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Aérospatiale Alouette III

By Wikipedia,
the free encyclopedia,


SA 316 / SA 319 Alouette III
An Alouette III of the 22S wing of the French Navy on the landing pad of Lanvéoc base
Role Light utility helicopter
Manufacturer Sud Aviation
First flight 28 February 1959
Introduced 1960
Retired 2004
Status Active duty in some nations
Primary users French Armed Forces
Indian Air Force
Lebanese Air Force
Produced 1961-1985
Number built 2,000+
Developed from Aérospatiale Alouette II
Variants Aérospatiale Gazelle

The Aérospatiale Alouette III (French for Skylark) is a single-engine, light utility helicopter developed by Sud Aviation and later manufactured by Aérospatiale of France. The Alouette III is the successor to the Alouette II, being larger and having more seating. Originally powered by a Turbomeca Artouste IIIB turboshaft engine, the Alouette III is recognised for its mountain rescue capabilities and adaptability.


The first version of the Alouette III, the SE 3160 prototype, first flew on 28 February 1959. Production of the SA 316A (SE 3160) began in 1961 and remained in production until 1968, when it was replaced by the SA 316B.

Operational History

Austrian Alouette III over the Alps
Austrian Alouette III over the Alps

French Navy Alouette III on the frigate La Motte-Picquet
French Navy Alouette III on the frigate La Motte-Picquet

HAL Chetak from Indian Navy's INS Rana.
HAL Chetak from Indian Navy's INS Rana.

The Alouette III entered in service with the French Armed forces in 1960. From April 1964-1967, three machines were delivered from France for local assembly in Australia, and were used by Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) at the Woomera Rocket Range for light passenger transport and recovery of missile parts after test launches at the Range.

Served in Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 when 2 planes of the PAF were lost in the war,[1] and the Portuguese Colonial War, during 60's and 70's with large utilization in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea, where it proved its qualities.

The SA 316B and the SA 319B both remained in series production up to the early 1980s, when the main production line in France was closed down. However, HAL of India continues to licence-build Alouette IIIs as the Chetak. Versions of the Alouette III were also either licence-built or assembled by IAR in Romania (as the IAR 316), F+W Emmen in Switzerland, and by Fokker and Lichtwerk in the Netherlands.

Production numbers are as follows:

  • France: 1453
  • India: 300+ (Still in production.)
  • Romania: 230
  • Switzerland: 60

In June 2004, the Alouette III was retired from the French Air Force after 32 years of successful service. It will be replaced by the Eurocopter EC 355 Ecureuil 2. In the same year, the Swiss Armed Forces announced the retirement of the Alouette III, from the front line by 2006, and entirely by 2010. Venezuelan Air forces retired their Alouette IIIs in the late 90s.

At Baldonnel 21 September 2007 the Alouette III was retired from the Irish Air Corps. During 44 years of successful service, the 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 currently being kept in 'rotors running' condition for the Air Corps Museum.


The Argentine Navy purchased 14 helicopters. One SA316B was on board the ARA General Belgrano when she was sunk by the HMS Conqueror torpedoes during the Falklands War with Great Britain in 1982.


French Army needed a fast, well-armed machine for the war in Algeria. So during this war ALAT (Aviation Legere d'Armee de Terre)used Alouette IIIs with Nord AS.10 and AS.11 wire-guided antitank missiles were used. The missiles were first used against guerillas who had holed up in heavily fortified mountain caves. Alouette IIIs could carry four missiles each, often operating in mixed formations with gun-armed Alouette IIIs.


Alouette III was built under licence and renamed Chetak. Primarily in service with the IAF in the training, light transport, casevac(Casualty Evacuation), communications and liaison roles.

In 1986 the Government constituted the Army's Aviation Corps and most Chetak operating in AOP Squadrons were transferred from the Air Force on 1st November 1986. The Air Force continues to fly armed Chetaks in the anti-tank role as well as for CASEVAC and general duties.

The HAL Chetak is scheduled to be replaced by HAL's Advanced Light Helicopter. An option remains to re-engine the HAL Chetak with the Turbomeca TM 333-2B engine.

In 2009, India sold one Chetak helicopter to Namibia.


Simultaneously with acquisition of Mirage IIIs Pakistan purchased 35 Alouette III helicopters and used them in the Indo-Pak War of 1971, mainly for liaison and VIP-transport. Two, deployed in East Pakistan, were shot down in the war.



In 2009, India sold two of their Chetak and one Cheetah helicopters to Namibia, for a total price of $10 million.

Guinea Bissau

The war in Guinea Bissau began in earnest in August 1961. From 1967 the situation changed considerably, when the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), officially provided its full support to the PAIGC, de-facto recognising this organisation as an official representation of Guinea Bissau. The Portuguese reaction to these developments was an intensive campaign of building schools, hospitals, housing, and roads, in an effort to improve the living conditions of the local population. Until then, communications were almost non-existent in Guinea. To improve the means of communication, 12 SA.316B Alouette III helicopters were permanently deployed, in order to support the civilians. Several of these helicopters were equipped with 20mm cannons, carried in the rear cabin and fired over the side.


