The Airbus Helicopter Dauphin & Panther

v2.2.0 / 01 sep 17 / greg goebel

* The Aerospatiale company of France became a global player in the helicopter market through its popular "Alouette" series of light helicopters. Following up on this success, in the 1970s the firm developed a series of rotorcraft, including the "Dauphin (Dolphin)", medium helicopter, which proved popular as well and remains in production with Airbus Helicopter, Aerospatiale's successor firm via the earlier Eurocopter firm. This document provides a history and description of the Dauphin family, including its "Panther" military variant.

AS 365N2 Dauphin 2



* In the late 1960s, the Aerospatiale firm began work on a mid-sized helicopter, with two prototypes built of the "SA 360C", the first performing its initial flight on 2 June 1972. The "SA" designation was a relic left over from Sud Aviation, which had become Aerospatiale through a set of mergers in 1970. The second prototype followed on 29 January 1973, leading to certification in late 1975 and initial customer shipments in early 1976.

The SA 360C had a four-blade main rotor plus a "fenestron" (enclosed fan) tail rotor with 13 blades; twin swept tailfins; and fixed tailwheel landing gear, with the main gear in spats. The first prototype was powered by a single Turbomeca Astazou XVI turboshaft engine providing 730 kW (980 SHP), but it was later refitted with an Astazou XVIIIA producing 785 kW (1,050 SHP), this engine variant being fitted to production machines. The SA 360C had a capacity of up to nine passengers plus the pilot.

Aerospatiale also decided to develop a militarized version, the "SA 361H", with the "Starflex" rotor hub developed for the Ecureuil light helicopter and powered by an uprated Astazou XXB turboshaft engine with 1,045 kW (1,400 SHP). In the assault transport role, the SA 361H could carry 13 fully-equipped troops. It could also be configured as an anti-armor gunship, carrying eight Euromissile HOT anti-tank missiles; the missiles were aimed by an SFIM APX M397 optical sight on top of the fuselage, with the sight complemented by an SFIM Venus night-vision system mounted on the nose.

* Only one SA 361H was built, with this machine eventually being passed on to the French military for trials use. The military saw a single-engine helicopter as unsatisfactory, and so Aerospatiale decided to rethink the entire product line by switching to twin engines. The result was the "SA 365C Dauphin 2", with initial flight of the prototype on 24 January 1975, powered by twin Turbomeca Arriel 1 turboshaft engines with 485 kW (650 SHP) each. Initial deliveries of production machines, with Arriel 1A engines providing 490 kW (660 SHP), were in early 1978.

The SA 365C was quickly followed by the "SA 365N Dauphin 2", which established the definitive Dauphin configuration. It featured Arriel 1C engines with 530 kW (710 SHP) each; retractable hydraulic tricycle landing gear; increased use of composite materials in the fuselage; and an extended nose for radar. The dynamic system was generally similar to that of its predecessors. It could carry a pilot and 12 passengers in a high density seating arrangement, though more typically there were two seats in front and two rows of four-across seating in back for a total of 8 passengers. VIP configurations could accommodate four or six passengers, with medical service configurations carrying up to four litters plus an attendant. There were three forward-opening doors on each side, with the rear door on medical service machines hinging 180 degrees.

SA 365N2 Dauphin 2

Initial flight of the SA 365N was on 31 March 1979. The SA 365N was followed in turn by refined variants:

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   main rotor diameter     11.94 meters        39 feet 2 inches
   fenestron diameter      1.1 meters          3 feet 7 inches
   fuselage length         11.63 meters        38 feet 2 inches
   footprint length        13.68 meters        44 feet 11 inches
   height (tail)           3.98 meters         13 feet 1 inch

   empty weight            2,239 kilograms     4,936 pounds
   max loaded weight       4,250 kilograms     9,370 pounds

   fast cruise speed       285 KPH             175 MPH / 155 KT
   service ceiling         4,300 meters        14,100 feet
   range                   900 kilometers      560 MI / 485 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________



* In the 1980s, the Dauphin 2 was redesignated "AS 365" -- with "AS" for "Aerospatiale" -- from the earlier "SA 365". A "Dauphin Fly-By-Wire (FBW)" demonstrator was flown in 1989, with another testbed, the "Dauphin X380 Developpement Technique Probatoire" flown in the same year, to be followed by the high-speed "AS 365X Dauphin Grande Vitesse (DGV / Dauphin High Speed)" in 1991. The DGV set a world speed record in its class of 371 KPH (200 KT).

