Staff Writer (Updated: 7/2/2014):
Two prototypes were constructed under the designation of Alouette V (SA 330A) with the first one flying on April 15th, 1965 from Marignane. These designs were based in the Super Frelon helicopters though the SA 330 was modernized through-and-through right down to construction methods utilized. The prototypes were subsequently followed by 6 pre-production aircraft which were evaluated into the middle of 1968. Results proved the design to be sound, showcasing good speed and agility and proving to be reliable for a complex system of this type. Production of the now-designated SA 330B "Puma" officially began in September of that year to which some 697 total examples were eventually produced. The Puma officially entered operational service in 1970. Pumas went on to serve in no fewer than 40 air forces and armies worldwide - from Albania to Zaire - making it one of the most successful helicopter designs of all time.
As an aside, 1967 found the Royal Air Force (RAF) taking an interest in the French-based system as well and tabbed it for their own revamped needs resulting in an Aerospatiale-Westland joint production partnership. This joint venture would also produce the likes of the fabulous Lynx multi-role and Gazelle light helicopters of which both militaries would field in some number. For the RAF, the arrival of the Puma favorably brought about the end use for their Whirlwind and Belvedere series. British Pumas went under the designation of Puma HC.Mk 1.
At its core, the Puma is powered by twin Turbomeca Turmo IVC turboshaft engines developing 1,575 horsepower each powering a four-bladed main rotor and five-bladed tail rotor (the latter interestingly mounted to the starboard side of the tailfin). Distinctive to the Puma design is that the powerplants are mounted well forward of the cabin rooftop above the stout and contoured fuselage and exhaust at about the middle of the design. Performance figures include a never-exceed speed of 169 miles-per-hour, maximum speed of 159 miles-per-hour, a range of 360 miles and a service ceiling of 15,750 feet with a rate-of-climb nearing 1,400 feet-per-minute.