A different UK Helicopter industry

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Sep 27, 2006
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Helicopters do not get the blood pulsing but as a series of Blue Envoy books have shown us the whirlybird has been pretty crucial for the UK military in peace and conflict.
Our closest analogues in building them are France and Italy.
France has perhaps been less enthusiastic than us and Italy about using US designs. They did have the Flying Banana but neither the Chinook nor CH53 ever made it to France.
The UK has cooperated with both countries in designing and manufacturing helicopters. Puma, Lynx and Merlin still serve the UK
Of the three nations France has had the greatest success with its own designs.
The NH90 and Tiger/Tiger have been built without the UK and a cynic might add, it shows!
Where the UK dithered and then chose top of the range Apaches, Italy built and used its innovative A129 Mangusta.
These highlights suggest plenty of alternative paths for all three countries.
Would NH90 have been a better chopper if the UK had stayed in the project?
Could Italian flair have made the Tiger better?
Will France ever buy Chinooks?


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May 26, 2011
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Bit unfair on our neighbours across the Manche there Ralph. UK pursued a light, agile 'don't get hit' attack helicopter with Italy and thus when it changed tack for a 'survive a hit' attack helicopter, Tiger/Tigre was established and the work share had been divvied up. Plus it was too late for Tigre/Tiger to incorporate British peculiarities, such as a BFG.

Mind you, I don't think the General Staff wanted to get involved in the Franco-German argument about who got the top bunk.

I'll ignore the NH90 as I have only dipped my toe into that... Business.

Tiger/Tigre does fascinate me.



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Jan 20, 2007
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The industrial politics of UK helis are even more fraught than of aero-engines (see the Napier Sabre thread and links to RR Exe and Eagle). Paternity of power trains. Westland/Yeovil and Sud Avn-Helis both learnt their trade on Sikorsky. By 1965 Frelon had Sikorsky dynamics, but not the Alouette avalanche. Nor did its successor, SA.340, but a prototype was to trial Bolkow rigid (or hingeless) rotor: that would be deleted on production SA.341 Gazelle. It was on Bo-105, which sold >1,000 and caused Eurocopter to be 50/50%. Boeing Vertol bought into Bolkow AG, 1964 for hingelessness for YUH-61A (which would lose 12/76 to Sikorsky YUH-60A Blackhawk). So Sikorsky and Bolkow were key to the heli business of Westland and Sud and (to be) MBB (and helpful to S-61-licensee Agusta).

UK Defence Minister Healey's 1965 Anglo-French package (Jaguar/AFVG) was supplemented 22/2/67 by a Heli package. For UK/ASW France had pitched Super Frelon, but lost 6/66 to WS-61 Sea King: that caused France to disparage Westland's design competence (none)., though they fluttered origami schemes for everything, including RAF Heavy, vice Belvedere. Healey and many agreed (the teams that had designed Sycamore, Belvedere, Rotodyne, Scout/Wasp had been dispersed). He overruled RAF's wish for more Wessex HC2; he gave RAF 15 Heavy Chinooks (though later cancelled); he overruled AAC's sensible wish to add a few to hundreds of USArmy loaches (Hughes Cayeuse) vice Scout. Instead he imposed a package intended to be 50 Puma, 450 Gazelle and quite remarkably, 230/France, 300/AAC+RN WG.13 - barely initiated 1/67, planned for a variant of Newmarks' US-licensed SH-3D Flight Control System, a wholly-new (ex-BSEL) engine, and a wholly-new hingeless rotor system. Of course France reneged asap, confining WG.13 to 43/MN.

Trying not to repeat this fracas, Ministers (UK/France/FRG/Italy) 14/7/78 Agreed to Buy European for 10tons, 9tons and Light Attack; UK+Italy Ministers agreed 11/79 to do (to be EH101) for ASW. That was all reaffirmed 29/11/85. Westland joined the team (to be) NH90. Then it all fell apart. All of it. The Merlin eventually delivered to RN had a US Mission System inside Yeovil+Milan tin. Blackhawks and Apaches sold to anyone-with-a-choice. RAF took anyChinook, please. Why?

I offer: kit became electronically-dependent, Systems-intensive. Beyond the ken of Yeovil, but evidently beyond the heli-teams of parents who did prove capable of Rafale and Typhoon. Hands full on those, rotors were neglected. So, As to OP's Qs:
- Westland remaining in NH90 would have provided no Project benefit;
- IRI/Finmeccanica/Leonardo would have no spare resources, after Typhoon, to muscle in as saviours of Tiger.
(French Chinooks are exactly as improbable (for the same reason) as French C-130 Hercules. No, no, oh!...Special Mission please!)
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