Airbus Helicopters has increased the number of H160M Guepard prototypes it intends to build, with final assembly of the first of three examples set to begin shortly.

In development for all three branches of the French armed forces, the airframer originally planned for just two flight-test aircraft but has since “invested in an additional prototype”, says head of the H160 programme Gilles Armstrong.

H160M Army-c-French defence ministry

Source: French defence ministry

Army variant will serve as baseline for all three services

“Because of the amount of flight testing, to really secure the schedule and make sure we are on time we’ve decided it’s better to have excess flight-test capability in order to do all of the testing volume in the time available. 

“To give ourselves a bit of a margin we have made that investment.”

Final assembly of the initial example will begin “soon”, he says, with the second following shortly behind.

De-risking activities began last year using a commercial H160 test aircraft, modified with representative profiles of military equipment, such as sensors and defensive aids, to check the aerodynamic performance of the helicopter.

That work is now almost complete, says Armstrong. “It’s about getting the aerodynamics right early in the context of the HIL development.”

While the selection of locations for systems is performed using digital mock-ups and other virtual tools, flight tests are still required, he says.

“It’s really about making sure that having chosen to put them there, that you have answered the question about what happens on the aerodynamics.”

All three prototypes will have common elements and mission-specific elements, Airbus Helicopters says.

To date, Airbus Helicopters has received orders for 30 H160Ms from France from a planned acquisition of 169 units: 80 for the army, 49 for the navy and 40 for the air force. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in 2027.