Australia's first of 22 Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopters (ARH)has made its debut flight at Eurocopter's Marignane plant in France.

Conducted on 20 February, the 50min sortie verified that all aircraft systems were operating correctly and demonstrated the aircraft's complete flight envelope, Eurocopter says.

The aircraft will now embark on a qualification flight-test programme that will validate delivery of the first two ARH aircraft to the Australian Army Aviation Corps next December. The type's preliminary military certification is scheduled for March 2005, with final military certification to follow a year later. Australia's first Tiger ARH squadron should be operational at its base in Darwin by June 2007, with the army's final aircraft to be delivered in April 2008.

The ARH will be armed with Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire II air-to-ground missiles, 70mm rockets and feature an Australian-specific communications and data transmission system supplied by Thales Communications.

Afurther two Tiger ARHs are on the assembly line in Marignane and another three at Eurocopter subsidiary Australian Aerospace in Brisbane, Queensland. The latter will assemble 18 of Australia's 22 aircraft, perform fleet management and maintenance of the helicopters and provide crew training in Australia from next January.

Eurocopter has orders for 80 UHT versions of the Tiger for Germany, 80 HAP/HAD versions for France and 24 HAD aircraft for Spain.

Source: Flight International