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Aérospatiale Alouette III

SA 316/SA 319 Alouette III
Sud SA 316B Alouette III A-247 (cropped).jpg
A Netherlands Air Force Alouette III during '100th Anniversary of Dutch Military Aviation' airshow
Role Light utility helicopter
National origin France
Manufacturer Sud Aviation
First flight 28 February 1959
Introduction 1960
Status In service
Primary users French Armed Forces
Rhodesian Air Force
Indian Armed Forces[N 1]
Portuguese Air Force[1]
South African Air Force[1] (historical)
Produced 1961-1985
(HAL Chetak still in production)
Number built 2,000+
Developed from Aérospatiale Alouette II
Variants IAR 316

The Aérospatiale Alouette III (French pronunciation: ​[alwɛt], Lark) is a single-engine, light utility helicopter developed by French aircraft company Sud Aviation. During its production life, it proved to be a relatively popular rotorcraft; including multiple licenced manufacturers, in excess of 2,000 units were constructed.

The Alouette III was developed as an enlarged derivative of the earlier and highly successful Alouette II. Sharing many elements with its predecessor while offering an extra pair of seats and other refinements, it quickly became a commercial success amongst both civil and military customers. Further variants were also developed; amongst these was a high-altitude derivative, designated as the SA 315B Lama, entered operational service during July 1971. The Alouette III was pricipally manufactured by Aérospatiale; the type was also built under license by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in India as the HAL Chetak, by Industria Aeronautică Română (IAR) in Romania as the IAR 316 and F+W Emmen (de) in Switzerland.

Similar to the Alouette II, in military service, it was used to perform missions such as aerial observation, photography, air-sea rescue, liaison, transport and training; it could also be armed with anti-tank missiles, anti-shipping torpedoes, and a fixed cannon. In a civilian capacity, the Alouette II was commonly used for casualty evacuation (often fitted with a pair of external stretcher panniers), crop-spraying, personnel transportation, and for carrying external loads.



The Alouette III has its origins with an earlier helicopter design by French aircraft manufacturer Sud-Est, the SE 3120 Alouette, which, while breaking several helicopter speed and distance records in July 1953, was deemed to have been too complex to be realistic commercial product.[2] With the financial backing of the French government, which had taken interest in the venture, the design was used as a starting point for a new rotorcraft harnessing the newly-developed turboshaft engine; only a few years prior, Joseph Szydlowski, the founder of Turbomeca, had successfully managed to develop the Artouste, a 260 hp (190 kW) single shaft turbine engine derived from his Orédon turbine engine. This engine was combined with the revised design to quickly produce a new helicopter, initially known as the SE 3130 Alouette II.[2]

During April 1956, the first production Alouette II was completed, becoming the first production turbine-powered helicopter in the world.[2] The innovative light helicopter, soon broke several world records and became a commercial success.[3][4] As a result of the huge demand for the Alouette II, manufacturer Aérospatiale took a great interest in the development of derivatives and of making further advancement in the capabilities of rotorcraft.

Launch and production

The first version of the Alouette III, the SE 3160 prototype, performed its maiden flight on 28 February 1959. During 1961, the initial model of the type, designated as the SA 316A (SE 3160) entered production; this variant continued to be produced until 1968, when it was replaced by the refined SA 316B model. During 1979, the last and 1,437th Alouette III departed from the company's assembly line in Marignane, France, after which the main production line was closed down as a consiquence of deminishing demand for the type. During 1985, the final Aérospatiale-built Alouette III was delivered.

This was not the end of all production activity however. Over 500 units were manufactured under licence in Romania, India, and Switzerland. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) obtained a license to build Alouette IIIs as the HAL Chetak in India. Over 300 units were produced by HAL as it continued to independently update and indigence the helicopter over the years, and a modernised variant remained production, though in diminishing volumes, into the 21st century. Versions of the Alouette III were also either license-built or otherwise assembled by IAR in Romania (as the IAR 316), F+W Emmen (de) in Switzerland, and by Fokker and Lichtwerk in the Netherlands.

