The Army Air Corps’ venerable Gazelle AH.1 is to be the subject of a life extension program that will see its out-of-service date pushed back from 2018 to 2025 which in doing so means the aircraft will have seen 50 years of service with the British armed forces. According to IHS Janes, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed that they will be publishing details of a competition for a contract to support the aircraft until the new planned out-of-service date.
The winning bidder will have their contract come in to effect in 2018 when the current contracts with Cobham Aviation Services, Airbus Helicopters, Safran helicopters and Leonardo Helicopters finish. The winning bidder will likely have to encompass as much of the work carried out by these companies as possible in an effort to streamline the support infrastructure for the ageing aircraft.
The Gazelle can trace its roots back to the Aérospatiale Alouette III light helicopter, one of the most successful helicopter designs of all time. The Gazelle was intended as its replacement and the British Army became interested in it as a replacement for the American-built Sioux helicopters in the observation and light utility roles. British Gazelles were produced by Westland helicopters and they went on to serve in a variety of roles not just with the Army but with the RAF, Royal Navy and Royal Marines as well although only the Army continues to fly it. The aircraft first entered Army service in 1974.
Since no replacement for the type has yet been suggested it is likely that when these aircraft do finally bow-out gracefully they will be replaced in their observation role by UAVs. At present there are still restrictions on UAVs flying in UK airspace but these are expected to be lifted or relaxed in the coming years allowing the Army more freedom to fly drones in UK airspace.