Tag Archives: Gazelle

AHF↑Inside: Maximizing the Gazelle

It’s a sunny Monday morning. The office of Aerotec Group at Valence-Chabeuil airport in southern France awakes after a two week summer holiday. However, in the maintenance hangar dedicated technicians have been working continuously to overhaul four Gazelle helicopters for a small southern European air force. Aerotec Group is dedicated to maintenance, repair, overhaul (MRO) and upgrade of Gazelles. Another core activity, and also the origin of this company, is all about Night Vision Goggle (NVG), compatible LED lightings and the optronics of the NVGs itself. Enough reason for Airheadsfly.com to shine a light on this company.

AHF↑Inside is a series of exclusive insights in the world of aviation,
given to us by the men and women who have made flying their daily life.
This time, editor Dennis Spronk hits the road all the way to southern France, and was
warmly welcomed by the Gazelle experts of Aerotec Group
at Valence-Chabeuil airport.


It all began when Paul Rossini, a former flight test engineer at GAMSTAT (the French Army helicopter test unit), with a lot of NVG experience, decided to start Aerotec Group (ATG). After developing NVG compatible cockpit lighting, they developed highly advanced NVG’s themselves. ATG has its own specialized optronics laboratory, and they now make NVG compatible lightings for different types of aircraft, helicopters, armoured vehicles and ships. Many have NATO reference codes, showing the high standard of quality of the ATG products. The latest additions are NVG compatible landing beacons, which already made its operational debut in Afghanistan in the hands of the French Army Light Aviation (ALAT). ATG also developed a night vision capability kit for the French special forces. This mobile kit enables the French Special Forces to change a standard French Air force Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircraf  into a NVG capable aircraft for special operations. It only takes two hours for two technicians. After the mission they transfer the C-130 back for normal use.

Armée de Terre? This helicopter wants to be in the air! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Armée de Terre? This helicopter wants to be in the air! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The Aerotec Group logo on one of the company's demonstrators (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The Aerotec Group logo on one of the company’s demonstrators (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Gazelle overhaul and upgrading
In ATG’s maintenance hangar at the other side of Valence-Chabeuil airport, overhaul and upgrading is done on mostly Aérospatiale Gazelle helicopters. Starting with overhauling Alouette 3 helos, in 2007-2008 an agreement was signed with Eurocopter, now known as Airbus Helicopters (Aérospatiale became part of Eurocopter first). Through this agreement, ATG became the only recognized French company for overhaul of this type of helicopter. Combined with their integrated engineering and design department, this gave ATG the opportunity to offer countries a broad range of options to overhaul and upgrade their Gazelle fleet. This also includes complete airframe overhaul, engine inspections and repairs, but also integration of the most advanced equipment such as FLIR camera, glass cockpit and modern weapon systems. Even training of pilot instructors or technicians is done, at ATG or on site.

A former Armée de Terre SA341F, waiting for it's next life (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A former Armée de Terre SA341F, waiting for it’s next life (Image © Dennis Spronk)
It's all about tools, to rebuild this Gazelle (Image © Dennis Spronk)
It’s all about tools, to rebuild this Gazelle (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Upgrade
The French contracted ATG to upgrade former ALAT Gazelles to the specifications of foreign military forces. These upgrades will get the maximum out of the helicopter. First customer was the Tunisian air force, who agreed with to purchase five Gazelles. These were completely overhauled and modernized, including test flights before delivery. ATG also provided NVG flight training to the Tunisian air force pilots. Other foreign customers include the air forces of Iraq (six Gazelles), and Niger (three Gazelles). Overhaul of four Gazelle helicopters for a small southern European country, will finish early 2015. During the Airheadsfly.com visit to ATG, some 6 other Gazelle airframes (all former ALAT) were seen in the overhaul facility.

Overview of the AEROTEC Group hangar, on the left the Gazelle for a small Southern European country, on the right the former ALAT Gazelles (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Overview of the Aerotec Group hangar, on the left the Gazelle for a small Southern European country, on the right the former ALAT Gazelles (Image © Dennis Spronk)
One of the former Armée de Terre Gazelles, waiting for it's next life (Image © Dennis Spronk)
One of the former Armée de Terre Gazelles, waiting for its next life (Image © Dennis Spronk)

The overhaul procedure
The Gazelle helicopter will be operational within the ALAT until 2030 at the latest. “It’s an easy helicopter, because it’s an old type”, says Joffray Sophys, Chief of Avionics at the ATG workshop. He continues working with a smile on his face. Joffray has been an avionics engineer with the ALAT for 16 years after which he spent two years at Eurocopter, before moving to ATG six years ago.