In 1992, the helicopter division of Aerospatiale merged with the German Messerschmitt-Boelkow-Blohm firm to form "Eurocopter", which would later become part of the "European Aerospace & Defense Systems (EADS)" group. The Dauphin 2 became part of the Eurocopter line. Under the new organization, the advanced technology work on the Dauphin led to the conversion of the DGV into a prototype of the next-generation "AS 365N4", with initial flight on 17 June 1997. The type was then redesignated "Eurocopter France EC 155", with initial flight of a production standard machine on 11 March 1998. Certifications were awarded in late 1998, with production deliveries of the "EC 155B" following.

EC 155 Dauphin 2

The EC 155B featured bulged doors, along with rearranged cabin space and revised window layout; a five-blade rotor with a new dynamic system, featuring a carbon-composite "Spheriflex" rotor head; a 10-blade fenestron tail rotor, with the blades unequally spaced to reduce noise; and a glass cockpit. It was powered by twin Arriel 2C1 turboshafts with 635 kW (850 SHP) takeoff power each. It could carry a pilot and up to 14 passengers in a high density arrangement; four to eight passengers in VIP arrangements; and six stretchers in a medical evacuation arrangement. Maximum sling load was 1,600 kilograms (3,525 pounds).

   AIRBUS EC 155B1:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   main rotor diameter     12.6 meters         41 feet 4 inches
   fenestron diameter      1.1 meters          3 feet 7 inches
   fuselage length         12.71 meters        41 feet 8 inches
   footprint length        14.3 meters         46 feet 11 inches
   height (tail)           4.35 meters         13 feet 3 inches

   empty weight            2,615 kilograms     5,765 pounds
   max loaded weight       4,920 kilograms     10,847 pounds

   fast cruise speed       265 KPH             165 MPH / 145 KT
   service ceiling         4,570 meters        15,000 feet
   range (no aux tank)     785 kilometers      485 MI / 425 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

An improved "EC 155B1" replaced the EC 155B in production in 2002. It featured various minor refinements, such as new engine cowlings and jettisonable cockpit doors, as well as Arriel 2C2 engines with FADEC and 700 kW (935 SHP) takeoff power. Eurocopter also flew an "EC 155 HTT (Helicoptere Tous Temps / Helicopter All Weather)" demonstrator with a digital terrain map and avoidance system, along with a modernized glass cockpit. In 2010, the company introduced a new feature in the EC 155, the "Blue Edge Blade", a "kinked" rotor blade with "double sweep" that provides a substantial decrease in noise.

In 2014, EADS became the "Airbus Group", and Eurocopter became "Airbus Helicopters". The company is continuing to enhance the current Dauphin product line, having introduced in 2014 an "AS 365N3e" -- the "e" meaning "enhanced" -- with Arriel 2N engines, providing 15% more power and a 200 kilogram (440 pound) increment to maximum takeoff weight.



* Early on in Dauphin 2 development a modified variant, the "SA 366G1", was offered in response to a requirement by the US Coast Guard (USCG) for a maritime rescue helicopter. The SA 366G1 won the contest, with the variant going into USCG services as the "HH-65A Dolphin". Initial flight of the first HH-65A, in France, was on 23 July 1980, with first formal delivery of an HH-65A on 1 February 1987. The Coast Guard acquired a fleet of 102 machines.

The HH-65A outwardly resembled a standard Dauphin 2, but it featured a number of changes, most notably fit of two Textron Lycoming LTS101-750A-1 turboshafts with 505 kW (680 SHP) each. The engine fit was clearly less powerful than that of the SA 365 and the selection would prove troublesome. Other features were:

USCG HH-65 Dolphin

The Israeli Navy obtained two HH-65A developmental machines in 1985, at least initially on an evaluation basis, with one lost in a fatal crash in 1996, and the other retired a year later. There have been no other foreign users of the HH-65.

From 2001, the HH-65A fleet was upgraded to "HH-65B" configuration, with a global positioning system (GPS) navigation receiver and twin flat-panel displays. This effort ended up paving the way for a more substantial upgrade. Aircrews were never very happy about the LTS101 powerplants, which were not powerful enough from the start, and eventually proved unreliable as well. A Dolphin with Turbomeca Arriel turboshafts performed its first flight in late 2002 as part of an evaluation of the alternate powerplants.

