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 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.
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Sud Aviation - France / Sikorsky - USA Manufacturer(s)
1 x 20mm Autocannon (window-mounted, trainable).
4 x Torpedoes
2 x AM39 "Exocet" anti-ship missiles
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.
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Image from the Chinese Ministry of Defense.
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