British Army bids adieu to Gazelle helicopters

Ryan Fletcher /

For nearly five decades, the distinctive silhouette of Gazelle light multi-purpose helicopters has flown the skies of the United Kingdom. The French helicopter in British colors is now about to be officially retired at the end of October 2023, marking an earlier exit than the initially planned date of March 2024. 

One of the last remaining examples still in service with the 5 Regiment of the British Army Air Corps made its farewell flight on October 23, 2023.  

Designed in the late 1960s by the French aerospace company Aerospatiale, later part of Airbus Helicopters, the Gazelle is known for its distinctive sleek and compact design. It was the first serially produced helicopter to feature a fenestron, an enclosed tail rotor that enhances safety and reduces noise. 

The Gazelle entered service in July 1974 with the British military, thanks to an agreement signed between Aerospatiale and Westland. Over the past 49 years, the British armed forces have operated up to 250 Gazelle helicopters, known affectionately as “whistling chicken legs” by British personnel. 

The helicopter found utility in various branches of the British military, including the Army Air Corps, Royal Air Force, and Royal Navy.  

“The Gazelle has, at one time or another, served in every arm of the UK Armed Forces in training, reconnaissance, battlefield communication, direction of artillery fire, casualty evacuation, and anti-tank roles,” the Army Air Corps said in a statement. 

Gazelle helicopters saw significant action in various conflicts, including the Falklands, Iraq, and Kosovo wars. However, the numbers dwindled over time, and by January 2022, only 17 Gazelles remained in active service, with seven placed in reserve. 

In October 2021, the British Ministry of Defence acquired five Airbus H135 light helicopters to replace the Gazelle fleet, all of which were delivered in 2022. However, in early 2023, it appeared that the aircraft had been put into long-term storage as the need for helicopter flights in Northern Ireland, their primary intent, had subsided thanks to better security conditions. 

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