In a previous life, I would switch between the Astar and Long Ranger. Fly one in, the other out. Choosing between them would be purely a personal preference. My preference changed hour to hour.
I lean toward the Astar purely for pilot comfort, roomy pilot accomodation.
I liked the Astar for having elbow room cabin in the and the door pockets.
It's easier to be involved with the critters, er- crew/pax in the Astar, being in the one big box (psychologically) inclines everybody to be part of the group. Intercomming, trying to look back into the passenger compartment over the Bell's seat back and around the broom closet is somewhat similar to being in an airliner pilot compartment.
The big box cabin with a level floor is a plus.
The newer Airbus/Eurocopter/Aerospatiale models have energy attenuating seats, a HUGE survivability improvement and much more comfortable than the previous fiberglass buckets.
They use more fuel than I remember Bells using, but the direct operating costs compare well in the sunshine and blue sky comparisons published.
No problems with the Squirrel hover after I gave up trying to be smooth. Lifting is a 4 part process, you lift each corner separately, but the right skid heel is almost always last. Touchdown is the opposite, except that doing it right means absolutely never trying for an imperceptible touchdown. You hold the aircraft over the spot, no translation, adjusting controls for attitude changes, darts and twitches until the collective bottoms. It will get busy the last six inches, expect that and deal with it, but never ever guess when that last six inches is gone, and you've touched down.
Hovers are busy, but easier, everything is quick but proportional.
The tail rotor is significantly lower than the Bell, I've seen'em ankle high as the skids touch on a level helipad if the aircraft is light. That's something to bear in mind for unimproved area landings.
The good news in that is that the aft skid, the stinger, is stout and the tail rotor is a really substantial structure, it will take a beating before it gives up on you.
The Long Ranger is narrow, you sit on the forward saddle tanks and have the control linkages running up the broom closet between the two front seats.
The middle and forward seat backs, broom closet, etc., make this a two compartment aircraft, pax/cargo bay and pilot compartment.
Very little stowage up front and little room to improvise.
Switches and circuit breakers are almost all accessible from the pilot seat. You can 'braille' them after a while, don't have to look. The Aerospats have higgledy-piggledy arrangements, big panels,little panels here and there, some fuses(!!!!) and breakers you can't see from the pilot's seat. You have to stand on your head, etc. to identify. Aerospat original equipment switches, even those required for normal operation are J-U-N-K. Bells, in this department, are immeasurable better.
Bells are more stable in the hover, but I prefer the quick Aerospat hover. Bells much better at cruise.
An anlogy- the Astar/H125/AS350 wants to be a sports car, nimble, quick if not fast The Long Ranger is an old American sedan, respect limits in place and it will comfortably do almost anything you ask. The Bell is easier to fly, the Astar more fun.
Was I buying, I would consider who my first level of maintenance is. I lean toward the 350/125 if I have access to an A&P who knows them. Truck simple if compromised air frame; big central, single cabin; and the energy attenuating pilot seats. A bad choice if you don't have the right mechanic, it has a unique French design philosophy.
But- I would be perfectly happy with the Long Ranger. It doesn't shine in any one area, but no disqualifying compromises in any area, like the (expletive deleted) fuse and breaker panels on the Astar.
P.S. The Astar is called the squirrel ("écureuil") in France because the squirrel is considered hard working and thrifty. Think of the ant in "the ant and the grasshopper" Aesop fable.
Edited by Wally, 01 July 2018 - 16:17.