Helicopters (9/10)

Continuing this week on Five is the series that brings to life the classic card game of the 1970s and 80s. Hosted by Robert Llewellyn and Ashley Hames, the show uses the Top Trumps format to examine all manner of extreme machines. In this instalment, the duo turn their attention to helicopters. While Robert heads to Cornwall to get to grips with the A109 multi-role chopper, Ashley visits Alabama in the US to experience the fearsome power of the AH-64 Apache.

Top Trumps sees Robert and Ashley go head to head in a bid to outsmart each other across a range of subjects. With each show based on a different theme, the presenters embark on personal factfinding missions – immersing themselves in their given topic and collecting all the information they can. They then battle it out to see which statistics are more impressive.

In this week’s episode, Robert is in picturesque Cornwall to test a modern classic. Originally developed as a search and rescue helicopter for use in the Swiss Alps, the A109 is sleek, very fast and versatile, and has become the first choice for aerial filming. With a top speed of some 168 knots – or around 190mph – it is the world’s fastest civilian chopper. “Ashley mate, I’m sorry – I know you try really hard, but check this out!” says a confident Robert on seeing the A109 in action.

With a climb rate of 1,750 feet per minute, the A109 is nippy enough to film fighter jets in action, but its unique selling point is its versatility. As well as aerial photography, this type of craft is also used by police to track criminals, and by air ambulance crews. “This is an absolutely extraordinary helicopter,” says Robert.

To sample one of the chopper’s most famous assets, its hovering ability, Robert sets up an eye exam with a difference. While the intrepid presenter remains on terra firma holding an optician’s eye chart, chief pilot Keith Thompson flies up into the air and uses the craft’s powerful camera to read the letters on the card – from a distance of 500 metres. “This is a real test of how stable the helicopter is,” says Robert. Thanks to motion detectors with built-in gyroscopes, the A109 can remain steady enough for Keith to pass with flying colours.

Before flying back to base, Robert takes the A109 on a news-gathering assignment in nearby Plymouth. Along the way, he collects some vital helicopter statistics – including a range of 375 nautical miles, a weight of 2.5 tons and a combined engine power of 840 shaft horse power. Impressive though these numbers are, will they be enough to hand Robert victory in this week’s challenge?

Some miles away in Alabama, USA, Ashley thinks he has just the thing to out-trump Robert’s chopper – the AH-64 Apache. “Wow, that is one meanlooking machine,” he says as the craft approaches over the nearby trees. “This is the most fearsome attack helicopter in the world,” he adds. “They’re lethal, they’re fast and they’re powerful.”

Hitching a ride with gunner Matt Rowe and pilot Scott Jackson of the US military, Ashley gets to grips with the Apache. After learning about the Longbow radar system capable of automically tracking 128 targets simultaneously, the 1,024 nautical mile range, the $18million price tag and the climb rate of 2,500 feet per minute, Ashley is confident of success. “I think I’ve got this one licked,” he says.

However, Ashley gathers his most impressive statistics only when he is shown the Apache’s awesome firepower. The chopper’s 30mm chain gun fires over ten rounds a second, while its 70mm rockets leave the launcher at a rate of over 100mph. The arsenal is completed by a few $70,000 laser-guided missiles. “No one is going to mess with you in an Apache,” says Ashley.

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