That led to a crash program initiated in early 2003 to fit all 96 machines in the USCG HH-65 fleet with twin Turbomeca Arriel 2C2 turboshafts, providing 780 kW (1,054 SHP) each. The upgraded machines are designated "HH-65C". A number of these were fitted with 10-blade low-noise fenestrons, replacing the standard 11-blade fans, with avionics shuffled around a bit, and support provided for armament -- an M240 MAG 7.62-millimeter machine gun and a Barrett Fifty 12.7-millimeter anti-materiel rifle. These armed machines are designated "MH-65C".

From 2011, the HH/MH-65 fleet was upgraded to "MH-65D" specification, featuring an upgraded flight navigation system common to US Department of Defense helicopters, with a Honeywell radar altimeter and GPS / inertial navigation system, plus two associated Rockwell Collins displays. The "MH" designation suggests they are all capable of being armed.

A further upgrade is now being was conducted, to "MH-65E" standard, built around a "Common Avionics Architecture System (CAAS)", providing compatibility with the USCG MH-60T Jayhawk, and featuring a four-display "glass cockpit". The MH-65E also features a new radar, flight control system, and traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS). Initial flight of an MH-65E was in 2015, with introduction to service planned for 2017.

* The HH-65 was effectively a semi-militarized Dauphin 2; unsurprisingly, specifically military versions of the Dauphin 2 were offered as well. There was a naval variant and an army variant, originally designated the "SA 365F" and "SA 365M" respectively, with the military branch of the family was eventually being given the overall designation of "AS 565 Panther". New design features included:

The prototype of the naval variant, a modified SA 365N, performed its initial flight on 22 February 1982, to be followed by the first production SA 365F machine on 2 July 1982. The naval variant was originally powered by twin Turbomeca Arriel 1M turboshafts providing 520 kW (700 SHP) each. Two subvariants were offered:

From 1997, the AS 565SA/MA was replaced in production by the "AS 565SB/MB", featuring various refinements, most notably Arriel 2C turboshafts. The French Navy obtained 18 AS 565SA machines.

An "AS 565MBe" has now been introduced, with Arriel 2N engines, providing 840 kW (1,130 SHP) for improved "hot & high" performance, plus modernized avionics. The Mexican Navy was the launch customer. The French Navy is now working to upgrade their existing Panther helicopters to a "Mark 2" configuration. Changes will include:

The upgrade is to pave the way for carriage of the MBDA "Sea Venom" AKA "Anti-Navire Legere (ANL / anti-ship light)" anti-ship missile, now in development, which will replace the AS-15TT.

AS 565MA Panther

* The prototype of the SA 365M army variant performed its first flight on 29 February 1984; it was followed in April 1986 by an improved prototype, the "SA 365K", which introduced the "Panther" name to the series. It was powered by twin Turbomeca Arriel 1M1 turboshafts with FADEC and 560 kW (750 SHP) takeoff power each. Three subvariants were offered:

From 1997, the product line was updated to the "AS 565UB", "AS 565CB", and "AS 565AB" respectively, with various refinements and Arriel 2C turboshafts with 560 kW (750 SHP) takeoff power each. An "AS 565 Panther 800" demonstrator was flown in 1992, featuring twin LHTEC T800 turboshafts and an IBM-integrated avionics suite, the target customer being the US Army. There was no serious interest, and the variant never entered production.

* Foreign operators of the Panther include Abu Dhabi, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Panthers saw combat in the 1st Gulf War, firing AS-15TT antiship missiles at Iraqi patrol boats. There have been upgrades of machines in service, featuring engine and avionics updates.

Airbus Helicopters is now collaboration with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) to adapt the EC155 as the "Light Armed Helicopter" for the Republic of Korea Army, replacing elderly Hughes 500 and Bell AH-1S Cobra gunships. A concept image shows the LAH to have a stub wing for stores on each side of the fuselage, a gun turret under the nose, and a targeting module on top of the cockpit. About 200 LAHs will be obtained, with an in-service date of 2022.



* The following table summarizes Dolphin / Panther variants:

   variant         notes 

   SA 360C         Initial variant, single Astazou XVIIIA engine.
   SA 361H         Militarized SA 360C, one built.

   SA 365C         Initial twin variant with Arriel 1 turboshafts.
   SA 365N         Arriel 1C engines, retractable landing gear.
   SA 365N1        Arriel 1C1 engines.
   SA 365N2        Arriel 1C2 engines.
   SA 365N3        Arriel 2C engines.

