UK Procures Airbus H135 To Replace Ageing Gazelle Helicopters

The UK Ministry of Defence have confirmed that the planned out of service date for the British Army’s fleet of Aérospatiale Gazelle light helicopters is March 2024. This confirmation comes as Airbus stated that an order for five H135s has been received from the UK. While the UK MoD did not confirm the new aircraft’s role it did note that they will not be used as training aircraft. This suggests that they will replace the elderly Gazelles in at least one (currently undisclosed) role.

that they will not be used as training aircraft. This suggests that they will replace the elderly Gazelles in at least one (currently undisclosed) role.

The UK’s Gazelle helicopter fleet currently consists of 23 aircraft operating in a multi-purpose, lightweight utility role. Aircraft are currently based in both the UK and at Britain’s BATUS training facilities in Canada. The aircraft entered service in the 1970s and in March 2021 their out of service date was stated to be March 2025.

The Ministry of Defence was quoted as saying that they could not comment on the program specifics for the new H135s, although a contract award for an unspecified number of the helicopters was made in October 2021. The search for a Gazelle replacement began in September 2019, with the launch of Project MATCHA, which aims to procure a new light support helicopter as an urgent capability requirement.

Army Air Corps Gazelle reconnaissance helicopter is pictured at the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) in Canada, c.2011. (UK MoD/British Army)

The Airbus H135 is already in UK service as a training helicopter at the Defence Helicopter Flying School at RAF Shawbury, where 29 aircraft provide training platforms for pilots from all three service branches.

The H135 has two flight crew and space for five passengers – two more than the Gazelle, its maximum take off weight is 2,980 kg – over 1,000 kg more than the Gazelle, a range of 393 miles and a slightly slower maximum speed, than the Gazelle, of 140 knots or 161 mph.

Currently in service with the Spanish Army, Japanese Self-Defense Force, Brazilian Air Force, German Army, Thailand and Royal Australian Navy the H135 reportedly has more than 320,000 military training flight hours according to Airbus. It remains to be seen if more H135s will procured and whether they will fulfil all of the roles currently undertaken by Gazelles. The UK is also currently in search of a new medium lift helicopter to replace its Puma fleet. The medium lift replacement program was launched in March 2021.

Header Image: RAF Airbus EC135T3 (JUNO HT1) Helicopter, from the Defence Helicopter Flying School based at RAF Shawbury. (UK MoD/Ian Forshaw)