GEAR & TECH

This unconventional French helicopter is a certified tank-buster

During the Cold War, the French often opted to pursue their own military designs instead of buying American or Soviet assets. Part of this was due to, well, the French being French. Another reason was they pulled out of the NATO command structure in 1966, though they stayed in the alliance, because Charles de Gaulle felt the French must maintain independence.


As a consequence, France built up a very potent arms industry. The Mirage series of fighters helped Israel win the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The Exocet anti-ship missile proved itself a fearsome armament in the Falklands. Another French product, a chopper, which later saw substantial export use, was the Aérospatiale Gazelle.

A French Gazelle seen during Operation Desert Shield. (Photo from DoD)

The Gazelle entered service in 1973 and was quickly purchased by France, the United Kingdom, and a number of other countries. Among those other countries were Syria and Iraq, which used the helicopters in combat.

The Gazelle was retired by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, but remains in widespread service — notably as a scout helicopter that works alongside the Eurocopter Tiger helicopter gunship in French service. French Gazelles have seen a lot of action in Africa, used during the 1980s conflict between Libya and Chad, as well as during small-scale wars in Mali, Cote d'Ivoire, Somalia, and Djibouti.

This Syrian Gazelle was captured by the Israeli Defense Forces. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Aérospatiale eventually developed other versions of this little helicopter, including training variants, anti-air helicopters equipped with the Mistral anti-aircraft missile, and a light-support version that carries a 20mm cannon. The Gazelle has a crew of two, can carry three passengers, has a top speed of 165 miles per hour, a range of 441 miles, and can carry missiles, rockets, and gun pods.

Learn more about this versatile, international chopper in the video below:

 

(Dung Tran | YouTube)

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