Portugal used their Alouettes against guerrillas in Africa. During the 60's and 70's Portugal used large numbers of helicopters in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea, where Alouettes proved its qualities for use in dusty and hot flying conditions. The versatile Alouette III bore the brunt of COIN operations in Africa: Wherever the troops were sent, the helicopters led or transported them, flew reconnaissance and liaison, CASEVAC/MEDEVAC and other missions. The Portuguese Air Force would be the first to use them with French 20mm cannons.

The Portuguese needed some time until they learned how to make best use of their Alouettes. They started regularly sitting five of six armed troops aboard, in addition to the crew of two, despite the fact that the Alouette III was built to carry only four passengers. This placed especially the gearbox of the helicopters under strain, causing quite some maintenance problems in return.

After some time the French technicians assigned to FAP instructed the Portuguese to be more careful, and the practice was changed so the number of troops usually transported was reduced. This was causing some problems especially if there were casualties to recover, but there was no way around. The lack of facilities for evacuation of casualties (CASEVAC), however, was one of the main reasons for the low morale between the Portuguese soldiers. The FAP personnel was also highly praised and most of the successes during the war in Angola were achieved either by elite units or the air force. However, the Portuguese pilots had no means to communicate with ground troops: even the most elementary equipment – like smoke-grenades for marking targets, and mirrors – was not available, and the troops were not trained to communicate with pilots.

Rhodesia and South Africa, both of which were concerned about their own future in the case of the Portuguese defeat gave military support. They initially limited their participation on shipments of arms and supplies. However, by 1968 South Africa begun providing SA.316B Alouette III helicopters with crews to the FAP, and finally several companies of South African Defence Forces (SADF) infantry were deployed in southern central Angola. There were reports that a some Rhodesian pilots were recruited to fly FAP helicopters, however Rhodesian pilots were considered too valuable by the RRAF/RhAF to be deployed in support of the Portuguese, while the SADF had pilots and helicopters operating out of “Centro Conjunto de Apoio Aéreo” (CCAA – Joint Air Support Centre), set up in Cuito Cuanavale, in 1968.

FAP deployed a large number of SA.316B Alouette IIIs in Angola, and used them for all possible purposes. All the helicopters of this type were operated by Esquadron 94 and were camouflage in overall green colour. This camouflage would soon be quite worn out to different shades of olive green due to the sun, sand and rain. In some operations also a piece of tarpauline with a large number 1, 2, 3, or 4 was applied on the lower window of the cockpit doors. Several Rhodesian and South African "advisers" supported the Portuguese COIN operations, but these never succeeded in goading the Portuguese into employing some of effective Rhodesian combat tactics.


A large number of Alouette IIIs were covertly obtained from various sources. In the 1970’s six SAAF (South African Air Force) Alouette III helicopters were attached to No. 7 Squadron, Rhodesian Air Force. The Alouette III was also the choice of the South African Air Force which meant that training facilities and expertise could be shared. The Portuguese Air Force had also purchased Alouette IIIs.

For Fire force missions a gunship version was developed with a 20 mm cannon, its ammunition and a crew of three, which was named the 'K-car' version. The K-Car was also used as a mobile command post to allow the commander of the heli-borne troops to direct their operations from the air above them. In September 1974 K-Cars were fitted with anti-STRELA [the Russian SAM-7] shrouds on their engines and were given matt paint finish. A Rhodesian Alouette, configured as a gunship or 'K-Car' had the distinction of shooting down a Botswana Defence Force Islander on 9 August 1979.

The standard transports were called 'G-car' models. Used for the troop transport, gunship, SAR, casualty evacuation and a variety of other roles by 7 Sqn.. Rhodesian practice was to carry a technician and four troops and to mount a FN 7.62mm MAG machine-gun, after 1976 a twin Mk 2 0.303 Brownings machine guns. Experience in combat led the Rhodesians to remove the doors and to reverse the front passenger seats to widen the available floorspace and gain flexibility. Casualties could be put on the floor. It was easier to leave the helicopter quickly and more could be carried.

There were many Alouettes brought down by fire from the ground. At one stage, 27 SAAF helicopters were deployed in Rhodesia. Within No. 7 (helicopter) Squadron, the SAAF Alouettes were designated as belonging to Alpha Flight.

South Africa

The Alouette III helicopter served many years in the South African Air Force (SAAF). This helicopter served for 44 years and flew more than 346.000 hours.

SAAF received its first examples in 1962, delivered to the SAAF’s 17 Squadron. In all, 118 were delivered between 1962 and the late 1970s. The last eight were received from Rhodesia, possibly as replacements for SAAF helicopters lost during operations in that country. Used in the SAAF in many roles, the Alouette III primary role was qualifying helicopter pilots and flight engineers for the SAAF, its secondary roles of SAR and supporting internal security in South Africa. The Alouette saw service with almost all SAAF helicopter units at one time or another. It was also used extensively throughout the Bush War in Namibia, Angola and Rhodesia. In these countries was used mainly in search-and-rescue, reconnaissance roles, providing top-cover for the Pumas during troop deployments and extractions and close air-support with Koevoet and army units. The Aloutte proved its durability in the demanding African environment.

by 1968 SAAF began providing Alouette III helicopters with crews to the FAP. SAAF was also deeply involved in Rhodesia from 1975 to 1980, at least 20 to 30 Alouette III helicopters were based in Rhodesia at any one time, initially under the South African Police name.

