The new combat helicopter of the French Army Air Corps (ALAT) is currently
undergoing its Operational Engineering Evaluation (EVTO). Over a little more
than 18 months, all of its operational capabilities will be methodically tested.
The EC725 program was launched to provide the
French Air Force with new Combat Search and
Rescue (RESCO) capabilities. After 11 September
2001, the requirement for a helicopter specifically
equipped for special operations was also reaffirmed
The RESCO EC725 was therefore
chosen as the basic aircraft for developing the “HUS”
(Specialized Units Helicopter) version to meet the
requirements of the DAOS (Special Operations
Detachment of the ALAT).
In February 2004, a product team was created within
the Airmobile Group of the French Army Engineering
Branch (GAMSTAT) to manage the HUS EC725 program.
This same product team was also tasked with
performing the aircraft EVTO following its delivery to
the Army on 6 April 2005.
“The EVTO being conducted here reflects the specific
features of the aircraft,” explains Commandant
Hervé Bertocchi, test pilot and the program’s product
team leader. “The first special feature comes from
the nature of the team itself: five of the six officers
and non-commissioned officers in the team come
from the armed forces and bring with them first-hand
knowledge of special operations.”
Among these six men, three are pilots, one officer is a logistician, another non-commissioned officer is a flight engineer and engine and airframe specialist, and the final non-commissioned officer is a mechanic and avionics specialist.
“C3I(1), CME(2) and logistic specialists from the GAMSTAT can also come and help us out according to our needs,” concludes Commandant Bertocchi.
“We also work in complete synergy with the other product teams (NH90 and Cougar) of the GAMSTAT, with whom we share our experiences.” This cooperation is all the more vital given that the work is complex. In a little less than 300 flight hours, the product team must check the aircraft satisfies the requirements stated by the operational teams, and must also clearly specify the operational envelope for the ALAT.
A further role for the team is to define and validate the implementation procedures for the aircraft and its sub-systems. “Eurocopter has shown us the flight envelope and it’s up to us to see how we can make the most out of it,” explains Commandant Bertocchi. “We are also tasked with validating the maintenance operations and the associated documentation. All the maintenance operations on the HUS EC725 are performed here at least once.”
No time to lose…
To meet the need for speed, and to manage as effectively as possible the different build standards for airborne equipment and aircraft delivery, the GAMSTAT chose to split the EVTO into four modules(3). It has thus been easy to identify the opening of each domain in one or other of the modules and to send this information to the final user: the DAOS.
“As we progressed, the DAOS could then integrate each of our advances into its operations even before the end of the EVTO,” underscores Commandant Bertocchi.
“The DAOS has therefore been able to take over its new helicopter progressively, without losing time.”
The final module of the EVTO will comprise several final flight evaluation flights, which will assess the capabilities of the aircraft. One of the chosen scenarios is the rescue of a group of ten fully-equipped troops on a 400 Nm(4) return flight, without refueling.
Some final tasks will be necessary, however, before the green light can be given for the operational entry into service. This decision is expected at the end of the year.
In fact, the ALAT wants to test the maintenance procedures and equipment for the operations “in the field” far from any facility. It is only after this final step that the aircraft will be declared ready for external operations and, therefore, fully operational.