“Complete overhaul of a Gazelle normally should take about three to four months”, says Joffray, “but because some spare parts have delays in delivery time, we take eight months”. That’s the reason why ATG decided to stock some spare parts themselves. Joffray explains there are  eight stages when talking about a complete overhaul at ATG:

  • Step 1: Stripping the whole aircraft, and checking every part of it. This takes three to four weeks
  • Step 2: A report has to be made about the status of the aircraft. This will take one week. The report is used to see if the required work fits into the agreement, or whether additional work must be done.
  • Step 3: Fitting the avionics planning into the mechanical planning. This requires good negotiations between the mechanic, who is the project leader, and the avionics specialist.
  • Step 4: Start working
  • Step 5: After work has been completed, every (avionics) parts is checked, piece by piece
  • Step 6: Ground testing with the engine running
  • Step 7: Basic test flight (15 minutes) with only a test pilot on board, for flight safety
  • Step 8: Regular test flights, which also including a mechanic (one to check the rotor blades, one flight to check mechanical parts, one for radio navigation and one auto compass flight)

So, the Aerotec Group has its work clearly cut out. The result – time and time again – is a maximized Gazelle, a Gazelle that will be flying for many more years to come, in up to date configuration and NVG equipped. Or, as they say at Aerotec Group: “C’est magnifique, n’est ce pas?”

© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Dennis Spronk

Even a good old Gazelle has a lot of wiring, which has to be inspected and checked out (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Even a good old Gazelle has a lot of wiring, which has to be inspected and checked out (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A reliable Astazou IIIC engine, also checked and ready to get back to work (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A reliable Astazou IIIC engine, also checked and ready to get back to work (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Tailbooms in line. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Tailbooms in line. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The Chief of Avionics at work (Image © Dennis Spronk)
At work: the chief of avionics of Aerotec Group inspects the bare bones of a Gazelle helicopter. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

French increase air activity in Central Africa

A DDU marked French Army Aviation Puma supporting armoured vehicles and troops at an undisclosed location in the Central African Republic during operation Sangaris. Photo released on 9 December 2013 (Image © EMA)
A DDU marked French Army Aviation Puma supporting armoured vehicles and troops at an undisclosed location in the Central African Republic during operation Sangaris. Photo released on 9 December 2013 (Image © EMA)

The French armed forces have increased their air activity of Operation Sangaris, which is the French intervention in the Central African Republic.

“Parallel to ground activities, Rafale fighters of the Armée de l’Aire conducted combat air reconnaissance patrols over Bangui and Bossangoa, including in the morning of the 9 December”, according to an official press release from the French Ministry of Defence. “Mission was to determine if there were any threats opposing the ground forces.” A total number of six Rafale operate curently out of N’Djamena in neighbouring Chad.

Meanwhile the “aerial activity has more density” as the French put it. Apart from at least four (possibly more) Pumas and two (possibly more) Gazelles, two AS555 Fennec light utility and scout helicopters of the French Air Force have been added.

Where exactly the Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre choppers are flying has not been disclosed, but their main operating base is Bangui-M’Poko airport. The French Ministry did release some footage of a DDU marked Puma somewhere in the Central African Republic. On 9 December 2013 the French Sangaris force had its first casualties amongst the 1,200 troops deployed. Two marine paratroopers of 8e RPIMa were killed while being engaged by rebel forces on an undisclosed location.

The French intervention force will eventually be 1,600 troops strong and is backed by the United Nations. It has a mandate to last well into 2014.

Source: Ministère de la Défense with additional reporting by AIRheads’ Marcel Burger

Operation Sangaris: French deployed to Central Africa, with British support

French Air Force Airbus A340 unloading troops in Bangui (Image © EMA)
French Air Force Airbus A340 unloading troops in Bangui (Image © EMA)

The French armed forces have intervened in the Central African Republic under the name operation Sangaris. The last couple of days the total force of 1,200 troops have been put into action after wide-spread agression between anti-christian rebels, rebels and government forces left between 280 and 350 people dead in and around the city of Bangui.

At 7 December 2013 the troops have had a compact air mobile support unit at their disposal, consisting of 2 Gazelle and 4 Puma helicopters. They are mainly there to relocate and transport troops from the 6e Bataillon d’infanterie de Marine (6th Marine Infantry Battalion; 6eBima) spearheading the intervention force. Additional troops were partly flown in by a French Air Force Airbus A340.

The French were able to act quickly using their garrison in Gabon, while Mistral-class amphibious assault ship Dixmude had unloaded support and reconnaissance ground units in neighbouring Cameroon on 1 December 2013. Those units crossed the border with the Central African Republic over land in the night of 6 and 7 December 2013.

