French Air Force Receives Its First CSAR Cougar MK2 From Eurocopter
(Source : Eurocopter)
The French Air Force has taken official delivery of its first RESCO Cougar Mk2 from the Eurocopter Group's Marignane plant (RESCO is the French acronym for Combat Search and Rescue or CSAR).
Patrick Gavin, Eurocopter Group Management Board Chairman, symbolically handed over the keys of the helicopter to Air Division General Gérard Saucles, Deputy Head of the Air Staff Equipment Program and representing the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Force General Jean Rannou, at the ceremony. Representatives from the Délégation Générale à l'Armement (General Delegation for Armaments in France) were also present.
The Air Force has already been able to conduct an intensive evaluation of this helicopter in July and August 1999, when more than 100 flight hours were logged. Moreover, the Air force product team had closely participated in the definition of the RESCO Cougar.
The helicopter will have its instrumentation fitted in the Istres Flight Test Center before being handed over to the CEAM (French Military Experimental Aeronautical Center) for further operational evaluation that will culminate in the definition of the operating procedures.
This helicopter is the first of the 4 Cougars in the current procurement program (1997-2002); the 3 other deliveries will be spaced out up to 2003. Total requirements are for an estimated 14 helicopters.
These Cougar MK 2s will ultimately replace the 3 Pumas, whose rescue missions call for a large crew and numerous on-board equipment items and therefore restrict the radius of action.
The main mission of the AS 535 A2 RESCO Cougar is to recover aircrews downed in combat areas, in the face of operational constraints including fast reaction, adaptive intervention, stealth and extended reach: in other words, most of the ingredients of commando-type missions. Recent events around the world have amply proven the relevance of such missions.
The Cougar crew utilize a Personal Locator System (PLS) to find the survivors. Specifically developed for recovery operations in combat areas via encrypted transmissions, the PLS guarantees the safety of the helicopter and survivors alike, while making it impossible to locate them. The requirement for an accurate, self-contained navigation system is satisfied by a computer capable of interfacing with all the positioning resources available on the Cougar (GPS, inertial reference system, Doppler, VOR/TACAN/DME).
The crew is equipped with 3rd generation night vision goggles (NVG) for use during night missions. On the Cougar Mk 2, the NVG capability is standard throughout the helicopter (cockpit and cabin).
For several years now, Eurocopter has worked with doctors, ergonomists and pilots in order to optimize the operation of the helicopter and to alleviate the crew workload; these studies have resulted in the development of a glass cockpit based on the concept of an Integrated Flight Display System (IFDS).
The IFDS contains a 4-axis autopilot integrating all the maneuver modes of the SAR functions. The heart of this system is Sextant Avionique's NADIR navigation system.
The Cougar is very effectively equipped for the critical detection phase on which the success of the mission depends, i.e. bubble observation windows on the cabin doors, searchlight, Forward-Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR), PLS and panoramic detection radar with a homing function. Thanks to all this equipment, the Cougar can reach the intervention zone very quickly in all weather conditions.
Sea rescue operations are particularly difficult and require the use of the autopilot higher order modes in the approach phase, i.e. the descent, transition and hover maneuvers over the rescue victim are made in automatic mode. Only when this condition is satisfied can the success of the mission be envisioned with certainty.
For very long range operations, the CSAR Cougar Mk 2 can now operate at a higher alternate gross weight of 11,200 kg compared to its normal maximum mission weight of 9,750 kg. With this enhanced capability, the Cougar can for instance rescue two crew members 400 nautical miles away and bring them back to its home base.
The three conventional helicopter detection sources (i.e. acoustic, radar and infrared signatures) have been drastically reduced by Eurocopter in conjunction with the French Aerospace Research Center ONERA (infrared suppressors, special low IR reflectance paints, etc.).
The Cougar's self-defense weapons include 20 mm guns, rocket pods on external weapon struts and two fuselage-mounted 7.62 mm machine guns.
Right from the outset, the Cougar Mk 2 development studies extensively integrated the concept of survivability; for instance, the Spheriflex-type rotor heads have high impact tolerance and the gearboxes can operate without lubrication for between 30 and 90 minutes.
Another noteworthy feature is the high level of redundancy built into the main systems (autopilot, flight controls and electrical, fuel and hydraulic systems) and into certain equipment items (the primary hoist with a capacity of 272 kg is backed up by an emergency hoist). This helicopter guarantees high mission safety and therefore unequaled mission reliability; in addition, all the helicopter's fuel cells are crash-resistant and self-sealing.
Unlike its competitors in the 10 metric ton class, the Cougar boasts a vast cabin capable of carrying stretchers, medical equipment, life rafts, an operator's search and navigation console, as well as rescue personnel such as hoist operators, doctors and paramedics.
Furthermore, the Cougar is today the only helicopter in its class to carry emergency flotation gear for overwater operations.
Saudi Arabia has ordered 12 of the CSAR version of the Cougar Mk 2 whereas Turkey and Greece have opted for the Cougar Mk 1.
To date, close to 570 helicopters in the Super Puma/Cougar family have been sold, with about 18% for SAR and CSAR missions.