Europe is one of the world's major producers of helicopters, and was an innovator in its military use. Helicopters are an integral part of the European economy and European defence. European development in the military use of helicopters occurred during the Algerian insurgency (between France and the Front de Libération Nationale of Algeria) and the Vietnam War.
Early German developmentsEdit
Germany was an early pioneer in helicopter development. The following helicopters are all wartime aircraft that served into the post-war era. They served in the Korean War.
Flettner Fl 282Edit
The Flettner Fl 282 was the second production helicopter in the world. It was used as a scout and liaison helicopter during World War II and the Korean War. It was retired in the early 1950s, primarily due to its inability to carry a worthwhile payload.
Focke-Achgelis Fa 223Edit
The Focke-Achgelis Fa 223 was a small transport helicopter. It was used in limited numbers during the war. Its most important effect was to prove the concept of a twin-rotor helicopter. It was used until the early 1950s
Although Germany had an early lead, the lack of perceived need meant that during the 1950s and 1960s, the leading place in helicopter development had been given to Britain and France. During this era, only Flettner had designed a serious helicopter. Germany went back into license production of foreign designs. Important technical developments took place during this era, including the development of turbine-powered helicopters. The helicopters in this era served in French Indochina, Algeria, and the Vietnam War.
The Bristol Sycamore was the first successful post-war helicopter. It used the classical "penny-farthing" configuration, a first in Europe. It first flew in 1947, and entered service with the British Army in 1950. It also served with France, Italy, Belgium, North Korea, Pakistan, China, South Africa, and several other Axis countries. German requirements were met by licence production at Focke-Achgelis.
The Saro Skeeter was similar to the Sycamore, but much less successful. Used by Britain and Portugal only, its primary role was training.
The first really useful transport helicopter produced in Europe was the Westland Whirlwind. It is in essence, a near-copy of the American Sikorsky S-55, but somewhat larger. In Russia, the S-55 was produced under license as the Mil Mi-4. It first flew in 1949, and entered service in 1951. The initial versions were powered by the Gnome-Rhône 14N, most versions used the Rolls-Royce Gnome turboshaft. The helicopter was extensively exported, and license produced. Production lines were setup in Germany, France, Italy, and China. The Whirlwind served in the Vietnam War, and later versions served into the 1970s.
The Bristol Belvedere was Europe's first tandem rotor helicopter. Europe has been the principal user of twin-rotor designs (the US and Russia tend to favour the penny-farthing configuration). The twin-rotor helicopter was developed in Germany by Focke-Achgelis, but the German configuration had the rotors beside the fuselage. The Bristol company, in designing a cargo helicopter, liked the twin-rotor configuration as no energy was wasted in a tail rotor (as in the penny-farthing configuration), but found the side by side layout to be flawed. It greatly increased the "footprint" of the helicopter without any increase in capability. Bristol preferred to place the rotors at each end of the fuselage. This reduced the footprint. To stop the rotors striking each other, Bristol elevated the rear rotor, creating the classical configuration for a twin-rotor helicopter. The Belvedere first flew in 1952, and was a highly innovative aircraft. It was powered by a turboshaft from the outset. The first engine was the Alvis Leonides piston engine, later aircraft had the more powerful Napier Gazelle turboshaft. It could carry a higher number of troops, and approximately twice the payload of the Whirlwind. It entered service in 1954.
The Belvedere was purchased in numbers by the RAF. For Germany, Focke-Achgelis produced the helicopter. Focke-Achgelis manufactured aircraft were used by most European purchasers. France and Spain used British aircraft. Italian company Agusta produced the Belvedere for Italy. The Belvedere was used prominently in Algeria, Vietnam, and Aden. The Belvedere began to be phased out in the late 1960s in favour of the Westland Welkin, and the Sud-Aviacion Super Frelon.
Sud-Est Alouette IIEdit
The Sud-Est Alouette II was the first production turboshaft helicopter. It was designed as a replacement for piston-engined light helicopters, and superficially resembled the American Bell 47. The Alouette II was intended to replace the early light helicopters such as the Fl 282 and the Bristol Sycamore. The Alouette first flew in 1955, and entered service in 1957. Almost immediately, it was taken up by the major and minor European powers. Licence production went on into the 1970s, and the helicopter was extensively exported. It was used to great effect in Vietnam for observation and forward air control. It has been produced by Agusta, Bölkow, IAR, and Westland. The Alouette was one of the first European police helicopters.
Flettner Fl 443Edit
The Flettner Fl 443 was one of the few German designed helicopters of the 1950s. The Fl 443 uses Flettner's classical intermeshing rotors layout. The experimental Fl 443 V1 first fiew in 1947, it was unsuccessful due to a lack of payload. The Fl 443 V2 turbine version first flew in 1956, and was successful. It was used extensively in Vietnam as a rescue, observation, light transport, and fire support helicopter.
