Sud Aviation/Aérospatiale SA-316B Alouette III (c/n 1247, A-274 of the Royal Netherlands Air Force), flying display during Air Force Days 2013 (Luchtmachtdagen 2013), Volkel air base, June 2013.
On 28th February 1959, prototype of Alouette III (English: lark) rotorcraft performed its maiden flight. The helicopter was developed from an earlier design, created in the early 1950s by Société nationale des constructions aéronautiques du Sud-Est (SNCASE, commonly known as just Sud-Est). The first rotorcraft from the family was designated SE.3120 Alouette and successfully flown for the first time in July of 1951, but despite of that, the helicopter never entered serial production.
Four years later, the Sud-Est company presented a derivative of the initial design, known as SE.3130 Alouette II. The helicopter performed its first flight in March of 1955 and was approved for serial production.
In 1957, the Sud-Est company merged with Sud-Ouest (Société nationale des constructions aéronautiques du sud-ouest – SNCASO) to create Sud Aviation company. The Alouette II was introduced into the market in the same year and change in company structure was reflected in its official designation – the initial variant was known as SE 313, while later versions were designated SA 318.
The Alouette II quickly conquered the market. The helicopter was used by approximately forty air forces and several government and civilian operators all over the world. There were over 1,300 examples of that rotorcraft made until 1975, when its serial production was finally ceased.
Shortly after the first flight of the Alouette II, the Sud Aviation company began works on larger and more powerful variant of the rotorcraft. The prototype, designated SE.3160, performed its maiden flight on 28th February 1959.
The new helicopter was powered by Turbomeca Artouste IIIB turboshaft engine, which generated up to 563 hp, had a maximum take-off weight of 2,200 kg and could carry up to five people. The Alouette III was not only a larger variant of the SE.3130 – changes made on the rotorcraft included a redeveloped cockpit with better visibility and improved aerodynamics of the fuselage.
In June of 1959, the prototype of Alouette III was introduced to public during the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget. In the same month, the helicopter proved its exceptional performance. Flown by company test pilot Jean Boulet and carrying two passengers, the SE.3130 landed at an altitude of over 4,000 metres in the Mont Blanc area. Next year, Boulet took the Alouette III even higher, successfully achieving an altitude of more than 6,000 metres in the Himalayas.
The Alouette III was officially introduced into the market in December of 1961. Due to aforementioned restructuration of French aviation companies, the helicopter was redesignated as SA-3160 or SA-316. After another merge of aviation manufacturers performed in 1970, and establishment of the Aérospatiale company that followed, the rotorcraft was marketed under that new brand.
Similarly to the smaller variant, the Alouette III quickly became one of the most popular light utility helicopters in the world. It was (or, in some cases, still is) operated by more than eighty air and naval forces all over the world, as well as by countless number of civilian companies.
There were more than 2,000 examples of the Alouette III manufactured until 1985, when its production was ceased. In addition, the Alouette III was manufactured under license in Romania (as IAR 316), India (HAL Chetak / Chetan) and Switzerland (F+W Alouette III).
The Dutch armed forces acquired its first batch of fifty Alouette III helicopters in 1964. Two years later, the country placed its second order, for additional twenty-seven examples of that rotorcraft. Initially, the Alouette was officially operated by the Army, although flown and maintained by the Royal Netherlands Air Force personnel.
In 1993, the structure was simplified, and all helicopters were taken over by the RNLAF. The Dutch Alouette III rotorcraft were operated by No. 298, 299 and 300 Squadrons for reconnaissance, liaison and light transport duties. In addition, some helicopters were assigned to Royal Flights and VIP transport duties.
An interesting fact is that the RNLAF established an official display team, equipped with the Alouette III helicopters. Known as the ´Grasshoppers´, the team was active between 1973 and 1995.
The Dutch Alouette III helicopters remained in active service until December of 2015. After retirement from the RNLAF, several rotorcraft were sold to Chad, Malta or Pakistan, a few examples were donated to museums and the remaining ones were taken over by aviation schools or even private operators.
The SA-316B Alouette III A-247 featured in our Photo of the Week series was operated by No. 300 Squadron and was one of the last four examples that remained in active service until 2015.
In 2013, the helicopter received the additional marking to celebrate 50 years of the Alouette III service with the RNLAF and was used for display purposes. After retiring from active service, the A-247 was sold to Malta and then used as source of spare parts for the SA-316Bs still being a part of the Air Wing of the Armed Forces of Malta inventory.