French Air Force H160M Guépard (Cheetah) Light Attack Helicopter
French Air Force H160M Guépard (Cheetah) Light Attack Helicopter

French Air Force Unveils H160M Guépard (Cheetah) Light Attack Helicopter to Succeed Fennec

On October 29, 2020, Brigadier General Olivier Fabre, commander of the Air Support and Projection Brigade (BAAP) of the Air Forces Command (CFA), visited Air Base 107 at Villacoublay to discover the future helicopter of the French Air and Space Force (Armée de l’Air et de l’Espace Française ): the Cheetah, also known as Joint Light Helicopter program (Hélicoptère Interarmées Léger: HIL). A full-scale mock-up of the H160M, named Guépard and developed by manufacturers Airbus and Safran, sat proudly in one of the hangars of the 3/67 “Parisis” helicopter squadron. An initial version, it constitutes the basis of what will be the future light joint helicopter. This large-scale project is led by the Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) and by the Armed Forces Staff (EMA).

French Air Force H160M Guépard (Cheetah) Light Attack Helicopter
French Air Force H160M Guépard (Cheetah) Light Attack Helicopter

The Cheetah was chosen by the Ministry of the Armed Forces in March 2017 to meet the needs of the three services. The concept of a single fleet will allow the services to pool and mutualize both development, maintenance and sustainment costs. In May 2019, Florence Parly, Minister of the Armed Forces, announced her decision to speed up the HIL program to allow delivery two years ahead of the original schedule. Designated to carry out the same missions as the Fennecs, which have been in service since the 1980s, the Cheetah will be equipped with very latest-generation equipment. One such equipment is the so-called “Blue Edge” blades, whose curved shape will reduce their noise level and improve their aerodynamic efficiency. This six-ton aircraft will eventually replace the 40 Fennecs in the fleet.

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French Air Force H160M Guépard (Cheetah) Light Attack Helicopter
French Air Force H160M Guépard (Cheetah) Light Attack Helicopter

The French defense ministry has awarded Airbus further funds for work on the development of the Cheetah helicopter that will be based on the company’s H160 model. The latest contract is part of the country’s Joint Light Helicopter program and launches pre-development activities in order to meet the delivery schedule that was brought forward in May 2019 by the French armed forces minister Florence Parly. The new set of studies will also focus on defining the optimal set-up for supporting the tri-service H160M fleet. Airbus Helicopters, Safran Helicopter Engines, and the DGA will work together in order to maximize the availability rate of the helicopters, as well as optimizing the cost of supporting the fleet. The new helicopter is set to replace the Army’s Gazelles, the French Navy’s Alouette III, Dauphins and Panthers, and the Air Force’s Fennec helicopters.

French Air Force H160M Guépard (Cheetah) Light Attack Helicopter
French Air Force H160M Guépard (Cheetah) Light Attack Helicopter

The Airbus Helicopters H160M (formerly X4) is a military medium utility helicopter being developed by Airbus Helicopters. Formally launched at Heli-Expo in Orlando, Florida on 3 March 2015, it is intended to replace the AS365 and EC155 models in the firm’s lineup. The Airbus Helicopters H160 takes advantage of several advanced manufacturing technologies and materials in order to produce a lighter, more efficient design. One weight-saving measure was the replacement of conventional hydraulic landing gear and brakes with electrical counterparts, the first helicopter in the world to do so; according to Airbus the elimination of hydraulic components makes the rotorcraft both lighter and safer. The avionics provide a level of commonality with the company’s earlier Eurocopter EC145 T2 and Eurocopter EC175 helicopters.

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