About the Squirrel HT1


The Defence Helicopter Flying School (DHFS) at RAF Shawbury uses the Squirrel HT.Mk 1 to deliver elementary rotary-wing flying training.  The aircraft has a secondary liaison/light transport role. 


The Squirrel HT.Mk 1 (and HT.Mk 2 in Army Air Corps (AAC) service) delivers UK military Single Engine Basic Rotary Wing (SEBRW) training under the auspices of 660 Sqn, AAC and 705 NAS, within the DHFS.  The Squirrel has proven an ideal platform to teach the primary skills of rotary wing flying, but its analogue cockpit is no longer representative of the majority of frontline helicopter types onto which graduates will eventually progress.

The basic phase of the SEBRW course teaches general handling, including emergency procedures, while the advanced phase includes instrument flying, medium- and low-level navigation, operating into confined areas, reversionary night flying, formation and mountain flying.  The Central Flying School (Helicopter) Squadron at RAF Shawbury uses the Squirrel to train instructors, while 670 Sqn, AAC at Middle Wallop employs it in the operational training phase of Army pilot training.

As well as these core training tasks, Squirrel crews conduct a variety of liaison and communications flying, including transporting senior officers and route reconnaissance for Joint Helicopter Command units.  There is also a standing commitment to support the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team The Red Arrows during the display season, when a Squirrel is used to move Red 10, the team’s safety officer and commentator, between show venues.

The Squirrel lifts off for a training flight.
An ideal platform for rotary-wing skills training.
Image by: Ian Forshaw


Aerospatiale flew the initial AS350 Ecureuil prototype on June 27, 1974 as the first step in bringing a replacement for the Sud-Aviation Alouette III to market.  The aircraft was developed along parallel lines, employing either Lycoming or Turbomeca Arriel power, the AS350B featuring the latter engine.  The more powerful AS350B2 featured enlarged main rotor blades for increased maximum take-off weight, gaining certification in 1989.  A large range of single and twin-engined variants followed. 

In 1996, FB Heliservices assumed responsibility for supplying aircraft and availability for the Defence Helicopter Flying School at RAF Shawbury, under a private finance initiative. It ordered 38 AS350BB helicopters from what was now Eurocopter, plus nine Bell 412s from the US manufacturer.  Based on the AS350B2, the ‘BB’ was modified specifically for the UK requirement and delivered from November 1996.  Twenty-six aircraft were to Squirrel HT.Mk 1 standard, the remainder to Mk 2 specification, with cockpits equipped for NVGs.

FB Heliservices, a Flight Refuelling Aviation (now Cobham) and Bristow joint venture, has continued with the contract, but responsibility for the DHFS fleet will pass to Ascent in 2018, using the Juno and Jupiter helicopters. 

Header image by Ian Forshaw


Airbus Helicopters Squirrel HT.Mk 1:

  • Powerplant: one 625shp Safran Helicopter Engines Arriel 1D1 turboshaft
  • Length overall, rotors turning: 42ft 5½in (12.94m)
  • Height overall: 10ft 3½in (3.14m)
  • Main rotor diameter: 35ft ¾in (10.69m)
  • Main rotor disc area: 966.10sqft (89.75m2)
  • Maximum take-off weight: 4,960lb (2,250kg)
  • Never exceed speed at sea level: 155kt (287km/h)
  • Maximum rate of climb at sea level: 1,752ft/min (534m/min)
  • Maximum range: 362nm (670km)
  • Hovering ceiling in ground effect: 10,500ft

Other aircraft with similar roles