In July 1953, the SE3120 Alouette 1, the forebear of an illustrious line, set a record for endurance: 1,252 kilometres without refuelling. This initial result signalled the return of the Europeans to the vertical flight race, a return that would be confirmed by the emergence of turbine-powered helicopters. SNCASE, which would later become the helicopter division of Aerospatiale, and then Eurocopter, garnered records with its successive generations of helicopters. The idea was never to set personal records, but to prove the quality of the equipment. Many records were broken and many were beaten or lost. Technical progress made some records obsolete, while others were forgotten. More than 30 years after they were made official, Eurocopter still holds some records today.
At the start of the 1970s, the Gazelle showed how the shrouded tail rotor could reduce drag and increase speeds on a light aircraft. Since 1971, the Gazelle has held the speed record for a 1000 kg to 1750 kg helicopter over a straight 3 km course at an average of 307 km/h, and over a 100 km closed circuit at 296 km/h.
The following year, a Lama set the record for the highest altitude reached by a helicopter: 12,442 meters. Jean Boulet, whose name is inextricably linked with the history of the helicopter, was at the controls. During his career, Jean Boulet set 17 world records and the record of 12,442 meters still stands today.
Another unbeaten record was set in 1980 by a Dauphin N, which took its passengers from Paris to London at a speed of 321 km/h. Eight years later, the Dauphin Grande Vitesse (High Speed Dauphin) set a speed record of 372 km/h along a straight course for all helicopter categories combined. Extensive aerodynamic research had gone into this aircraft, which was equipped with special fairings. The joy of setting another performance record was thus linked to the industrial purpose of improving understanding of how the helicopter operates at high speed and improving knowledge of aerodynamic modelling and drag reduction.
The Ecureuil B3 flown by Didier Delsalle has set the latest records to date, including the rate of climb records to 3000, 6000 and 9000 meters, before reaching the peak, in the literal sense of the term, with a landing and takeoff from the summit of Mount Everest. By definition, this exploit can never be beaten and brings one record to a successful conclusion. By landing on the top of the world with a series production aircraft, Eurocopter has closed a chapter: it is now agreed that the conventional helicopter, in its current form, has more or less reached its peak in every domain: speed, altitude, endurance, and lift capacity.
However, while the technology shows us its very high level of maturity, it also shows us its limits. A major leap forward in performance is now highly unlikely, as is another outright record that captures our imagination.
Unless we look at the sales figures, of course, which have been breaking record after record for the last few years, and clearly indicate the level of maturity and excellence of the Eurocopter range.
Established in 1992, the Franco-German-Spanish Eurocopter Group is a Division of EADS, a world leader in aerospace, defence and related services. The Eurocopter Group employs approx. 14,000 people. In 2006, Eurocopter confirmed its position as the world’s No. 1 helicopter manufacturer with a turnover of 3.8 billion euros, orders for 615 new helicopters, and a 52% percent market share in the civil and parapublic sectors. Overall, the Group’s products account for 30% percent of the total world helicopter fleet. Its strong worldwide presence is ensured by its 17 subsidiaries on five continents, along with a dense network of distributors, certified agents and maintenance centres. More than 9,800 Eurocopter helicopters are currently in service with over 2,500 customers in 140 countries. Eurocopter offers the largest civil and military helicopter range in the world.
100 years of vertical flight
In 1907, Paul Cornu performed history’s first ever vertical flight. Since then, thanks to pioneering spirits, technological advances and innovative minds, the helicopter has become a key to saving lives, protecting citizens and contributing to economic development the world over. In 2007, Eurocopter is proud to celebrate this anniversary and to share its passion for helicopters.