   EC 155B         New fuselage, 5 blade rotor, Arriel 2C1 engines.
   EC 155B1        Arriel 2C2 engines.

   HH-65A          USCG machines with LTS101 engines.
   HH-65B          HH-65A with GPS navigation and flat-panel displays.
   HH-65C          HH-65B with Arriel 2C2 engines.
   MH-65C          Armed HH-65C.
   MH-65D          HH/MH-65C with standardized navigation system.
   MH-65E          MH-65D with CAAS glass cockpit.

   AS 565SA        Naval combat variant with Arriel 1M engines.
   AS 565MA        Naval utility variant.
   AS 565SB        Improved AS 565SA with Arriel 2C engines.
   AS 565MB        Improved AS 565MA with Arriel 2C engines.
   AS 565MBe       Updated AS 565MB with Arriel 2N engines.
   SA 365M         Initial army combat prototype.
   SA 365K         Refined army combat prototype.
   AS 565UA        Army utility variant.
   AS 565CA        Army anti-armor variant.
   AS 565AA        Army infantry support gunship.
   AS 565UB        Improved AS 565UA with Arriel 2C engines.
   AS 565CB        Improved AS 565CA with Arriel 2C engines.
   AS 565AB        Improved AS 565AA with Arriel 2C engines.

   Panther 800     Demonstrator with LHTEC T800 engines, one built.

* The Dauphin 2 family is license-built in China by Harbin / HAI as the "Z-9", with the initial production variant being the AS 365N1, assembled from French-supplied kits. It was followed by a series of improved variants:

Some sources also indicate that Dauphin 2 machines are assembled in Brazil by Helibras, but details are unclear.



* Airbus Helicopters has worked with Avicopter of China to develop a new helicopter, the "H175", previously the "EC 175", a 7 tonne (7.7 ton) machine in the size range between the Super Puma and the Dauphin, intended to compete against the comparable Leonardo AW 139.

The H175 is a twin-engine machine of conventional main-tail rotor configuration, with a five-blade main rotor. It is powered by dual PWC PT6-76E turboshafts with FADEC and providing 1,490 kW (2,000 SHP) each, and features a glass cockpit with four color multifunction displays (MFDs). Avionics were derived from the EC255 Super Puma+. In a passenger configuration, it provides seating for 16, with a sliding passenger door and crew door on each side.


The program was initiated in 2005. Maiden flight of the first prototype was at Marignane on 4 December 2009, with pilot Alain Di Bianca at the controls. Two more prototypes were built by the Avicopter plant in Harbin. Avicopter, a subsidiary of the Chinese Avic group, is a partner in the H175 program. The Chinese will sell the H175 as the "Z15". Initial flight of first production H175 was in late 2012, with certification following in 2013. Since introduction, it has been updated to the Turbomeca Ardiden 3C turboshaft, and rated for greater take-off weights.

* Airbus Helicopters is also working on next-generation rotorcraft. In the summer of 2010, the firm unveiled a new experimental prototype of a "compound helicopter", described as "High-speed Hybrid Helicopter (H3)" and designated "X3" or "X-Cube". The X-Cube program was initiated in early 2008, with the demonstrator performing its first flight at the French flight test center at Istres on 6 September 2010.


The X-Cube was built around the airframe of the AS 365, using the main rotor of the EC 155 and the gearbox developed for the H175. It is powered by twin Rolls-Turbomeca RTM322 turboshafts providing 1,695 kW (2,270 SHP) each. It features small down-angled stub wings on each side, with each of the two turboshaft engines driving a tractor-mounted prop at the end of each stub wing. The stub wings unload the rotor in forward flight, permitting higher speeds; differential rotation of the props is used in hover to cancel main rotor torque, and so the fenestron tail rotor was deleted. The X-Cube is expected to be able to cruise at speeds of at least 410 KPH (255 MPH / 220 KT). It is not intended to be a production design, simply a technology demonstrator for a high-speed rotorcraft suitable for time-critical missions such as combat SAR.

Airbus Helicopters has followed up the X3 with a refined design, the "Rapid And Cost-Effective Rotorcraft (RACER)", revealed in 2017. RACER is intended to be a demonstrator for the European Clean Sky 2 program, intended to promote a range of next-generation aircraft with high fuel efficiency. RACER is of similar configuration to X3 but bigger, and also has "joined wings" -- like biplane wings, but joined at the tip -- instead of stub wings. The lower wing will stow the main landing gear.