Operational history

Danish Navy Alouette III on HDMS Beskytteren in 1977


The Argentine Naval Aviation operated a total of 14 Alouette III helicopters. A single SA316B was on board the ARA General Belgrano when she was sunk by torpedoes fired by the HMS Conqueror during the 1982 Falklands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom. A second Alouette III played an important role during the Argentine Invasion of South Georgia. On 2 December 2010, the last example was retired at a ceremony held at BAN Comandante Espora, Bahía Blanca.[5][6]


Between April 1964 and 1967, a small batch of Alouette IIIs were delivered from France in a disassembled state to Australia. Following their assembly, these were used by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) at the Woomera Rocket Range for light passenger transport purpose and to assist in the recovery of missile parts in the aftermath of test launches conducted at the Range.[citation needed]


During 1977, the Chilean Navy ordered a batch of ten SA-319Bs. These rotorcraft, which were delivered by the middle of 1978, were only made operational just before the peak of the Beagle conflict between Chile and neighbouring Argentina. The Alouette III was the first real organic maritime ship borne tactical helicopter to be operated by Chile's naval forces; for this role, they were equipped with a radar and armed with rockets, guns, depth charges and a single light anti-submarine torpedo.[citation needed]

During the frantic training period in 1978 to meet wartime needs, a sole SA-319B was accidentally damaged, leading to it being placed in storage and subsiquently repaired back to an airworthy condition years later. All ten Chilean Navy SA-319Bs were operational and in excellent conditions by the end of the 1980s, shortly after which they were replaced by larger SA532 Super Puma helicopters, and were bought by civilian operators.[citation needed]


Between 1962 and 1967, a total of 8 Alouette IIIs were delivered to the Royal Danish Navy from 1962 to 1967. They were primarily tasked with SAR and reconnaissance in support of the navy's Arctic patrol ships. During 1982, they were replaced by a batch of British Westland Lynx.[7]


French Navy Alouette III on the frigate La Motte-Picquet

During early 1960, the Alouette III officially entered squadron service with the French armed forces. In June 1971, having been suitably impressed by the type's performance so far, the French Army elected to order a force of 50 Alouette IIIs.[citation needed]

During June 1960, an Alouette III carrying seven people made take-offs and landings on Mont Blanc in the French Alps at an altitude of 4,810 meters (15,780 feet), an unprecedented altitude for such activities by a helicopter.[8] The same helicopter again demonstrated the type's extraordinary performance in November 1960 by making take-offs and landings with a crew of two and a payload of 250 kg (551 lbs) in the Himalayas at an altitude of 6,004 meters (19,698 feet).[8]

During June 2004, the Alouette III was retired from the French Air Force after 32 years of successful service, having been entirely replaced by the newer twin-engined Eurocopter EC 355 Ecureuil 2. As of 2017, the French Navy still uses the Alouette III to conduct both Search and Rescue and logistics missions.[citation needed]


During 1963, the first pair of Alouette IIIs were delivered to the Irish Air Corps; a third rotocraft arrived in 1964 and a batch of five further aircraft were delivered between 1972 and 1974. The service ultimately operated a total of eight Alouette IIIs between 1963 and 2007; throughout much of this period, they were the only helicopters operated by the Corps.[citation needed]

On 21 September 2007, the Alouette III was formally retired from the Irish Air Corps during a ceremony held at Baldonnel Aerodrome. During 44 years of successful service, the Irish Alouette III fleet amassed over 77,000 flying hours. As well as routine military missions, the aircraft undertook some 1,717 search-and-rescue missions, saving 542 lives and flew a further 2,882 air ambulance flights. The oldest of the Alouettes, 195, is kept in 'rotors running' condition for the Air Corps Museum.[9]


Indian Navy Chetak During IFR 2016

Under a licencing arrangement between Aérospatiale and Indian aircraft manfucturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the Alouette III has been built under licence by HAL in India. Known locally under the designation HAL Chetak, in excess of 300 rotorcraft have been manufactured to date; the majority of these were acquired for military purposes with the Indian Armed Forces, who have used them to perform various mission roles, including training, transport, CASEVAC (casualty evacuation), communications and liaison roles.[citation needed]

During 1986, the Indian Government constituted the Army's Aviation Corps; consiquently, the majority of Chetaks previously operated by AOP Squadrons were transferred from the Indian Air Force to the Indian Army on 1 November 1986. The Air Force has continued to fly a force of armed Chetaks in the anti-tank role as well as for CASEVAC missions and general duties. During the 2010s, the Chetak is being gradually replaced by the newer HAL Dhruv in the armed forces. An option to re-engine the HAL Chetak with the Turbomeca TM 333-2B engine, which would better facilitate high-altitude operations in the Himalayas was considered, but ultimately not pursued.[citation needed]

In addition to producing the type for Indian customers, HAL has also achieved some export sales of Chetak helicopters to several nations, including Namibia and Suriname. India has also opted to donate several secondhand Chetak helicopters to other countries, such as neighbouring Bangladesh and Nepal.[citation needed]


During the 1960s, Pakistan purchased a fleet of 35 Alouette III helicopters to equip the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). These saw active combat during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, in which the type was mainly used for liaison and VIP-transport missions. A pair of PAF Alouette IIIs were recorded as having been shot down during the conflict.[10]


Portuguese paratroopers jump from an Alouette III in an air assault operation in Angola in the early 1960s.

