Since its service introduction in 1973, the Sud Aviation (later Aerospatiale) Gazelle series of lightweight helicopters proved popular with many foreign operators. The type was taken into service in both civilian and military circles and is regarded as a robust and versatile package despite its lightweight classification. The primary operator of the series remains the French Army, for whom it was developed for, and the line has seen considerable combat service for its time in the sky.
Development of the Gazelle stemmed from a French Army requirement calling for a successor to follow the aging fleet of Aerospatiale "Alouette III" light helicopters. This led the French concern of Sud Aviation to begin development of such a new rotary-wing platform in 1966 resulting in the "SA340" prototype which carried a conventional tail unit from the Alouette II helicopter series. A successful first-flight was undertaken on April 7th, 1967 and four pre-series aircraft (SA341) were ultimately completed. Before the end, the conventional tail rotor unit gave way to a Fenestron tail rotor unit. Evaluations of this helicopter system revealed a platform that was highly agile and fast, allowing the design to claim several speed records of the time. This preceded service entry of what became the "Gazelle" in 1973 and the helicopter has since been built under various brand labels: Sud Aviation (later to become Aerospatiale), Westland and Soko.
The Gazelle remains in service as of this writing (2017) with several major and minor operators. Production spanned from 1967 until 1996 and some 1,775 units were completed in that span.
The base Gazelle design carries a crew of one or two and can seat up to three passengers in the cabin. Overall length is 39 feet with a main rotor diameter of 34.5 feet and a height of 10.2 feet. Empty weight is 2,000lb against an MTOW of 4,000lb. Power is from a Turbomeca Astazou IIIA turboshaft engine developing 590 horsepower and driving a three-bladed main rotor and a shrouded Fenestron tail rotor unit. Performance includes a maximum speed of 195 miles per hour, a cruising speed of 164 miles per hour, a range out to 415 miles and a service ceiling up to 16,405 feet. Rate-of-climb is 1,770 feet-per-minute.
Its outward form is conventional, featuring a heavily glazed frontal section for optimal viewing out-of-the-cockpit. The engine is seated over the rear area of the fuselage and a drive shaft runs along the length of the tail stem to power the shrouded tail unit. The tail rotor is buried within the extreme aft of the empennage and forms the base of the vertical tail fin. Outboard vertical planes are seated towards the rear of the tail unit along a pair of horizontal planes. The undercarriage is a simple four-point skid assembly which reduces procurement costs and maintenance requirements. Overhead is the main rotor mast holding the three-bladed main rotor unit.
The Gazelle has been build through many variants to cover various upgrades, roles and customers. The initial prototype was the aforementioned SA340 and pre-series models were known as SA341 (1968). At least one of the pre-series stock was modified for British Army service as the Gazelle AH.1. The initial French Army production model became the SA.341.1001 and this first-flew in August of 1971 with the Turbomeca Astazou IIIA series engine, a revised tail unit and a lengthened fuselage.
The SA341B followed and this was built to a British Army standard by Westland and designated locally as the Gazelle AH.1. The Astazou IIIN2 engine was fitted and service entry came in July of 1974 after which some 158 were produced. The Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm (FAA) was also the recipient of the SA341C - known locally as the Gazelle HT.2 by Westland - and these were dedicated training platforms. Thirty were acquired with Astazou IIIN2 series engines. Service entry arrived in December 1974.
The SA341D (Westland Gazelle HT.3) was the training platform of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and based largely on the SA341C. Fourteen were acquired from July 1973 on. A communications-minded variant was also taken on by the RAF under the SA341E / Westland Gazelle HCC.4 designation.
The French Army then took on the SA341F with its Astazou IIIC engine fit and 166 were delivered, some with automatic cannon support.
The SA341G marked a civilian market form of the Gazelle and given the Astazou IIIA engine. Certification was had in June of 1972 and the aircraft was differentiated by its lengthened cabin. The SA342J was the civilian market version of the SA342L (detailed below) and given the Astazou XIV engine with improved tail rotor functionality. These changes allow the MTOW to be increased and service entry followed in 1977. A militarized version of this mark was the SA342K which carried the same engine and featured shrouded intakes for desert operations. This mark appeared in May 1973.
The SA342L was a military model based in the SA342J carrying the same engine though with broadened provision for armament and special-mission equipment. The type also supported the Euromissile "HOT" Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) which added a tank-killing capability to the line. The French Army adopted the SA342M as its anti-tank platform. This model carried the Astazou XIV engine and could be armed with the HOT ATGM missile. Special sighting equipment was also intalled.
