Uncovering the Legendary Aerospatiale SA 321 Super Frelon: The Giant Takes flight.pink

In response to the French armed services’ need for a medium transport helicopter, Sud-Aviation initiated the development of the SE.3200 Frelon (Hornet). The prototype made its maiden flight on January 10, 1959. This helicopter was powered by three Turmo IIIB turboshaft engines and featured large external fuel tanks, which extended the internal clear floor, allowing for the transport of up to 28 troops. The design also included a tail boom that facilitated easy loading. However, the development of the SE.3200 was halted in favor of a more advanced helicopter, developed in collaboration with Sikorsky and Fiat.

The new helicopter, which became Western Europe’s largest production helicopter, featured a rotor system designed by Sikorsky and a watertight hull suitable for amphibious operations. This new design led to the creation of the SA 321 Super Frelon. Two military prototypes were built: the SA 3210-01 for transport and the SA 3210-02 for maritime use by the French Navy. The first of these prototypes flew on May 28, 1963.

Following further development, pre-production aircraft were designated SA 321 Super Frelon. In October 1965, the French Navy ordered these helicopters for anti-submarine warfare (ASW). The SA 321G variant was specifically equipped for ship-based ASW missions and also carried out sanitization patrols in support of Redoubtable-class ballistic missile submarines. Some of these helicopters were modified to include nose-mounted targeting radar for Exocet anti-ship missiles.

Additionally, five SA 321GA freighters, originally used to support the Pacific nuclear test center, were reassigned to assault support duties. By 2003, the aging Aeronavale Super Frelons were primarily used for transport duties, including commando transport, vertical replenishment (VERTREP), and search and rescue operations.

Internationally, six radar-equipped SA 321GM helicopters were delivered to Libya between 1980 and 1981. The SA 321G was further modified for air force and army service and was designated SA 321H. A total of 16 SA 321H helicopters, equipped with radar and Exocet missiles, were delivered to the Iraqi Air Force starting in 1977. These helicopters saw action during the Iran-Iraq conflict and the 1991 Gulf War, where at least one was destroyed.

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