A British Royal Air Force C-17 with serial ZZ178 contributed with flying in supplies and material to Bangui-M’Poko Airport on 6 December 2013. Air support was and is provided by continuing patrols of Armée de l’Air Rafale fighter aircraft.

M’Poko airport is also the operating base for the white painted United Nations Humanitarian Air Service in the country, currently likely consisting of at least three or four Let 410s and possibly a Beechcraft 1900.

Source: Ministère de la Défense with additional reporting by AIRheads’ Marcel Burger

A French Army Gazelle (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A French Army Gazelle of the type deployed in Central Africa as part of Operations Sangaris (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Royal Air Force C-17 ZZ178 after landing at M'Poko airport in the Central African Republic on 6 December 2013 with material and supplies for the French intervention force in the country (Image © EMA)
Royal Air Force C-17 ZZ178 after landing at M’Poko airport in the Central African Republic on 6 December 2013 with material and supplies for the French intervention force in the country (Image © EMA)

Valence Vacation

With a shot like this one, who needs another shot? (Image © Dennis Spronk)
With a shot like this one, who needs another shot? (Image © Dennis Spronk)

So you’ve seen the Armée de Terre helos at the Le Luc airshow and you think “I would like some more of those”. Valence airbase near Lyon gave AIRheads↑FLY exactly that; more French helos waiting to be photographed and digitally transferred to your computerscreen. Great colours on these French choppers. What a way to spend a vacation.

No vacation for the pilots of this Aérospatiale Gazelle. It is seen here hovering about. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
No vacation for the pilots of this Aérospatiale Gazelle. They are seen here hovering about. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Yet more hovering for this Gazelle. The very first Gazelle probably did the same before its very first flight on 7 April 1967. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Yet more hovering for this Gazelle. The very first Gazelle probably did the same before its very first flight on 7 April 1967. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Pictured just before transition from hovering to regular flight; an AS532 Cougar. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Pictured just before transition from hovering to regular flight; an AS532 Cougar. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Valance2
Not all Gazelles seen were moving under their own power. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Look at Le Luc

A Tiger of a different kind. The ecole de l'aviation légère de l'armée de terre is where future pilots learn to fly the EC665 Tigre attack helicopter, among others. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A Tiger of a different kind. The Ecole de l’Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre is where pilots learn to fly the EC665 Tigre attack helicopter, among other helos. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

So, what to do on a hot summer day in France? It didn’t take AIRheads↑FLY a very long time to come up with an answer to that one, actually. So we packed our baguettes, some fine wine and a bottle of sunscreen and we headed along l’autoroute to the EALAT Airshow at Le Luc airbase. EALAT stands for Ecole de l’Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre, just so you know. And by the way, we also brought along a camera.

Slighty less hi-tech are the SA341/SA342 Gazelles. Probably a better idea to start the learning proces on those, then. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Slighty less hi-tech are the SA341/SA342 Gazelles. Probably a better idea to start the learning process on those, then. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Otherwise this AS555 Fennec will make a nice learning experience. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Otherwise this AS555 Fennec will make a nice learning experience. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The SA330 Puma is still doing its thing in a lot of armed forces. Bit of an unsung hero if you ask us - please do. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The SA330 Puma is still doing its thing in a lot of armed forces. Bit of an unsung hero if you ask us – please do. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The Pumas will eventually make way for the NH90, one of which is seen here. The camouflage makes up for, well... a lot of things. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The Pumas will eventually make way for the NH90, one of which is seen here. The camouflage makes up for, well … a lot of things. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The Socata TBM 700 never was a big seller. The French however operate quite a lot of the single engined turboprops. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The Socata TBM 700 never was a big seller. The French however operate quite a lot of the single engined turboprops. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

And now make some noise! It weren’t only helos or props at Le Luc, there were fighters as well, courtesy of the Armée de l’Air and the French Marine.

It's hard not to miss Ramex Delta, a display team operating two Mirage2000N from Luxieul airbase. They are frequent and much welcomed visitors to European airshows these days. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
It’s hard not to miss Ramex Delta, a display team operating two Mirage2000N from Istres-Le Tubé airbase. They are frequent and much welcomed visitors to European airshows these days. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Fly Navy! Perhaps todays favourite performer, although it was accompanied by a second Rafale M. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Fly Navy! Perhaps today’s favourite performer, although it was accompanied by a second Rafale M. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

We close of in style however, with a fine study of the rotary future for some time to come: the EC665 Tigre.

We close of in style however, with a fine study of the rotary future for some time to come; the EC665 Tigre. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
This Tigre flew several times at Le Luc, along with a German example. The German forces also have their training at Le Luc. (Image © Dennis Spronk)