The Eurocopter Tiger (EC 665) is a relatively new attack helicopter initially designed and developed through a joint venture between the governments of France and Germany. Comparatively, the Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopter can be thought of as in the same class as the American Hughes AH-64 Apache, Russian Ka-50 "Black Shark", the Italian Agusta A129 Mangusta and the South African Denel AH-2 Rooivalk. The Tiger remains in limited production as of this writing, though the initial orders have been relatively impressive considering the current financial climate over the globe.
The idea of a joint venture design between France and Germany for a capable attack helicopter was on the table since the mid-1980's. At the time, the French aviation firm of Aerospatiale and the German bureau of MBB (Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm) were tabbed for the job. Despite financial setbacks in the program and its inevitable collapse in just two short years, the project was resurrected once more in 1987. Five prototypes were contracted in late 1989 and the first Tiger took to the skies in April of 1991. By 1992, the joint venture between Aerospatiale and MBB expanded becoming the newly-formed "Eurocopter Group". Production of the Eurocopter Tiger began in 2002 with deliveries beginning the following year.
In the role of attack helicopter, the Tiger can be expected to maintain low-levels of flight, making this complex machine highly susceptible to ground-based enemy fire or natural impediments. As such, survivability of both man and machine is spared at no expense when it comes to this aircraft. The fuselage is armored as such that it can reportedly withstand a direct hit from 23mm projectiles. This is possible by the carbon fiber reinforced polymer with Kevlar, titanium and aluminum construction. Carbon fiber represents at least to 80% of its make up while titanium is used in 6% of the machine while aluminum makes up 11%. Within this highly effective skin are anti-lightning protection, state-of-the-art systems (including GPS, early warning radars and data computers) and an integrated helmet-mounted sight display system (these vary by operator).
Externally, the Eurocopter Tiger falls in line with the design philosophy of current generation attack helicopters. The crew of two are seated in tandem in a stepped cockpit arrangement with forward, above and side visibility. Contrary to other attack helicopter designs, the pilot is seated in the forward cockpit position. Entry for the pilot in the is from the port side of the aircraft while the gunner in the rear cockpit position enters in on the starboard side. Both cockpit positions are offset slightly from one another in an effort to improve each position's vision. The nose features a noticeable slope while the entire slim fuselage takes advantage of flat sides with rounded edges. The undercarriage is fixed and consists of two forward main gears and a tail wheel at rear. The empennage features a main vertical tail fin with two additional vertical fins extending out from the main fin's base. The engines are kept near the aircraft's center of gravity, one engine to a fuselage side.
Armament for the Tiger series is contained on external wing stubs capable of mounting conventional attack helicopter weaponry including air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface anti-tank missiles and air-to-surface rockets. The wingstubs extend outwards from the fuselage sides directly behind and below the pilot's cockpit position and feature a distinct polyhedral bend. Standard chin-mounted weapon systems are based on the operator's choice and, as of this writing, can be of the French GIAT 30 series 30mm cannon or the German Rheinmetall 30mm cannon.
Performance specifications are impressive and include a top speed of 315 kilometers per hour along with a range of 800 kilometers (improved to 1,300 kilometers through the use of external fuel tanks). Power is derived from twin Rolls-Royce/Turbomeca/MTU MTR390 series turboshafts powering a fiber-plastic four-blade main rotor and a three-blade tail rotor. A mast-mounted sight can be affixed to the top of the main rotor at the expense of maximum speed (drops to about 290km/h). The tail rotor sits along the starboard side of the tailfin. The Eurocopter is fully-capable of performing loops, a popular air show "test" of a current generation helicopter's ability.
To date, the Tiger has appeared in four major versions coinciding in use to their host countries. The Tiger HAP is a French close-support attack version capable of air-to-air and air-to-ground engagements through use of a 30mm chin turret, missiles and rocket pods. The UH Tiger represents a multi-role derivative for use by German forces. Anti-tank missiles and rocket pods are the order of the day for this model as is a German-produced 30mm autocannon in a chin turret mounting. The Tiger ARH is an armed reconnaissance model for use by Australian Army forces to replace their UH-1 "Hueys" and OH-58 Kiowa systems. These Tigers will be fitted with improved MTR390 series engines and feature 70mm rocket pods and capability with the Hellfire II anti-tank missile system. The Tiger HAD is the Tiger of choice for the Spanish Army and French forces, utilizing anti-tank missiles and improved MTR390 series engines of 1,464shp.
The Eurocopter Tiger was introduced at an operational level in 2003. The only active and future users of the helicopter system as of this writing are Spain, France, Germany, Australia and Saudi Arabia. Australian Tigers are assembled in Australia (Eurocopter maintains a presence in the country) while the Saudis inked a 2006 deal for up to 142 Tigers in multiple versions. In all, it is expected that the Eurocopter Tiger will maintain a healthy and long shelf-life throughout Europe and beyond.