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The Aerospatiale Alouette (Skylark) II, when it first appeared in March 1955, was a world leader in being the first production helicopter powered by a turbine engine. In a concept similar to turboprops, the turbine's shaft was extended forward, and drove the rotor via a gearbox and vertical shaft. The earliest Alouettes were each powered by a 410shp (300Kw) Turbomeca Artouste engine, but on later examples this was changed to a higher power Astazou. Apart from the powerplant and having a three bladed rotor, the basic configuration is similar to the American Bell 47 (Sioux), with its high visibility bubble canopy and open, skeletal tail. The Alouette can seat up to five people, has a maximum weight of 1,600 Kg and payload of 700 Kg. Top speed is 185 Km/H and range if 565 Km. Over 1,500 of all versions were produced.

This one, operated by the Belgian army, was at Middle Wallop in July 1986.

The Aerospatiale Alouette III was, as its name suggests, a development of the earlier Alouette II. It is bigger, with capacity for seven people, and heavier, with gross weight of 2,200 Kg and payload of 1,100 Kg. Top speed is 210 Km/H and range is 565 Km. It is powered by an uprated 425 Kw Turbomeca Artouste engine, later superseded by a 450 Kw Astazou. Since its first flight in February 1959, over 2,000 have been built, including many in India known as the Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) Chetak.

This one was operated by the Danish forces and equipped with floats for seaborne operations.

The Aerospatiale Super Frelon (Hornet) is a heavy transport helicopter which is roughly contemporaneous with the American CH-46, but the configuration foreshadows the CH-53. This is not surprising, because Sikorsky acted as design consultant on the project. It is powered by three 1,170 Kw Turbomeca Turmo 3C engines, which give it a maximum gross weight of 13,000 Kg, payload of 6,100 Kg, top speed of 248 Km/H, range of 1,100 Km and capacity for five crew plus 27 armed troops. One unusual feature is its six bladed main rotor. Around 100 were built, almost all for the French armed forces.

This one, operated by the French navy, was at Greenham Common in June 1981.

The Aerospatiale Gazelle was one of the trio of helicopters covered by the joint development agreement between Westland and Aerospatiale, but in practice it ended up being a predominantly French design. Of particular note is having the multi-bladed tail rotor enclosed in a shroud, a configuration known as a `Fenestron'. Apart from some mild efficiency benefits claimed for this layout, the main advantage is safety: anyone unlucky enough to walk into a rotating tail rotor would be chopped to bits, but the Fenestron is at least shielded (though someone really determined to have an accident could still put his arm through one). It is powered by a single 590shp (430 Kw) Turbomeca Astazou engine. it can carry five people, making it in effect a replacement for the Alouette 2. Maximum weight is 1,800 Kg, and payload is 800 Kg. Top speed is a very creditable 310 Km/h, with a range of 670 Km. It first flew in April 1967, since when over 1,500 have been delivered to many air forces worldwide.

The top picture shows a Gazelle AH1 of the British Royal Marines at Yeovilton in August 1984. The lower picture is of a Gazelle HT3 at Sandown, February 2006.

The Aerospatiale Puma is the other predominantly French machine covered by the Aerospatiale / Westland joint development agreement. A medium transport helicopter, the Puma carries three crew and up to 16 people. Gross weight is 7,400 Kg and payload is 3,630 Kg, making it a bit smaller than the Sikorsky Sea King. Maximum speed is 258 Km/h, but range is limited at around 500 Km. It is powered by two 1,175shp (850 Kw) Turbomeca Turmo turboshafts. It first flew in April 1965. About 700 were built, plus some later Super Pumas.

This one, operated by the Royal Air Force (230 Squadron) was painted in a special colour scheme to draw attention to the squadron's badge, a tiger. It was at Fairford in July 2005.


The EH101 is built by EH Industries, a company set up by Westland of Britain and Agusta of Italy for this sole purpose. It is a big transport helicopter; at 14,600 Kg gross weight, it is larger than either the Super Frelon or the CH-46. Payload is 5,500 Kg; it can carry four crew and 45 troops. It is powered by three 2,300 shp (1,725 Kw) Rolls-Royce / Turbomeca RTM322 turboshafts. The tips of the rotors are extended into `paddles', which reduce drag and enhance rotor performance. And here's where the EH101 is special: although a huge transport, it is amazingly agile, being as responsive in the air as something like a Lynx. Top speed is 309 Km/h and range is 1,000 Km. It first flew in October 1987. Deliveries are in progress; over 100 have been delivered up to July 2005.

Pictured is a Merlin HM1 of the Royal Navy, at Fairford in July 2005


The Mil Mi8 (`Hip') was designed by Russian helicopter specialist Mikhail L. Mil and first flew (in its classic twin engined form) in September 1962. It is powered by two 1,500 shp (1,085Kw) Isotov turboshafts. Maximum weight is 12,000 Kg and payload is 4,750Kg. It can carry up to 32 people, including crew. Top speed is 260 Km/H and range, never the strongest point of Soviet-era machines, is 480 Km. It has a five bladed rotor. In general, one could think of the Hip as the Russian equivalent of the American Sea King. Well over 1,000 were built.

This one, of the Lithuanian air force, was at Fairford in July 2005.

The Mil Mi17 shares the NATO codename `Hip' with the Mi8, from which it was developed. It is basically nothing more than an upgraded Mi8. Weight and payload are increased by 1,000 Kg, and range is double dto 950 Km. The Isotov turboshafts are uprated to 1,680 Kw. Since it superseded the Mi8 in production in about 1980, more than 800 have been produced. Like its forebear, it has been exported worldwide.

this one was at Fairford in July 2007.

The Mil Mi 24 (`Hind') is known to its pilots as the `crocodile'. It has the same engines as the Mi8, but everything else is very different. It is very heavily armed, with a nose-mounted machine gun, four underwing hardpoints for rockets or other arms, and two wingtip points for anti-tank missiles. It differs markedly from American attack helicopters in that it also doubles as a transport, being able to take eight fully equipped troops in addition to the two crew. Gross weight is 12,000 Kg. Top speed is 335 Km/h and range is 450 Km. It first flew in 1969. Over 2,000 have been made.

It is said that its performance at maximum weight in hot conditions is very marginal, so it has not been as potent as it could have been. However true this is, it is still a fearsome weapon.

Top: Mi24 awaiting restoration, preserved at Duxford, England, where it was pictured in Summer 2005.

Bottom: Mi24 of the Macedonian Air Force at Skopje, October 2007.

And if you thought the CH-53 was the ultimate helicopter, get a load of this! It is amazing to think that even the Mil Mi26 ('Halo') is not the world's largest helicopter (that is the Mil Mi12). But this beast, with its massive eight bladed rotor and two 11,240 shp (8,150 Kw) Lotarev turboshafts, has an incredible gross weight of 56,ooo Kg, and payload of 27,800 Kg (it can easily lift an empty CH-53). It is no sluggard either: with a top speed of 295 Km/h and range of 800 Km, this is a serious working helicopter. About 300 have been built since its first flight in December 1977.

This one was flying at Farnborough in September 1984.