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SA 341 Gazelle / SA 342 Gazelle

The Eurocopter/Aerospatiale SA 341/342 Gazelle is a French built light utility helicopter which was first flown in 1967. The Gazelle was designed in 1967 as part of a 3 aircraft Anglo French agreement between Westlands and Aerospatiale, along with the Puma and WG.13 Lynx. The Puma support helicopter entered service with the R.A.F. during 1970. This helicopter was designed by the French, but about 20 percent of the total production is being shared by Westland and Rolls-Royce; export orders for 35 aircraft were soon obtained and there are good prospects for more. The utility version of the WG.13 Lynx was used by all three UK Services and there was also a Naval version. This helicopter was designed by Westlands and has a Rolls-Royce engine. Budgetary difficulties caused the French to cancel their plans for an attaque version for their Army, but they retained the naval version and revised arrangements were negotiated. Development proceeded satisfactorily and led to the start of production in 1972.

The Gazelle, which was to be used by all three UK Services in different rôles, ran into certain technical difficulties. The pre-production and the initial production aircraft, which flew between 1972 and 1974, suffered from vibration problems. These vibration problems were resolved by stiffening of the structure, fitting of blade dampers and, to combat ground resonance, the changing of the engine mounts and installation of a fully articulated, low frequency skid type undercarriage. Agreement was reached with the French Government on arrangements for production. The original price for this helicopter was £40,000, and had gone up to £90,000.

The Anglo-French helicopters were enthusiastically received by the United Kingdom Services. They incorporate a number of technical innovations. Westlands, for example, received the MacRobert award of the Council of Engineers Institutions for design features incorporated in the Lynx, the British-designed member of the family. By 1978 export of the Puma and Gazelle, which came into service in 1969 and 1972 respectively, exceed sales to the United Kingdom and French Governments, while export orders of the Lynx already exceeded 35, even though the aircraft had only just entered operational service. The prospects of further substantial export business were promising, particularly in the Middle East.

An ASTAZOU III N2 turbine engine built by Turbomeca, which drives a 3 bladed main rotor and a 13 bladed tail rotor (Fenestron), powers the Gazelle. Military missions include attack, antitank, antihelicopter, reconnaissance, utility, transport, and training. The three-blade main rotor is mounted on top of the fuselage at the rear of the cabin. The single turboshaft engine, mounted on top of the fuselage and to the rear of the rotor shaft, features a prominent, upturned exhaust. The teardrop-shaped fuselage has a round, glassed-in cockpit and landing skids. The tapering tail boom mid-mounted on the fuselage has a swept-back tail fin which is tapered with a square tip and rectangular flats with small fins. The fan rotor housing is built into the lower tail. External stores are mounted on weapons "outriggers" or racks on each side of the fuselage. Each rack has one hardpoint.

The emergency shut-off cock for the fuel line to the engine is controlled by a lever in the cockpit roof. It is the right hand lever and can be identified with its yellow and black knob. It is normally wired in the fully forward position and should be pulled fully rearwards to stop fuel flow to the engine. Each cockpit door is hinged at the front. Each door has an external handle with a button to release the locking mechanism which holds the doors closed or fully open. Both doors may be jettisoned independently by operating the black and yellow internal jettison levers located inside the cockpit on the left and right door hinge-lines. Both rear half-doors are hinged on their rear edge. The door release mechanism is on the front edge of the half-doors and is only accessible when their respective front doors are open. The rear half-doors may be jettisoned by operating the yellow and black jettison levers located inside the front edges of each respective door.

Egypt carried out the final complete assembly process on the Gazelle, and then carries out the testing process on ground and in the air. Some parts of it were eventually manufactured in Egypt. However, initially they were assembled from full out of parts which come from France (from Aerospatiale) in accordance with a contract. Some modifications were introduced into it so it would be suited to operatein the Egyptian climate and the climate in Arab countries. A sand filter has been installed in the motor to clean the air of dust and sand, which is a common phenomenon in the Arab region. This of course results in raising the competence of the engine. The engin differs from the old one of the ASTAZO 14H class, permitting the airplane to work competently in a temperature of up to 113 degrees, while the capability of the old one did not allow one to go above a temperature of 95 degrees.

In the 1960s there were arguments for a dedicated attack helicopter versus a utility design with an "add on" armament system. The RAF and many in the British Army were in favor of a utility design, primarily because the pure attack aircraft would have little value in areas such as Northern Ireland. While it was acknowledged that specialized designs had merit, the cost and limited utility made it difficult to purchase them in large numbers. In the end the British Army chose multi-mission platforms, fitting anti-tank TOW missiles to both the Lynx and Gazelle.

The Gazelle, fondly referred to in British service as the "whistling chicken leg", proved an incredibly reliable observation and reconnaissance helicopter for many years. Although having only one engine it is not as powerful as many others, but its lightweight chassis offsets any deficit it might have. Advantages include its small agile nature, and its unparalleled visibility from the cockpit.

In an age of decreasing defense budgets, the cost of replacing existing inventories of heliborne assets with dedicated attack helicopters is beyond most nations’ financial capacities. Helicopter-mounted machineguns and chain guns are universally common and are quite effective in air-to-ground and air-to-air missions. In 1986, France mounted the Mistral air-to-air mis-sile on the Gazelle helicopter. Since then, this 5-km-range air-superiority weapon has also been mountedon the Dauphin Panther, the A129 Mangusta, the Ecureuil Fennec, the AH-64, the CSH-2 Rooivalk,and the Eurocopter Tiger.

Under 2001 plans, the Army's Gazelle fleet was to be withdrawn from service towards the end of the next decade. The Battlefield Light Utility Helicopter project, planned to enter service from the middle of the decade, is intended to replace the capability provided by the Lynx Marks 7 and 9 and the Gazelle.

By 2008 the British Army operated Apache AH1, Lynx Mk7, Bell 212. The RN operated MerlinMk1, Lynx Mks3/8, Sea King Mks 4/5/7. The RAF operated Chinook HC2, Merlin HC3, Sea King Mk3, and Puma HC1. The withdrawl from service of Gazelle, Lynx Mk9 and Puma reduced the number of helicopter types with commonality between new airframes, most notably Navy and Air Force Merlin. Airframe commonality was set to grow with Future Lynx contracts let for the Navy and Army and the grouping of the older Sea King airframes under one IPT. It was anticipated that RAF Chinook and RN Sea King 4 would be replaced by Support Amphibious Battlefield Rotorcraft (SABR – aircraft type yet to be announced). This would generate commonality of airframes across all roles in all Services, with the exception of Apache in the Army only.

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Page last modified: 05-08-2012 19:42:09 ZULU