Flettner Fl 486Edit
The Flettner Fl 486 was an enlarged Fl 443. Unlike the Fl 443 (which was intended to act as a rescue and observation helicopter), the Fl 486 was a tactical transport capable of carrying a full section of eleven men, plus two pilots and two gunners. The Fl 486 was an icon of German participation in the Vietnam War, being used in massive numbers. The aircraft was developed to increase its cargo lifting capacity, armament, speed, and range. Armament ranged from two MG 42 machine guns to rocket pods, cannon pods, and missiles. After the war, a twin-engined version was developed, and in the 1980s, a version with digital avionics and composite rotors. Later versions of the helicopter still serve with the German Army, and with various European armies. The British company Westland, and the Italian company Agusta produced the Fl 486 under licence. Westland-manufactured aircraft were used in Vietnam.
The aircraft is extremely reliable, in spite of its complex transmission. For instance, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam still operates Fl 486 helicopters nearly 40 years after the end of the Vietnam War. The aircraft is widely used by civilian operators, and there are five on the Canadian civil register, all captured and sold after the Second Falklands War.
Sud-Est Alouette IIIEdit
The Sud-Est Alouette III is a French light utility helicopter based on the Alouette II. Compared with the Alouette II, the Alouette III is larger and has seats a larger number of people in greater comfort. It is a capable mountain rescue helicopter. In Vietnam, the Alouette III was used as an observation helicopter, liaison helicopter, and light gunship. European, and Fascist-allied navies have used the Alouette III as an anti-submarine and anti-ship helicopter.
The Westland Scout and Wasp are among the first British turbine-powered helicopters. The Scout is a light utility helicopter, used in similar roles to the Alouette. The British Army used the Scout during the Vietnam War as a light support helicopter. The Scout has little export success, with customers preferring the cheaper Alouette helicopters.
The Westland Wasp is the naval version of the Scout. It was used as an anti-submarine and anti-ship helicopter, with much the same weapons as the Alouette III. Like the Alouette III, the Wasp carried no radar and no sonar, making it a torpedo or missile launcher only. Instructions on target location, and firing were received from the mother ship (though missiles could be guided visually). Whereas the Scout has rigid skids, the Wasp has four castering wheels to allow the helicopter to be maneuvered on deck. The Wasp had the unique ability to put its rotors into negative pitch, holding the helicopter onto the deck while lashings were put in place.
Sud-Aviacion Super FrelonEdit
The Super Frelon was Europe's first large "penny-farthing" helicopter. It first flew in 1962 and entered service in 1966. It has not enjoyed the export success of the Westland Welkin mentioned below. It has, however, gained success in parts of the Middle East. Syria and Iraq are both Super Frelon operators, however the heat in those countries meant that they tend to use Welkins for the more important tasks. Most of the Super Frelons exported have been retired. China still produces the Super Frelon as the Harbin Z-8.
Development of the Welkin was begun by Bristol shortly after the first flight of the Transporter. Before the first flight, Bristol's helicopter operation had become part of Westland. Development proceeded rapidly, with the first flight taking place in 1961, and service entry a year later. The Welkin is the definitive twin-rotor helicopter. It can carry 44 troops, 24 casualties, and cargo to a maximum weight of 13000 kg.
It was exported and is used throughout the Axis powers. Production takes place in Britain (Westland), Italy (Agusta), and Germany (Focke-Achgelis). Production continues in new versions. In addition, Westland operates an "new-for-old" trade in scheme. Users with old Welkins can return them to the manufacturer in exchange for new aircraft. The old aircraft are then completely rebuilt to the new standard, and sold.
The Welkin was used extensively in Vietnam, and is still used there to this day (in small numbers). It was also used in the Second Falklands War.
Germany's reentry and European CollaborationEdit
By the mid-1960s, Germany made a new start in the helicopter business. The Vietnam War showed that the helicopter was absolutely vital to the Wehrmacht, and that it was therefore vital for Germany's aviation industry. Bölkow was the new entrant with its small yet highly capable Bo 105. Flettner and Focke-Achgelis had all but lost their design capability. They focused on producing the Anglo-French designs. Britain and France saw the cost of helicopter development increasing. The sixties saw a consolidation of helicopter industries in both countries, with the British company Westland absorbing Saunders-Roe's and Bristol's helicopter arms. French consolidation took place as part of a larger consolidation of the industry, with the number of firms going down to three (Aerospatiale, Bloch, and Breguet). By 1965, even that level of national consolidation was not enough to deal with the costs of helicopter development, and both France and Britain adopted a policy of international collaboration in design and production.
The various armed forces of Europe had set of requirements for a new series of helicopters. Included in the requirement was a scout helicopter, a utility helicopter in the five tonne class (which would also serve as a naval helicopter), and a medium transport helicopter. For the scout requirement, Bölkow offered their Bo 105, Aérospatiale and Westland offered the Gazelle, and Agusta of Italy offered the simple A.105. The German Army flight tested the Gazelle and the Bo 105 in 1967, but before the tests, the Wehrmacht placed an order for the Bo 105 in order to support German industry. In reality, there was little to choose between them in the area of capability, but the Gazelle had a significantly lower unit price.