Portugal was the first country to use the Alouette III in combat. In 1963, during the Overseas Wars in Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea, Portugal began using Alouette IIIs in combat, mainly in air assault and medevac operations, where it proved its qualities. Besides the basic transport version (code named canibal, plural canibais), Portugal used a special version of the Alouette III with a MG 151 20 mm autocannon mounted in the rear in order to fire from the left side door; it was designated helicanhão (heli-cannon) and code named lobo mau (big bad wolf).

In the Overseas Wars, the Portuguese usually launched air assaults with groups of six or seven Alouette III: five or six canibais - each usually carrying five paratropers or commandos - and a lobo mau heli-cannon. The Portuguese practice was for the troops to jump from the canibais when the helicopters were hovering two-three meters above the ground - famous images of these disembarking troops became an iconic image of the war. The landing of the troops was covered by the lobo mau. While the troops performed the ground assault, the canibais moved away from the combat zone, while the lobo mau stayed to provide fire support, destroying enemy resistance and concentration points with the fire from its 20 mm autocannon. Once the ground combat had finished, the canibais returned; firstly to collect the wounded, then the rest of the troops.

At present, the Portuguese Air Force maintains a number of Alouette IIIs in service, mainly for training and SAR. They also equip the aerobatic team Rotores de Portugal.


The nation of Rhodesia emerged as a prolific user of both the Alouette II and its enlarged sibling, the Alouette III.[11] Early operations were flown with an emphasis on its use by the Rhodesian Army and British South Africa Police, including paramilitary and aerial reconnaissance operations. Throughout the 1960s, the type progressively spread into additional roles, including aerial supply, casualty evacuation, communications relays, and troop-transports.[12] Rhodesian aerial operations would typically involve flying under relatively high and hot conditions, which reduced the efficiency of aircraft in general; however, the Alouette II proved to be both hardy and relatively resistant to battle damage.[13] In order to extend the inadequate range of the type, fuel caches were strategically deployed across the country to be used for refuelling purposes.[12]

At its peak, No. 7 Squadron of the Rhodesian Air Force operated a force of 34 Allouette IIIs, which would normally operate in conjunction with a smaller number of Allouette IIs. They played a major part in the Rhodesian Forces' Fireforce doctrine, in which they would rapidly deploy ground troops, function as aerial observation and command posts, and provide mobile fire support as armed gunships.[14] In order to improve performance, Rhodesia's Alouette fleet was subject to extensive modifications during its service life, including changes to their refueling apparatus, gun sights, and cabin fittings, along with the installation of additional armouring and armaments.[15] Over time, the Rhodesian Security Forces developed an innovative deployment tactic of rapidly encircling and enveloping enemies, known as the Fireforce, for which the Alouette II served as a core component.[11] The quick-reaction Fireforce battalions were typically centered at Centenary and Mount Darwin; however, an deliberate emphasis was placed on locating both rotorcraft and troops as close to a current or anticipated theatre of operations as would be feasibly possible.[16]

South Africa

The Alouette III served for over 44 years in the South African Air Force (SAAF). During its service life, the fleet was recorded as having accumulated in excess of 346,000 flight hours; the type saw considerable action during the South African Border War, supporting counterstrike operations inside neighbouring Angola.[17]

During June 2006, the last Alouette III was officially withdrawn from SAAF service at AFB Swartkop near Pretoria.[17] During February 2013, an interim court order was issued, blocking the proposed sale of South Africa's retired Alouette fleet to the Zimbabwean Air Force.[18]


During 1986, the South American country of Suriname purchased a pair of secondhand Alouette III helicopters from Portugal. During 1999, the Surinam Air Force opted to retire and sell off its Alouette III helicopters. In their place, three newly-built HAL Chetaks (an Indian version of the Alouette IIIs) were delivered to the Suriname Air Force on 13 March 2015, while the pilots and technicians of the Surinam Air Force underwent training on the type in Bangalore, India for some time.[19][20][21]


During 1964, the Swiss Air Force opted to procure a batch of nine Alouette III rotorcraft directly from Aérospatiale; further orders included one placed in 1966 for 15 more. In addition, a total of 60 SA-316Bs (often referred to as the F+W Alouette IIIS) were license-assembled by F+W Emmen (fr; de) in Switzerland.[citation needed]

During 2004, the Swiss Armed Forces announced the expected withdrawl of the Alouette III from front-line service would commence by 2006 and that it was to be entirely retired by 2010; they have been replaced by a smaller force of 20 new-built Eurocopter EC635s. Since their retirement, at least 10 ex-Swiss Alouettes have been gifted to Pakistan to perform search and rescue operations.[citation needed]


