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Aerospatiale SA321 Super Frelon

France (1966)
Picture of Aerospatiale SA321 Super Frelon Medium-Lift Transport Helicopter

The Aerospatiale AS321 Super Frelon became the largest helicopter to be produced in Europe in any large number when it was introduced in 1966.

Detailing the development and operational history of the Aerospatiale SA321 Super Frelon Medium-Lift Transport Helicopter.  Entry last updated on 6/21/2018. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©

The SA 321 Super Frelon is a French-produced multirole helicopter under the Aerospatiale brand (formally Sud Aviation). The triple-engine, medium-lift design became the largest production helicopter designed and built in Europe in any number when it went into frontline service with the French Navy in 1966. Since then, several nations moved to accept the versatile platform into their respective inventories covering various military branches. Operators of the series were Argentina, China, France, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Libya, South Africa and Zaire.

SA 321 "Super Frelon" design stemmed from development of the prototype SNCASE SE.3200 "Frelon" built to a French military specification. In a joint effort between Sud Aviation and Sikorsky of the United States, the base SA 3200 Frelon was developed into the "Super Frelon" (with Frelon translating to "Hornet", hence the new helicopter becoming the "Super Hornet"). The result was a large troop transport that would go onto to be produced in several distinct variants. A first-flight was recorded on December 7th, 1962 and service entry followed in the mid-1960s.

The helicopter featured a large, slab-sided fuselage with the heavily-glazed cockpit at the nose and the passenger cabin lined with rectangular windows. Doors provided the needed access for operating crew as well as the passengers. A wheeled tricycle undercarriage was used for ground-running. Over the top of the fuselage was seated the triple-engine configuration and these drove the multi-bladed main rotor atop the vehicle as well as a five-bladed tail rotor aft.

Dimensions include a length of 23 meters with a rotor diameter of 18.9 meters and a height of 6.5 meters. Empty weight is 6,865 kg against an MTOW of 13,000 kg. Each turboshaft outputs 1,570 horsepower. Maximum listed speed if 250 kmh with a range out to 1,020 kilometers and a service ceiling up to 3,150 meters. Rate-of-climb is 1,312 feet-per-minute.

If armed, the aircraft carries a window-mounted (trainable) 20mm autocannon for area suppression. If support systems are provided, the helicopter can also attack with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles.

The SA 321 marked four early production helicopters and these were followed by the SA 312G models which served the French Navy in the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) role and were powered by 3 x Turbomeca IIC-6 turboshaft engines. Then arrived the SA 321Ga which was also taken into service by the French Air Force though this time to fulfill the utility and assault transport roles.
The SA 321GM became the export-minded form of the SA 321 model and these were sold to Libya. Of note was their Omera ORB-32WAS search radar fits. Similarly the SA 321H was sold overseas to Iraq and were delivered with 3 x Turbomeca Turmo IIIE series engines as well as ORB-31D radar. This model was also given provision for the French Exocet anti-ship missile weapon.

The SA 321F was developed as a passenger hauler for the civilian market and incorporated 3 x Turbomeca IIIC-3 engines with variable seating for up to 37 passengers. The SA 321J was another commercial-minded effort and this seated some 27 passengers. Its improved form became the SA 321Ja.

The SA 321K was sold to Israel and served there as a troop transport. The SA 321M became a production of South Africa and also served as a troop transport. The SA 321M was delivered to Libya for use in the Search And Rescue (SAR) role. Argentina received a stock of ex-Israeli Super Frelons and these were re-engined with General Electric GE T58 turboshaft engines.

Changhe of China took on local, licensed production of the helicopter beginning with the Z-8. This carried 3 x Changzhou Lan Ziang WZ6 turboshaft engines. The Z-8A followed and was delivered to the Chinese Army as a transport model. The Z-8F was outfitted with 3 x Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6B-67A turboshaft engines. The Z-8AEW was modified for the Airborne Early Warning (AEW) role by way of AESA radar, FLIR equipment and a retractable antenna in a revised nose assembly. The AviCopter AC313 (detailed elsewhere on this site) is a further evolution of the French SA 321, fully-modernized for today's flying requirements.

China remains the only active user of the SA 321 and this fleet stocks both its Army Air Force and Navy services. All other operators have retired the line.

Total production (of all marks) reached 110 units from 1962 until 1981.

Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.

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Relative Maximum Speed Rating
Hi: 200mph
Lo: 100mph
    This entry's maximum listed speed (154mph).

    Graph average of 150 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
Graph showcases the Aerospatiale SA321G Super Frelon (Super Hornet)'s operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era
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Pie graph section
Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production Comparison
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units

  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.

Altitude Visualization
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Origin: France
Year: 1966
Type: Medium-Lift Transport Helicopter
Manufacturer(s): Sud Aviation - France / Sikorsky - USA
Production: 110
Status: Active, Limited Service
Global Operators:
Argentina; China; France; Greece; Iran; Iraq; Israel; Libya; Norway; South Africa; Zaire
Historical Commitments / Honors:

Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.
Measurements and Weights icon
Structural - Crew, Dimensions, and Weights:
Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Aerospatiale SA321G Super Frelon (Super Hornet) model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.




63.65 ft

19.4 m


21.85 ft

6.66 m


14,771 lb

6,700 kg


28,660 lb

13,000 kg

Engine icon
Installed Power - Standard Day Performance:
3 x Turbomecha Turmo IIIC turboshafts driving a six-blade main rotor and a five-blade tail rotor generating 1,475shp to 1,630shp.


154 mph

248 kph

134 kts


634 mi

1,020 km

Nautical Miles
551 nm


10,167 ft

3,099 m

1.93 mi


1,214 ft/min

370 m/min

Supported Weapon Systems:

Graphical image of an aircrat automatic cannon
Graphical image of an aircraft anti-ship missile
Graphical image of an aircraft aerial torpedo
Armament - Hardpoints (2):

Mission-specific ordnance can include:

1 x 20mm Autocannon (window-mounted, trainable).

4 x Torpedoes
2 x AM39 "Exocet" anti-ship missiles
Variants: Series Model Variants
• SA 3200 - Base Frelon model; prototyped but never placed into production; formed the basis of further development to become the "Super Frelon" system; developed by Sud Aviation and Sikorsky.
• SA 3210-01 - Prototype Super Frelon
• SA 321G - Production model as operated by the French Navy in anti-submarine warfare configuration; later relegated to S&R duties.
• SA 321GM - Syrian Export Model similar to the SA 321G model series.
• SA 321H - Iraqi Export Model similar to the SA 321G model series.
• SA 321F - Civilian Transport Variant
• SA 321J - Civilian Utility Transport Variant
• SA 321L - Non-Amphibious Transport Variant as exported to South Africa.
• SA 321K - Israel Export Variant; refitted with GE T58 powerplants; passed on to Argentina.
• SA 321M - Libyan Export Variant fitted for Search and Rescue duties and logistical support.