After a 60-year career and a large number of missions carried out on the world's seas and oceans, the French Navy has definitively retired its last Alouette III helicopters. Their departure will be filled by leased Dauphin helicopters and militarized H160s for SAR missions, until the arrival of the first H160M Guépard Marine in 2029.
The end of the "peanut"
On December 9, the French Navy officially parted ways with its last Alouette III helicopters during a Farewell to Arms ceremony. This is a page turning for the Aéronautique Navale (French Naval Aviation), as this helicopter entered service in 1962, three years after its premiere at the Paris Air Show. This helicopter accompanied most of the French Navy's ships on operations around the world. In total, nearly 37 Alouette IIIs will have flown under the blue-white-red roundel adorned with an anchor and this, under two versions:
- SA316B, with a reinforced transmission, an improved rotor, allowing the carrying of a larger payload.
- SA319B, engine adapted to hot & high flight conditions, better fuel consumption, ORB-32 weather radar located in the nose.
The arrival of modern helicopters such as Lynx or Panther change the missions of the Alouette IIIs but without removing them from service. Thus, in sixty years of operations, the Alouette III will have performed almost all, if not all, missions for a French Navy helicopter:
- anti-submarine warfare
- fleet logistic support
- Pedro for the embarked air group (link to Charles de Gaulle task force tweet)
The attached thread from the French Navy and the Chief of Staff of the French Navy allows to review some images of this mythical helicopter.
Older than the Lynx!
Interesting fact, the Lynx helicopters, tasked to take over the anti-submarine warfare missions of the Alouette IIIs entered service in 1979. This helicopter represented a real technological leap for crews at the time. However, the French Navy also parted with its Lynxes... but two years before the Alouette IIIs were retired: the Lynxes were withdrawn from active service in 2020.
A two-stage replacement
The spare parts stock allowed the handful of Alouette IIIs (12 in service in 2021) to still perform missions for the Navy. However, the approaching end of the stockpile and the increasingly high cost forced the French Navy to decide in 2020 to part with the Alouette IIIs for 2022. This withdrawal opened a capability gap: the French Navy had estimated the need to acquire between 12 and 17 additional AS365 Dauphin helicopters. In the end, 12 Dauphin N3s will be leased from Heli-Union for a period of 10 years. Before entering service, these will of course be militarized (winch, weapons support, etc.) by Heli-Union and a portion subcontracted to DCI.
They will also be supported by 6 H160s ordered from Airbus Helicopters, Safran Helicopter and Babcock (for maintenance). As a reminder, the H160 is the civilian version of the H160M Guepard. In addition to performing SAR missions for the 32F fleet from Cherbourg airport (Manche) and the bases at Lanvéoc-Poulmic (Finistère) and Hyères (Var), these H160s will also help develop the H160M. The first H160 was delivered on September 22. The helicopter is not yet operational, but is undergoing a series of tests to confirm its capabilities. On December 5, the H160 was in Hyères for the "maritime rescue" test phase (link to the tweet). As a reminder, the first of 49 H160M Guépard Marine is expected in 2029.
Some technical info on the Alouette III
As described at the beginning of this article, the Alouette III is a multi-mission maritime helicopter developed by Aerospatiale. It carries a crew of 3, divided into 2 pilots and 1 operator. It can fly at an altitude of 10,000 feet (3 kilometers). It should be noted that Daniel Bouchard and Didier Potelle, then a pilot for Aerospatiale, landed an SA319B Alouette III on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet, or 5.895 kilometers in altitude). It is powered by a Turbomeca Astazou XIV turbine, from the company Turboméca, renamed Safran Helicopter Engines in 2016 (Safran's acquisition of a 50% stake in Rolls-Royce in 2013). The other characteristics are as follows:
- 12.8 meters long
- a rotor of 11 meters in diameter
- 1.1 ton empty (light helicopter)
- 2.5 hours of flight autonomy or 325 nautical miles (601.9 kilometers)
It should be noted that for the last flight, the SA-316B were accompagnied by the last SA-319B Alouette III in service, very recognizable by its OMERA ORB-32 nose radar. This helicopter was actually decorated especially for the occasion (see the cover image of the article).
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