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Helicopters of the 1 RHC; Phalsbourg, September 18, 2011

Aviation Légère de l'Armée de Terre; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The 1 RHC is one of the seven French ALAT regiments within the French Army. The regiment is based at the French airbase Phalsbourg and flies the SA341 Gazelle and SA342 ‘HOT’ Gazelle and the SA330 Puma. The helicopters of the 1 RHC were in the past several times deployed to crisis areas around the whole world.

The 1 RHC (1er Régiment d'Hélicoptères de Combat) is stationed at the French airbase Phalsbourg. This airbase is a former NATO base which was used by the USAF. The traditions of the 1 RHC arose at the end of the Second World War. During this war the unit was based at Camp Valdahon as the 1er Aérien Groupe d'Observation d'Artillerie (1 GAOA) (1 Air Observation for Artillery) and was founded on November 20, 1945. The new unit quickly left France to Indochina in February 1946. This group features three squadrons with each four Morane MS500 "Locust" airplanes on May 1, 1946. The unit would struggle against the Viet Minh guerrillas in the years that followed. On October 1, 1950, the name of the first GAOA was changed to the name 21st GAOA. The group flew with eight MS500 aircraft in November of the same year. The conversion of the unit to the Tonkin took place in late January 1952. The 21th GAOA took part in the battle of Dien Bien Phu until May 8, 1953. The group was then officially disbanded on December 31, 1953. At the beginning of 1968, a small liaison squadron was established at Nancy as part of the Escadrille d'Liaison du 1er Corps d'Armée (1erCA EL) (1st Army Corps). With almost no material it was a small unit until there was more equipment available for the new unit coming from the 3ème Galat from Rennes. The unit was from July 1969 a full worthy unit and was referred to as the Groupe d'Aviation Légère du 1er Corps d'Armée (Air Army 1st Corps of the Army). The new Corps was moved to the French airbase Phalsbourg after the Americans had left this airbase in the same year.

In the year that followed after the establishment, the number of aircraft within the unit increased from seven to over 50 aircraft. The number of types with which the first Corps operates is quite diverse, as there are many different types of aircraft in use. The unit flies with two MH1521 "Broussard" aircraft, 26 Allouette II helicopters, one single Allouette III helicopter, four Sikorsky H19 helicopters and 17 SA330 Puma

helicopters. The helicopters are divided over three squadrons within the regiment. The first unit is a squadron with attack helicopters (Escadron d’Hélicoptères Légers d’Attaque). The second unit flies transport helicopters (Escadron d'hélicoptères de Manoeuvre). The third unit is a connection and commanding unit (Escadrille de Command Apartment). The Sikorsky H19 was phased out at the 1st Corps on June 29, 1971. The helicopters were within the regiment replaced by the new Gazelle helicopter in 1973. The two Broussards and the only flying Allouette II of the unit were retired from service in the summer of 1976. It would not take long before the Allouette III would come back into service. In July 1977, the Allouette II helicopters which were equipped with the SS11 missile were replaced by Allouette III with the same weapons. The regiment was renamed to its current name 1 RHC (1er Régiment d'Hélicoptères de Combat) (1 Regiment Combat helicopters) in August 1977. Between 1982 and 1984 the Allouette III was completely phased out within the 1 RHC. The helicopters were replaced by the SA342 Gazelle which has the HOT missile.

The current 1 RHC consists of seven squadrons, each with their own tasks. The first unit is the L'escadrille d'appui 1 (EHAP 1) (Support Helicopter Squadron 1). This unit is equipped with the SA341 Gazelle. These helicopters can be equipped with a 20mm cannon for close air support of ground units. The regiment also has two helicopter units with attack helicopters. These two units are Escadrilles d’Hélicoptères d’Attaque 1 and 2 (EHA 1 and EHA 2) (Attack Helicopter Squadron 1 and 2). These two units are equipped with the SA342L1 Gazelle. This variant of the Gazelle can be equipped with the HOT wire-guided anti-tank missile. The helicopters of this unit have a specific offensive task within the regiment. To explore areas the regiment has a reconnais- sance squadron. This unit is Escadrilles d’Hélicoptères d’Reconnaissance (EHR 1) (Reconnaissance Helicopter Squadron 1). This unit is equipped with the SA342F Gazelle. This variant of the Gazelle is equipped with a night vision viewer which is placed on top of the cockpit. The transport missions are flown with the SA330 Puma. The Puma's are flying at two units within the 1 RHC. These units are the Escadron d’Hélicoptères de Manœuvre 1 and 2 (EHM 1 and EHM 2) (Transport Helicopter Squadron 1 and 2). EHM 4 is used for gathering intelligence within the 1 RHC. This unit flies the AS532 Cougar Horizon. The 1 RHC has currently a total of 10 SA341 Gazelles, 18 SA342L1 Gazelles, 10 SA342F Gazelles, 16 SA330 Puma and 4 AS532L Horizon Cougars in its current orbat.

The helicopters of the 1 RHC are within the French Army part of the 4ème Aéromobile Brigade (BAM) (4th Airborne Brigade). The helicopters of the 1 RHC provide constant air mobility of the ground forces of this brigade. The 1 RHC must be able to move as a complete unit over a distance of 1000 kilometers within 24 hour. The unit must be combat ready within this timespan. The Gazelles of the regiment can fly over 400 kilometers in just over two hours without refuelling. A full squadron must be able to be deployed within 6 hours at a distance of 1000 kilometers. The international situation has changed in the world since the 80s and the 1 RHC participated like the other ALAT units in various military-humanitarian operations. These missions often took place in areas which are very unstable. The 1 RHC participated in Operation Desert Storm in Iraq during the Gulf War in 1991. Some other actions were the deployments to Somalia in 1993 and to the former Yugoslavia in the context of the IFOR, SFOR and KFOR in the 90s. At the start of 2000, the helicopters of the 1 RHC are also several times deployed in Africa to strengthen the army in countries such as Chad, Djibouti, Cameroon and Gabon. The helicopters supply in these areas often air support to ground troops and provide stabilization through presence.

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