  • SA 316A : the first production version. Original designation SE 3160.[citation needed]
  • SA 316B : powered by a 425 kW (570 shp) Turboméca Artouste IIIB turboshaft engine, with strengthened main and tail rotor for greater performance. The SA 316B was built under licence in India as the HAL Chetak, and again under license in Romania as the IAR 316.[citation needed]
    • HAL Chetak : Indian production version of the SA 316B.
    • HAL Chetan:HAL/Turbomecca TM 333-2M2 Shakti engine.
    • IAR 316 : Romanian production version of the SA 316B.
    • F+W Alouette IIIS : 60 SA-316B license-assembled in Switzerland by F+W Emmen (de) between 1970 and 1974.
  • The SA 319B was a direct development of the SA 316B, it was powered with a 649 kW (870 shp) Turbomeca Astazou XIV turbo shaft engine, but it was derated to 447 kW (660 hp).[citation needed]
  • The SA 316C was powered by a Turbomeca Artouste IIID turboshaft engine. The SA 316C was only built in small numbers.[citation needed]
  • G-Car and K-Car : Helicopter gunship versions for the Rhodesian Air Force.[22] The G-Car was armed with two side-mounted Browning .303 or a single 7.62mm MAG machine guns. The K-Car was armed with a 20 mm MG 151 cannon, fitted inside the cabin, firing from the port side of the helicopter.
  • SA.3164 Alouette-Canon: Modified in 1964 as a gunship version armed with a 20mm gun in the nose and external hardpoints for missiles mounted on each side of the fuselage. Only one prototype was built.[23]
  • IAR 317 Airfox: A Romanian helicopter gunship project based on the IAR 316. Only three prototypes were ever built.
  • Atlas XH-1 Alpha: South African two-seat attack helicopter project. It was used in the development of the Denel Rooivalk.


Current military operators

Austrian Alouette III over the Alps
 Burkina Faso
 Democratic Republic of the Congo
HAL Chetak from Indian Navy's INS Rana.
 Ivory Coast
An Alouette III used by the Air Wing of the Armed Forces of Malta during a flying display.
Pakistan Naval Air Arm Alouette III on board PNS Tippu Sultan at Portsmouth in 2005
Portuguese Rotores de Portugal aerobatic team's Alouette III helicopters
 South Korea

Former military operators

Argentine Navy Alouette III aboard USS Bunker Hill

 Abu Dhabi

Circa 1980, a Royal Danish Navy's Alouette III on a Hvidbjørnen-class inspection vessel.
 Dominican Republic
 El Salvador
 Hong Kong
Irish Air Corps SA-316B Alouette III, 212 from 3 Operations Wing at RNAS Yeovilton in July 2006
Retired Alouette III (SA316B) of the Republic of Singapore Air Force on static display at RSAF Museum.
 Saudi Arabia
 South Africa
 South Vietnam
Aérospatiale SA 316 Alouette III of the Swiss Air Force
 Upper Volta
 FR Yugoslavia

Specifications (SA 316B)

Aérospatiale Alouette III orthographical image.svg
Close-up of the turbine of an Alouette III

Data from Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1976-77[85]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2
  • Capacity: 5 passengers
  • Length: 10.03 m (32 ft 10¾ in)
  • Main rotor diameter: 11.02 m (36 ft 1¾ in)
  • Height: 3.00 m (9 ft 10 in)
  • Main rotor area: 95.38 m2 (1026 ft2)
  • Empty weight: 1,143 kg (2,520 lb)
  • Gross weight: 2,200 kg (4,850 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Turbomeca Artouste IIIB turboshaft, 649 kW (870 shp) derated to 425 kW (570 hp)


  • Maximum speed: 210 km/h (130[86] mph)
  • Cruising speed: 185 km/h (115 mph)
  • Range: 540 km (335 miles)
  • Service ceiling: 3,200 m (10,500 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 4.3 m/s (850 ft/min)

See also

Related development
Related lists



  1. ^ Major foreign users of the Alouette III are Indian Air Force (300+ delivered), Portuguese Air Force (179 delivered) and South African Air Force (118 delivered).[1]


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  86. ^ at sea level


  • Andrade, John (1982). Militair 1982. London: Aviation Press Limited. ISBN 0-907898-01-7. 
  • Cocks, Kerrin. "Rhodesian Fire Force 1966–80." Helion and Company, 2015. ISBN 1-91029-405-5.
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  • Taylor, John W R. (editor) (1976). Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1976-77. London: Jane's Yearbooks. ISBN 0-354-00538-3. 
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External links