Eurocopter AS350 Squirrel - The French Super Chopper

Written By: Jack Buscombe

The Eurocopter AS350 Squirrel is a popular 5 passenger helicopter. As a single engine light utility helicopter, they have a large presence in several military forces around the world. The single engine AStar family of aircraft is one of the most-produced helicopters in history. As of 2019, the AS350 Squirrel has a total production tally of 4,271 since its beginnings in 1975, and volume continues to climb. This article reflects on the evolution of the AS350 Squirrel, the performance specs, variants, and how to buy one.

Specifications

The following specs are based on the current single engine Squirrel (AirBus H125):

  • Engine Type: Safran Helicopter Engines Arriel 2D
  • Cruise Speed: 140knots (260km/h)
  • Range: 340 nautical miles (630 km's)
  • Time Range: 4 hours and 30 minutes
  • Max Altitude: 7,010 metres
  • Max takeoff weight: 2,250 kg's
Panel inside the AS350 Squirrel

The Many Names of the Squirrel

Over it's 45 year life span, the Squirrel has picked up a number of names for various reasons. As a french made helicopter, it's formal name, "Eurocopter AS350 Écureuil" rarely gets used by English speakers. The 'Squirrel' is quite literally a direct translation from the Écureuil; meaning 'squirrel' in French.

So, lets address the commonly used names for the Eurocopter Squirrel:

  • Eurocopter AS350 Écureuil - formal name from 1992-2014
  • the Squirrel Helicopter - most commonly used name
  • AStar - marketing name (the base of the 'AS' in AS350)
  • AirBus H125 - proper name since Eurocopter became AirBus in 2014
A Google Comparison of the Most Searched Names for the AS350
A Google Trends Comparison of the Most Searched Names for the AS350

Notice in the graph above how popular the term 'Squirrel Helicopter' is. The first 3 names are the still popular these days as they relate to the longest period when Eurocopter was manufacturing the helicopters. Since then, the Eurocopter company had a name change to Airbus. So even though the 'Squirrel' became the 'Airbus H125' in 2014, the broader aviation community still can't shake that old name!

The Story of the AS350

Scenic Flight in an AS350 over the Gold Coast

The original AS350 Squirrel was brought to life by a French aerospace company called Aérospatiale. From the initial build of the prototype, the company was looking to create an affordable civil chopper which was both powerful and versatile. To achieve this, it was powered by a single Turbomeca Arriel 1B engine and comfort/luxury was not front of mind.

The Squirrel helicopter had its first flight on the 27th of June in 1974 and commenced full production in 1975. The first commercial release of the chopper was the AS350B in March of 1978 throughout the world, except North America.

Variants of the A-Star Helicopter

Aérospatiale quickly brought out a suite of variants within the first 5 years of production. Orders of the AS350C started delivering to customers one month after the release of the AS350B in April of 1978. The AS350C helicopter was designed specifically for the North American market and was powered by a Lycoming LTS-101 turboshaft engine.

After this, the company produced a number of variants for certain geographic markets with unique features. Some of them were built with high-end avionics and navigation technologies, and some were loaded with high-performance specs. For example, the AS350 B3 was powered by an Arriel 2B engine and is one of the most powerful mass-produced utility helicopters. In 2005, the AS350 B3 achieved the world record for the highest altitude landing and takeoff. It was performed on the summit of Mt Everest at 8,848 metres and the record still stands today.

The AS355 TwinStar

Police AS355

The most popular variant of the AStar Helicopter was the Eurocopter AS355 Écureuil 2. The AS355 'TwinStar' was powered by an Allison C20F twin engine and was popular in recovery missions due to it's enhanced towing capability. The TwinStar's first flight was on the 28th of September, 1979 and production began in 1980.

In 2001, the company introduced the Eurocopter EC130 which was based on the airframe of the AS350 and AS355. Even though the EC130 was a single-engine aircraft, the market response was massive and demand for the AS355 Twin Squirrel dropped in favour of the EC130. Production of the AS355 was eventually discontinued in 2016.

The Eurocopter Group

In 1992, Aérospatiale and German defence company DASA (Daimler-Benz Aerospace AG), joined forces to create the Eurocopter Group. This meant that the name of the AStar AS350 became Écureuil (or Squirrel), and production of the helicopter was managed by the 2 parent companies.

One of the results of the merger meant that they were able secure high levels of military investment from around the world. In 1996, the group created the AS350BB variant which was designed to meet rotary-wing training needs of the UK military. This lead to the Eurocopter Squirrel HT.1 and HT.2 follow-ups which was designed for the British Military and Army Air Corps respectively.

Over the years, the AS350's involvement with the Brazilian military fleet has been notable. As the top investor in these helicopters, the Brazilian Air Force has ordered more than 600 AS350's, and 45 are still in service.

Airbus Helicopters

Official Showcase of the Airbus Helicopters

On the 1st of January 2014, Eurocopter went through a re-brand to become Airbus Helicopters. While this didn't have any material effects on the production operations, the AS350 helicopter would become the AirBus H125.

Since the re-brand, production remains consistent and has grown it's presence in the Australian Defence Force. As the Squirrel's reach age under the inventory of the Air Force, private charter operators have started purchasing ex-army vehicles at afforable prices. These days, it's common to see Squirrel's operating scenic helicopter tours and flight training across Australia.

How Do I Buy A Squirrel Helicopter?

A brand new H125 helicopter (base model) costs US$2.9 million. These can be ordered directly from the AirBus Helicopters company on their contact form.

The Pre-Owned Market

An Older AStar Chopper for Sale

We recommend purchasing a pre-owned Squirrel for significantly cheaper. An modern pre-owned A Star helicopter costs about $2.4 million on average. They can get as cheap as $2 million and even under if you're willing to buy an older model. You can browse listings at websites like Controller and AvBuyer for a narrow view of the market.

There are very few online listings in most countries so the best place to buy an AStar helicopter is at local auctions. There are often affordable ex-military helicopters up for grabs, and they're usually kept in good condition.

We looked at the sale price for second hand Eurocopter 350's in Australia over 2018 and 2019. From 40 transactions, we found the average price to be $2.7 million. The minimum price was $1.8 million and the maximum sale was $3.8 million.

Conclusion

Pilot in an AS350 Squirrel

The AS350 is a serious workhorse which has made it's way into a diverse range of industries. As a military aircraft, it is highly sought-after. More recently, the AS350 has made it's way into the charter scene and they have started popping up at several flight training schools.

With the diversification of the AirBus Helicopters operations, it's interesting to see what the future of the Squirrel holds. If you're lucky enough to have experienced a flight in a Squirrel, you'll understand the beastly nature of the aircraft. If you haven't, you definitely need to check it out!

Click here to browse from Squirrel Chopper Flights.

FAQ's

When did Eurocopter become Airbus?

On the 1st on January 2014, the Eurocopter Group announced a brand name change to AirBus Helicopters.

How Much does a Squirrel Helicopter Cost?

A brand new H125 costs US$2.9 million in 2020. A modern pre-owned Squirrel costs around $2.4 million.

How fast is an AStar Helicopter?

The cruising speed of an AS350 is 140 knots (or 260km/h).

Who Makes the AStar Helicopter?

Helibras (a AirBus Helicopters subsidiary) currently manufactures the AStar helicopters. They were originally made by Aérospatiale, which then formed the Eurocopter Group in 1992. In 2014, the brand name changed to AirBus Helicopters and still manufacture these helicopters.

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