The Alouette III configurations used operationally by the SAAF during the Bush War were:

  • The K-car Gunship: armed with 20mm Ga1 cannon includes AP and HE rounds. The most prominent feature of the K-car was the specially developed Heat shield around the turbine which vented the exhaust gasses up towards the rotors. This minimised the heat signature of the helicopter making it difficult for the Russian SAMs to lock onto target.
  • The G-car: Transport version, armed with 7.62mm FNMAG for Fire Force and COIN operations.

An Alouette III powerplant and dynamics system were used as the basis for an engineering and development capability demonstrator as a precursor to the Rooivalk programme. It was designated the Alpha XH-1, and it first flew in 1984 and is preserved at the SAAF Museum. this Missile Gunship was armed with two AS12 Missiles and laser designator.

The official withdrawal of Alouette II in SAAF took place on 30th June 2006 at Swartkop in Pretoria. [2]


Irish Air Corps SA-316B Alouette III, 212 from 3 Operations Wing at RNAS Yeovilton in July 2006
Irish Air Corps SA-316B Alouette III, 212 from 3 Operations Wing at RNAS Yeovilton in July 2006
  • The SA 316A was the first production version. Original designation SE 3160.
  • The SA 316B is 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 licence in Romania as the IAR 316.
  • HAL Chetak : Indian production version of the SA 316B.
  • IAR 316 : Romanian production version of the SA 316B.
  • The SA 319B was a direct development of the SA 316B, it was powered with a 649 kW (870 shp) Turboméca Astazou XIV turboshaft engine, but it was derated to 447 kW (660 hp).
  • The SA 316C was powered by a Turbomeca Artouste IIID turboshaft engine. The SA 316C was only built in small numbers.
  • G-Car and K-Car : Helicopter gunship versions for the Royal Rhodesian Air Force. The G-Car was armed with two side-mounted Browning machine guns. The K-Car was armed with one 20 mm Mauser cannon, fitted inside the cabin, firing from the port side of the helicopter.
  • IAR 317 Skyfox: A Romanian helicopter gunship project based on the IAR 316. Only three prototypes were ever built.
  • Atlas XH-1 Alpha: A Two-seat attack helicopter project. It was used in the development of the Denel AH-2 Rooivalk‎.

When used as an aerial ambulance, the Alouette III can accommodate a pilot, two medical attendants and two stretcher patients.


Portuguese Alouette III in Africa during a MEDEVAC
Portuguese Alouette III in Africa during a MEDEVAC

Aérospatiale SA 316 Alouette III of the Swiss Air Force
Aérospatiale SA 316 Alouette III of the Swiss Air Force

Yugoslav Air Force Alouette III.
Yugoslav Air Force Alouette III.
 Albania (SA 319)
 Burkina Faso
  • 14 operated (13 x SE3160 and 1 x SE316B)
  • 4 operated (1 x SE3160 and 3 x SA316Bs)
 Republic of the Congo
 Côte d'Ivoire
 Dominican Republic
  • (SA 316)
 El Salvador
 Equatorial Guinea
 Guinea-Bissau (SA 316)
 Hong Kong
  • Indian Air Force 87+ (55 x French-built SE3160 and SA316B, 32+ Indian-built SA319B Chetak)
  • Indian Navy 18+ (7 x French-built SE3160, 7 x French-built SA316B plus Indian built Chetaks)
  • Irish Air Corps Eight SA 316 in service between 1963 and 2007 (3 x SE3160 and 5 x SA316B).
  • Lebanese Air Force 13 (8 x SE3160, 5 x SA316B) retired from military service; currently being used for crop spraying
 Malaysia (SA 316)
 People's Republic of China
 Saudi Arabia
 South Africa (SA 316)
 South Korea
 South Vietnam
 Sri Lanka (SA 316)
 Suriname (SA 316)
 United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi)
 Upper Volta

Civilian operators

  • ALFA Helicópteros
 United States

Specifications (SA 316B)

Close-up of the turbine of an Alouette III
Close-up of the turbine of an Alouette III

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2
  • Capacity: 5 passengers
  • Length: 10.03 m (32 ft 11 in)
  • Main rotor diameter: 11.02 m (36 ft 2 in)
  • Height: 3 m (9 ft 10 in)
  • Main rotor area: 95.38 m² (1026 ft²)
  • Empty weight: 1143 kg (2520 lb)
  • Gross weight: 2200 kg (4950 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Turbomeca Artouste IIIB turboshaft, 649kW (870hp) derated to 425 kW (570 hp)


  • Maximum speed: 220 km/h (137 mph)
  • Cruising speed: 185 km/h (115 mph)
  • Range: 604 km (375 miles)
  • Service ceiling: 3200 m (10,500 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 4.5 m/s (950 ft/min)


External links

See also

Related development

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Published in July 2009.

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