SA341C GAZELLE HT.2
The original Gazelle helicopter was designed for the French Army as a lightweight observation helicopter, however, early on in the aircraft’s development, the decision was taken to enlarge the helicopter to enable greater versatility and make it more attractive for the export market. The first prototype SA 340 flew on 7 April 1967, initially with a conventional tail rotor taken from the Alouette II. This tail was replaced in early 1968 with the distinctive fenestron tail on the second prototype.
Even in its development process the Gazelle had attracted British interest and this led to a deal between Aerospatiale and Westland, which allowed the production in Britain of 292 Gazelles SA 341’s, of which 262 were for the British armed forces. The deal also included Aérospatiale Puma’s for UK and allowed the French a work share in the manufacture of the 40 Westland Lynx naval helicopters for the French Navy.
Four versions of the Gazelle were used by the British forces as follows:
- The SA 341B was equipped to a specification for the Army Air Corps as the Gazelle AH.1 (from Army Helicopter Mark 1).
- The SA 341C was purchased as the Gazelle HT.2 pilot trainer for the Royal Navy
- The SA 341D was designated Gazelle HT.3 in RAF service, equipped as a helicopter pilot trainer (hence HT).
- The SA 341E was used by the RAF for communications duties and VIP transport as the Gazelle HCC.4.
The Royal Navy’s SA 341C Gazelles entered service in December 1974 with 705 Naval Air Squadron, based at Culdrose in Cornwall, to provide a Basic Flying Training Course for all RN helicopters. In addition, in 1975 the RN also procured 12 SA 341B Gazelles for use with 3 Commando Brigade Air Squadron in support of the Royal Marines in the utility and reconnaissance role.
XX436 was produced in 1976 as an SA.341C (Gazelle HT.2), built by Westland Helicopters Ltd at Yeovil in Somerset with the manufacturer’s construction number 1402, her maiden flight took place at Yeovil on 21 July 1976 with B.A. Horsey at the controls. The helicopter was delivered to RNAY Wroughton on 19 February 1977 for storage until she was transferred to the Royal Navy at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall on 25 July 1977, where XX436 served for 26 years in a training role with 705 Naval Air Squadron (NAS). Throughout her life with 705NAS, XX436 wore the squadron code CU39.
From 19 June 1978 to 28 July 1978 she flew as part of The Tri-Service Helicopter Team in the British Helicopter Championships, and in August of that year XX436 was selected to take part in the World Helicopter Championships, held in Vitebsk in the Soviet Union. She received a special livery for this event, with tri-service markings applied to the fenestron and the Royal Navy titles hidden with white stickers! However, she remained on UK soil as the government withdrew their participation on political grounds shortly thereafter.
Whilst in service with 705 Naval Air Squadron Culdrose, XX436 was flown by the Royal Navy’s most famous test pilot Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown. She was also flown as part of the Royal Navy Sharks Display Team by the current Head of the Fleet Air Arm, Rear Admiral Keith Blount.
On 21 May 1997 XX436 was flown to RAF Shawbury in Shropshire for long term storage until being demobbed – removed from military service – on 16 May 2002 and sold by JCM Disposals Ltd, when she was repositioned to Redhill Aerodrome in Surrey by road.
Sold in to civilian use, XX436 was acquired by the Gazelle Squadron Display Team, initially painted in Royal Marines grey and green colours. 2015 saw the final season in this colour scheme, and through the winter XX436 underwent a complete rebuild and transformation back to her original 705NAS scheme of bright red and white, complete with Royal Navy “Sharks” display team markings.
CREW – 1 (+1)
Speed – 151 Knts
Range – 350 NM
Ceiling – 13,500 ft