The militarized export version of the Gazelle was under the SA341H designation and these were powered by the Astazou IIIB engine. SOKO of Yugoslavia carried on local production of this mark and delivered various guises all based on original Aerospatiale marks: there was the HO-42 based in the SA341H, the scout-minded HI-42 "Hera" (SA341H), the attack HN-42M "Gama" (SA341H) and the HS-42 MEDEVAC platform (SA341H). The HN-45M "Gama 2" was an attack platform based on the SA342L.
The SA342M1 involved the SA342M models outfitted with the main rotor blades of the Ecureuil light helicopter in an attempt to improve upon performance. The SA349 marked a testbed which evaluated wing stubs for armaments-carrying.
Operators of the Gazelle series have ranged from Angola and Bosnia and Herzegovina to Syria and the United Kingdom (currently only with the Army Air Corps). Former operators include China, Ireland, Serbia and Montenegro, Republic Srpska, the United Kingdom (RAF and RN) and the former Yugoslavia. Beyond its production by SOKO of Yugoslavia, the series has also been manufactured under license by the Arab British Helicopter Company in Egypt.
The Gazelle series is a veteran of many wars and local and regional conflicts including the 1982 Lebanon War and the 1991 Gulf War. The product remains in service with French Army forces (2017) as its lead air scout and is fielded in conjunction with its attack helicopter component - the Eurocopter Tiger (detailed elsewhere on this site).
Angola; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Burundi; Cameroon; China; Cyprus; Ecuador; Egypt; France; Gabon; Guinea; Iraq; Ireland; Kuwait; Lebanon; Libya; Montenegro; Morocco; Qatar; Republic Srpska; Rwanda; Serbia; Serbia and Montenegro; Senegal; Syria; Tunisia; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; Yugoslavia.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Ground Attack (Bombing, Strafing)
Ability to conduct aerial bombing of ground targets by way of (but not limited to) guns, bombs, missiles, rockets, and the like.
✓Close-Air Support (CAS)
Developed to operate in close proximity to active ground elements by way of a broad array of air-to-ground ordnance and munitions options.
✓Special-Mission: MEDical EVACuation (MEDEVAC)
Extraction of wounded combat or civilian elements by way of specialized onboard equipment and available internal volume or external carrying capability.
✓Special-Mission: Search & Rescue (SAR)
Ability to locate and extract personnel from areas of potential harm or peril (i.e. downed airmen in the sea).
Used in roles serving the commercial aviation market, ferrying both passengers and goods over range.
✓Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR), Scout
Surveil ground targets / target areas to assess environmental threat levels, enemy strength, or enemy movement.
Serving Special Forces / Special Operations elements and missions.
Developed ability to be used as a dedicated trainer for student pilots (typically under the supervision of an instructor).
31.3 ft (9.53 m)
34.4 ft (10.50 m)
10.4 ft (3.18 m)
2,202 lb (999 kg)
4,409 lb (2,000 kg)
+2,207 lb (+1,001 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the SA 342L Gazelle production variant)
monoplane / low-mounted / straight
Design utilizes a single primary wing mainplane; this represent the most popular mainplane arrangement.
Mainplanes are low-mounted along the sides of the fuselage.
The planform involves use of basic, straight mainplane members.
(Structural descriptors pertain to the SA 342L Gazelle production variant)
1 x Turbomeca XIVM turboshaft engine developing 590 horsepower while driving three blade main rotor and Fenestron-shrouded tail rotor.
Rocket Pods, 4 OR 6 x HOT Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs), Matra Mistal Air-to-Air Missiles (AAMs), Reconnaissance Pods, Mission Pods, 7.62mm machine guns, and 1 x 20mm GIAT autocannon (starboard side mounting only).
(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
Hardpoint Mountings: 2 (if wing stubs fitted)
Note: Diagram above does not take into account inline hardpoints (mounting positions seated one-behind-the-other).
SA 340-01 - Prototype Designation
SA 341 - Second Protoype Designation; Larger cabin; Composite blades.
SA 341B Gazelle AH.1 - Initial Production Models (British Army).
SA 341C Gazelle HT.2 - Initial Production Models (British Navy).
SA 341D Gazelle HT.3 - Trainer Variant
SA 341E Gazelle HCC.4 - Transport model for the Royal Air Force.
SA 341F - French Army Model
SA 341G - Civilian Variant
SA 341H - Military Export Model
SA 342J - Civilian Model
SA 342K - Military Export Model
SA 342L - Final Export Military Model
SA 342M - Final French Army Production Variant; Fitted with Astral AAMs.
Soko H-42 - Yugoslav-produced variant of SA 341H model.
Soko H-45 - Yugoslav-produced variant of the SA 342L model.
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