Two years to the day after being presented at HAI Heli-Expo, the Airbus H160 helicopter has been selected by France’s ministry of defence as the “base of the future Joint Light Helicopter (HIL – hélicoptère interarmées léger),” said Jean-Yves Le Drian on 3 March at the Airbus Helicopter site in Marignane on the Mediterranean coast.
The acquisition process was launched following the agreement given on 1 March by the ministerial investment council for a future order of “between 155 and 190” aircraft, said General Monique Legrand-Larroche, the French DGA procurement agency’s director of operations, during the presentation of the DGA’s 2016 results. The signature of the contract is planned for 2019, revealed the DGA’s director, Laurent Collet Billon.
“It was also decided to accelerate the procedure with a first delivery put forward by at least four years,” Le Drian added in Marignane. The first H160 should therefore be delivered in 2024 instead of 2028, leaving Airbus seven years to complete the militarisation of the platform. This should not pose a problem for the helicopter manufacturer, whose platform, finalized in 2015, will have completed hundreds of flight hours by the time deliveries begin.
A quick reminder: the HIL program aims to replace a disparate fleet of helicopters in service in the three French armies, namely Gazelles Alouette IIIs, Dauphin SPs, Panthers and Fennecs. By choosing a common platform, the ministry of defence hopes to make savings by streamlining operational readiness, logistics and maintenance.
Designed specifically for lightweight transport, command and attack support, the H160, in the 5.5 to 6 tonne class, is a synthesis of innovations – 68 to be precise. In addition to using composite materials, Airbus Helicopters has redesigned the design of the blades, in cooperation with French aerospace laboratory ONERA, to achieve a 50% reduction in noise. The helicopter will also be equipped with the new Arrano engine designed by Safran Helicopter Engines which offers a 10-15% reduction in fuel consumption.