 2011, Boulet, recognized as one of the greatest pioneers in the history of rotorcraft flight testing, died at the age of 90. (Source: Verti Pedia)
Reaching the Highest Altitude in a Helicopter
Boulet achieved a world record for the highest altitude reached by helicopter on June 21, 1972, when he flew an Aérospatiale SA-315B Lama to 40,820 feet. The record is still valid today. Due to the extreme cold, the engine flamed out when he cut power and began to descend. Boulet performed the highest power off, full touch down autorotation, landing with no power. This autorotation at high altitude also set a new world record. (Source: Verti Pedia)
The Aérospatiale SA 315B Lama
The Lama program began in the late 1960s in response to a request from the Indian and Nepalese forces for a helicopter capable of operating in both nations’ harsh mountain ranges. The goal was extreme heat and high performance, with the potential to lift a usable load well beyond 10,000 feet, by combining the lightweight five-seat SA 313 Aérospatiale Alloutte II airframe with the dynamic components of the larger and heavier seven-seat Aérospatiale SA 316 Allouette III. Engineers at Aerospatiale planned to accomplish this by integrating the greatest features of these two aircraft. (Source: Vertical Mag)