Gazelle Gazelle Gazelle Gazelle
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The Aérospatiale Gazelle is a French five-seat helicopter, commonly used for light transport, scouting and light attack duties. It is powered by a single Turbomeca Astazou turbine engine and was the first helicopter to feature a fenestron tail instead of a conventional tail rotor. It was designed by Sud Aviation, later Aérospatiale, and manufactured in France and the United Kingdom through a joint production agreement with Westland Aircraft. Further manufacturing under license was performed by SOKO in Yugoslavia and the Arab British Helicopter Company (ABHCO) in Egypt.

 Originally developed as a replacement to Aérospatiale's Alouette helicopter, some aspects of the Gazelle such as its purpose and layout were based on the previous model. The Gazelle featured several important innovations. It was the first helicopter to carry a fenestron or fantail; this is a shrouded multi-blade anti-torque device housed internally upon the vertical surface of the Gazelle's tail, which replaces a conventional tail rotor entirely.[4] The fenestron, while requiring a small increase in power at slow speeds, has advantages such as being considerably less vulnerable and low power requirements during cruise speeds, and has been described as "far more suitable for high-speed flight".[11][12]

The main rotor system was originally based upon the rigid rotor technology developed by Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm for the MBB Bo 105; however, due to control problems experienced while at high speeds upon prototype aircraft, the rigid rotor was replaced with a semi-articulated one on production aircraft. The difficulties experienced with the early design of the main rotor was one of the factors contributing to the lengthy development time of the Gazelle.[13] The individual rotor blades were crafted out of composite materials, primarily composed of fiberglass, and had been designed for an extremely long operational lifespan; composite rotor blades would become a common feature of later helicopters.[11][14] The main rotor maintains a constant speed in normal flight, and is described as having a "wide range of tolerance" for autorotation.[15]

The Gazelle is capable of transporting up to five passengers and up to 1,320 pounds of cargo on the underside cargo hook, or alternatively up to 1,100 pounds of freight in 80 cubic feet of internal space in the rear of the cabin. Armed variants would carry up to four HOT (Haut subsonique Optiquement Téléguidé Tiré d'un Tube) wire-guided anti-tank missiles, or a forward firing 20mm cannon mounted to the fuselage sides with its ammunition supply placed in the cabin.[16] Various optional equipment can be installed upon the Gazelle, such as fittings for engine noise suppression, 53 gallon ferry tanks, a rescue winch capable of lifting up to 390 pounds, emergency flotation gear, particle filter, high landing skids, cabin heater, adjustable landing lights, and engine anti-icing systems.[17] While the Gazelle had been developed under a military-orientated design programme, following the type's entry to service increasing attention to the commercial market was paid as well.[18] The type was marketed to civil customers; notably, civilian operator Vought Helicopters at one point had a fleet of at least 70 Gazelles.[6][19] Civil-orientated Gazelles often included an external baggage access door mounted beneath the main cabin.[20]

Civil SA 341G Gazelle

The Gazelle was the first helicopter to be adapted for single-pilot operations under instrument flight rules. An advanced duplex autopilot system was developed by Honeywell in order to allow the pilot to not be overworked during solo flights; the Gazelle was chosen as the platform to develop this capability as it was one of the faster and more stable helicopters in service at that point and had a reputation for being easy to fly.[21] The docile flying abilities of the Gazelle are such that it has been reported as being capable of comfortably flying without its main hydraulic system operation at speeds of up to 100 knots.[22] The flight controls are highly responsive; unusually, the Gazelle lacks a throttle or a trimming system. Hydraulic servo boosters are present on all flight control circuits to mitigate control difficulties in the event of equipment failure.[19][22]

The Gazelle was designed to be easy to maintain, all bearings were life-rated without need for continuous application of lubrication and most fluid reservoirs to be rapidly inspected.[22] The emphasis in the design stage of achieving minimal maintenance requirements contributed towards the helicopter's low running costs; many of the components were designed to have a service life in excess of 700 flying hours, and in some cases 1,200 flight hours, before requiring replacement.[23] Due to the performance of many of the Gazelle's subsystems, features pioneered upon the Gazelle such as the fenestron would appear upon later Aerospatiale designs.[13][24]

As the Gazelle continued to serve into the 21st century, several major modernisation and upgrade programs were undertaken, commonly adding new avionics to increase the aircraft's capabilities. Aerotec group offered an overhaul package to existing operators, which comprised upgraded ballistic protection, night vision goggles, new munitions including rockets and machine guns, and 3D navigational displays; as of 2013, Egypt is said to be interested in upgrading their domestically built Gazelles.[25] QinetiQ developed a Direct Voice Input (DVI) system for the Gazelle, the DVI system enables voice control over many aspects of the aircraft, lowering the demands placed upon the crew.[26] In September 2011, QinetiQ and Northrop Grumman proposed outfitting former British Gazelles with autonomous flight management systems derived from the Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout, converting them into unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)s to meet a Royal Navy requirement for an unmanned maritime aerial platform.[27]

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