Leh, May 14 After having put their name in record books, the Siachen Pioneers, the Air Force’s lifeline to troops deployed in inaccessible areas atop the world?s highest battlefield, is looking at further enhancing its reach and capabilities with the induction of new helicopters.Known as the 114 Helicopter Unit, the very survival of troops manning posts as high as 22,000 feet depend upon the Siachen Pioneers, as the unit is aptly called, and their Cheetah helicopters, as no other flying machine can land at that altitude. The unit is now awaiting induction of the Cheetal helicopter, a re-engined and more powerful version of the Cheetah.

The Cheetals carried out summer trails over Siachen last year followed by winter trials during the last few months.

Cheetals were flown over the glacier for about 50 hours during each trial session by seasoned pilots to evaluate each aspect of the flying machine.

The Cheetal has the same airframe as the Cheetah, but is powered by the engine used in the Dhruv advanced light helicopter. A more powerful engine means we would be to fly still higher and be able to carry more load.

The Siachen Pioneers set a world record when it carried out a casualty evacuation from an altitude of 25,000 feet. The unit is awaiting ratification of this feat from the Gunnies Book of Records.

The 114 Helicopter Unit was raised at the 10,600 feet high Leh airbase on April 1, 1964, the IAF’s only flying unit to be raised at that altitude. It has seen action in Indo-Pak wars, major operations and other mercy operations. It was the 114 HU that supported the High Altitude Warfare School?s first ??exploratory expedition??, led by Colonel N Kumar to the Siachen Glacier area in September 1978.

The first landing in Siachen (as part of Operation Meghdoot) was on August 24, 1982, by a Cheetah helicopter of the unit. The 114 HU now has the unique distinction of being the only flying unit to be operating continuously in an active war zone for twenty years since Operation Meghdoot was launched in 1984. Since then it has been flying to altitudes as high as 20,000 feet as a matter of routine, holding its motto Apatsu Mitram ? A Friend in Distress ? in good stead.

Till the 1999 Kargil conflict, women pilots also flew with the squadron, but were later withdrawn following a policy decision owing to operational and physiological factors. It was during the Kargil conflict that women pilots flying in hostile environment came into prominence after pictures of Flg Offr Gunjan Saxsena climbing into a Cheetah?s cockpit with an AK-47 rifle sling across her shoulders were published.