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Safran powers airborne photography for the Tour de France


Every year in July, ten million people in France gather along its roads for the famous Tour de France bicycle race. The Grande Boucle (“Big Loop”) as it’s nicknamed in French, is one of the biggest sports and TV events of the year, and also a tremendous promotional tool for French tourism.

The daily French TV coverage of this legendary sporting challenge, broadcast to over 180 countries, highlights the many beautiful regions of France, including wide shots and aerial views, ranging from Loire Valley castles to ponds and forests in the Sologne region, the daunting mountains and even Mont Saint-Michel.

Television coverage of the Tour started in 1948, first with fixed cameras, then on vehicles starting in the 1960s. In the 1990s, helicopter-borne cameras provided end-to-end coverage of all the stages for hundreds of millions of TV viewers from around this world. This technical tour de force is perhaps one of the keys to the Tour de France’s international success. The Tour is now the world’s third most popular sports broadcast, following the football World Cup and the Summer Olympics.

Safran has been a contributor since 1999, when Ecureuil helicopters were first deployed for that sport event. Safran provides systems and equipment for the 10 machines used this year to provide live broadcasts of the 21 stages, as well as VIP transport.

Five Ecureuil AS 350 helicopters, powered by Safran*, are providing VIP transport services for the 105th Tour de France. This year’s fleet includes three single-engine AS 350 BA rotorcraft, powered by the Arriel 1B turboshaft engine, plus an AS 350 B2 powered by the Arriel 1D1, and an H125 with a single Arriel 2D.

Three helicopters are used for aerial filming: two twin-engine AS 355 N with the Arrius 1A, and a single-engine Arriel 1D1-powered AS 350 B2 used to transmit radio signals from both helicopters and motorcycles. These machines will be replaced by two H125 helicopters for the mountain stages, to provide a more stable shooting platform. All in all, these helicopters will log 60 to 100 hours in the air during the three weeks of the Tour.

In other words, Safran is playing a “powerful” role during these three weeks, for the 20th year in a row, by spotlighting the natural beauty along the 3,400 kilometers of roads taken by competitors in the Tour de France.

*Safran also provides autopilots, filtration and oil cooling systems on these helicopters.