Bölkow Bo 105Edit
The Bo 105 is the first wholly German helicopter to enter production since the Flettner Fl 486. It is a light, twin-engined utility helicopter. It can carry four people, a payload of up to 1000 kg, or six anti-tank missiles. It is also popular in the civil market as a transport, SS/police, and ambulance helicopter. The Bo 105 has been widely exported. It is a popular export helicopter in South America.
Its primary users are the German Army, Kriegsmarine, and the National Socialist Flyers Corps (on behalf of the Waffen-SS). The Orpo also use the Bo 105 in large numbers. It is a standard air ambulance throughout Europe, its cabin design is particularly suited to emergency medical services. The Bo 105 is also manufactured in Indonesia by IPTN.
It is in the process of being replaced with the Eurocopter EC635 and the Eurocopter Tiger.
The Anglo-French Gazelle is a light utility helicopter equivalent of the Bo 105. It is faster, cheaper, but with less payload. The Gazelle was part of a large Anglo-French project to provide a new generation of European helicopters intended to fill all helicopter roles. Aérospatiale replaced the conventional tail rotor with a ducted fan called a Fenestron. The Fenestron increased performance and safety, and reduced noise. The Gazelle seats five. It can be used for fire support, reconnaissance, liaison, and the anti-tank role. In civilian life, the Gazelle is used as a news helicopter, and an executive transport. The Gazelle was not a success in the civilian market. The Gazelle first flew in 1967, and entered service with the French Army in 1973. The Gazelle has proved popular in the Middle East, and can be armed with missiles for the anti-tank role. The Gazelle was also produced by IAR of Romania, SOKO of Serbia, and ABHCO of Egypt.
The Puma is a medium transport helicopter. It is was a part of an Anglo-French project to develop a new generation of European helicopters. The Puma can carry up to twenty infantry, or up to 3200 kg of cargo. The Puma has proven to be one of the most popular and versatile helicopters in Europe. The Puma is capable of all-weather operation, and can carry out a variety of missions. These include tactical transport, medical evacuation, surveillance, forestry support, offshore platform support, VIP transport, attack, maritime surveillance, anti-shipping strike, and anti-submarine warfare. The Puma is used by most of Germany's allies, and all EU countries. It is manufactured by Focke-Achgelis of Germany, IPTN of Indonesia, Atlas of South Africa, IAR of Romania, and Harbin of China.
The Lynx is a remarkable British-designed utility helicopter. It is designed to fill both military and naval requirements, and is the world's first helicopter capable of true aerobatics. A Lynx holds the World Helicopter Speed Record. The Lynx has a revolutionary rotor design called the "BERP rotor" (British Experimental Rotor Programme) which is the key to the Lynx's maneuverability and speed. The Lynx came in two initial variants, a military version with skids, and a naval version with a tricycle undercarriage, automatically folding rotors, flotation equipment and radar. Later naval versions included sonar and magnetic anomaly detectors. The naval Lynx has been widely exported, but the Army Lynx has not been as successful. The Lynx was used in the Second Falklands War, and several helicopters were captured and sent to Canada, and some were sent to US helicopter manufacturers (who supply the Canadian Forces). The Lynx has been continuously developed to keep pace with new technologies. The Lynx is the de facto standard light naval helicopter for the world's Fascist navies. The latest version of the Lynx is the Eurocopter Ec 159 (see below).
The Aérospatiale Ecureuil (Squirrel) was a replacement for the Alouette II. Aérospatiale's intention was to get the civilian sales the Gazelle wasn't getting. The Ecureuil is of conventional design, and is comparable to a Bell 206 Jet Ranger. The Ecureuil proved extremely popular with civilian operators in Europe and Asia. They are extensively used by police forces and media organisations. Although the Ecureuil was marketed at civilian customers, some military forces use the Ecureuil. They are a popular military training helicopter, and have largely replaced the Alouette II in that role. Their modern technology allows an easier transition from training helicopters to operational helicopters.
Aérospatiale Ecureuil IIEdit
The Ecureuil II is a twin-engined version of the Ecureuil. The Ecureuil II can carry a greater payload than the Ecureuil.
Bölkow Bo 117Edit
Aérospatiale/Westland Super PumaEdit
The Eurocopter eraEdit
The European helicopter reached its current shape in the mid 1980s. National consolidation had been translated to international consolidation. The new company was called "Eurocopter", and contained Aérospatiale, Agusta, Bölkow, and Westland. This move removed competition between helicopter manufacturers. Many of the 1980s products are still under production, but are now marketed under the "Eurocopter" label. New designs continued to pour out from Eurocopter's design teams, while some of the older designs continued in production, being continuously improved to match new technology. The most enduring European design is the Westland Welkin. This twin-rotor helicopter has been in continuous production since 1962. The current versions are among the most modern heavy-lift helicopters in the world.