Challenge One of the World’s Greatest Aircraft Designers to Help Save Snow Leopards

Updated: Apr 16

For more than a decade, Kashmir World Foundation (KwF) has been operating aircraft around the world protecting endangered cats, rhinos, sea turtles, and many other species. We integrate airframes with power and propulsion systems to carry sensors, high performance computers, and special components needed to perform our missions. Operating on battery or liquid fuel, our aircraft meet most of our mission needs.

The global snow leopard population remains unknown, but based on their research, Suryawanshi and his colleagues fear it may be lower than prevailing guesstimates suggest. Photo by Shan Shui / Panthera / Snow Leopard Trust

But the mission that drove us to create KwF -- protecting snow leopards and other endangered species in the Himalayas -- eluded us with demands on flight performance that could not be met by any existing aircraft. To support this mission, the aircraft must operate at very high altitude while close to ground below and to the sides as they navigate through extremely rocky terrain while encountering high and highly variable winds with snow, ice, and freezing rain. Remote from any conceivable operating base, and with needs to patrol over tens of thousands of square kilometers, the aircraft must be able to stay on station for at least 8 hours processing data, making decisions, and taking swift action when needed, all while barely making a sound.


Fifty million years ago, Eurasia and current day India collided to create the tallest mountain range in the world -- the Himalayas. Lifted by the subduction of the Indian tectonic plate under the Eurasian Plate, the Himalayan mountain range runs west-northwest to east-southeast in an arc 2,400 km (1,500 mi) long. Standing at 8,848 meters (29,031.7 ft), nestled between Nepal, Tibet, and China, Mount Everest is the tallest mountain peak in the world. Glaciers and fast flowing water have cut the mountains creating jagged peaks and valleys through which winds blow with rapidly varying direction.

Masters of disguise, the snow leopards (PANTHERA UNCIA) evolved about 3.9 million years ago from Miacids, a common ancestor of tigers, to become king of the Himalayas. These elusive cats live above the high alpine areas where they hunt the blue sheep, Argali wild sheep, ibex, marmots, pikas, deer and other small mammals.