The Aérospatiale Gazelle originated in a French Army requirement for a lightweight utility helicopter. The design quickly attracted British interest, leading to a development and production share out agreement with British company Westland Helicopters.
Though the general layout resembles that of the Alouette series, the Gazelle featured several important innovations. This was the first helicopter to carry a fenestron or fantail, which allows considerable noise reduction. Also, the rotor blades were made of composite materials, a feature now widely used in modern helicopters.
The Gazelle was first produced in 1968 under an Anglo-French agreement between Westlands and Aerospatiale. The Gazelle fondly referred to as the "whistling chicken leg" has proved an incredibly reliable observation and reconnaissance helicopter for many years. Although having only one engine it is not as powerful as many others, but its lightweight chassis offsets any deficit it might have. Advantages include its small agile nature, and its unparalleled visibility from the cockpit.
It first entered service with the AAC in June 1973. The Gazelle was used in combat in the Falkland Islands, Kuwait, Iraq and Kosovo and with 8 Flight Army Air Corps in support of 22 Special Air Service Regiment. It was also used for air patrols in Northern Ireland. British Gazelles were only armed when used in the Falklands, where they were fitted with machine guns and rocket pods, but these were not used.
The Gazelle flown by the British Army Air Corps has recently been enhanced with a Direct Voice Input (DVI) system developed by QinetiQ. It allows for voice control of avionics equipment using standard aircrew helmet microphones and intercom. Being speaker independent, the system does not need to be trained to recognize a specific user. This means high command recognition rates may be achieved whether or not the user has operated the system before. It gives aircrew the ability to control aircraft systems using voice commands and access information without removing their hands from the flight controls or their eyes from the outside world.