The demonstrator, to be powered by the Safran RTM322, will fly in 2020. It will have performance 50% better than that of current helicopters. It will have an "eco-mode" of flight that will allow one engine to be shut down, even in high-speed cruise. Fuel consumption of the RACER will be less than that of a current helicopter of comparable size.

Airbus Helicopters is working in parallel on a conventional next-generation helicopter, the "H160", originally the "X4", a medium-twin machine to replace the Dauphin series. Specifics were released in 2015, with initial flight on 18 June of that year. The H160 will compete with the Leonardo AW139, as well as the Sikorsky S-76 and Bell 412, with a particular focus on oil and gas support mission, SAR operators, the emergency medical service community, plus corporate and VIP transport customers. The H160 has a maximum takeoff weight of up to six tonnes (6.6 tons) and can haul a dozen passengers. The company wants to have significantly better fuel efficiency and lower operating costs than the AW109.

The H160 is largely made of lightweight composites to reduce weight. It has a fenestron tail fan and a streamlined spheriflex rotor head, with five composite Blue Edge blades featuring "hockey stick" tips; the blades reduce noise and improve efficiency. The fenestron is canted 12 degrees, improving lift performance. Powerplants are twin Turbomeca Arrano turboshafts with 970 kW (1,300 SHP) each, driving the rotor system through a simplified gearbox. The tailplane is in a biplane configuration, increasing low-speed controllability. Landing gear actuation and braking is by electrical, not hydraulic, systems. The cockpit is equipped with the Helionix avionics suite, which was previously installed on the company’s EC145 T2 and EC175 helicopters; it features four multifunction displays with touch capability.

A Health & Usage Monitoring Systems (HUMS) will be installed as standard on every H160, but because of its different possible of missions, it will be offered as a series of tailored options. HUMS data will be transferred wirelessly, with a tablet computer used for on-the-spot checks. The development program will include three flight prototypes and a pre-production machine, with intro to service expected in 2018.

Airbus Helicopters is working on a military variant, the "H160M". A prototype hasn't flown yet, but it's a priority to do so, the French government having selected it for the "Helicoptere Interarmees Leger (HIL / Light Interservice Helicopter) in 2017, with a buy of at least 160 machines. Service introduction of the HIL is slated for 2024.



* As a footnote to the Dauphin story, the Chinese Harbin organization has developed a helicopter gunship, the Harbin "Z-19", derived from the Z-9 / AS 365.

The Z-19 is named the "Hei Xuan Feng (Black Whirlwind)", from a character in classic Chinese novel WATER MARGIN. The Z-19 is about the size of and comparable to the Airbus Helicopter Tiger gunship. The Z-19 retains the engine and dynamic system of the Z-9, and a tailboom with the distinctive fenestron tailfan scheme; but has a new forward fuselage with a tandem cockpit. The Z-19 has an undernose sensor-targeting turret, but does not have a gun turret, clearly relying on stub wing stores instead. Photos have been released of the Z-19 fitted with a drum radome above the main rotor for a millimeter-wave targeting radar. An export version, the "Z-19E", performed its initial flight in 2017.

* As concerns copyrights and permissions for this document, all illustrations and images credited to me are public domain. I reserve all rights to my writings. However, if anyone does want to make use of my writings, just contact me, and we can chat about it. I'm lenient in giving permissions, usually on the basis of being properly credited.

SA 565M

* Helicopters are not over-documented, and so this writeup was put together by scanning through all the JANE'S ALL THE WORLD AIRCRAFT volumes I could find that mentioned these machines, as well as searches of the internet for useful clues.

This document originally covered both the Dauphin and the Ecureuil, but it got too long and I had to split them into separate documents.

* Revision history:

   v1.0.0 / 01 oct 09 / Initial writeup with both Ecureuil & Dauphin.
   v1.0.1 / 01 may 10 / Minor update.
   v2.0.0 / 01 feb 11 / Cut out Ecureuil, added H175 & X-Cube.
   v2.0.1 / 01 dec 11 / Review & polish.
   v2.0.2 / 01 nov 13 / Review & polish.
   v2.1.0 / 01 oct 15 / More on new variants and follow-ons.
   v2.2.0 / 01 sep 17 / Updates, detuned export user list.