Back Aerospatiale SA-321 "Super Frelon"

Aerospatiale "Super Frelon"

Bravely entering a competitive market dominated by Soviet and American designs, the Super Frelon was a derivative of the original Frelon (Hornet). This large, three-engined aircraft was designed to a French military requirement for a multi-role, medium-sized helicopter with the assistance of Sikorsky in the United States. Fiat in Italy were responsible for producing the main gearbox and transmission.

The first prototypes flew in 1962 and 1963, with the Aeronavale receiving the first Super Frelons, equipped with a podded Sylph surveillance radar, in 1966. Some were later modified with nose-mounted radar and Exocet missiles for anti-ship attack, and the SA 321Ga was delivered for utility transport duties. The 20 surviving Aeronavale Super Frelons carry out search-and-rescue, vertical replenishment and transport duties, having largely relinquished their anti-submarine warfare role.

The Super Frelon was exported to Iraq, Israel, Libya and South Africa. A 27-seat civil heli-liner variant, the SA 321J was also produced but not widely used.

R.Jackson "Helicopters. Military, Civilian, and Rescue Rotorcraft", 2005

"Super Frelon"

The Super Frelon is a three-engined multipurpose helicopter derived from the smaller SA 3200 Frelon. Under a technical co-operation contract, Sikorsky Aircraft, USA, provided assistance in the development of the Super Frelon, in particular with the detail specifications, design, construction and testing of the main and tail rotor system. Under a further agreement, the main gearcase and transmission box were produced in Italy by Fiat.

The first prototype of the Super Frelon (originally designated SA 3210-01 flew on 7 December 1962, powered by three 985kW Turmo IIIG_2 engines, and represented the troop transport version. The second prototype, flown on 28 May 1963, was representative of the naval version, with stabilising floats on the main landing gear supports. Four preproduction aircraft followed, and the French Government ordered an initial production series of 17, designated SA (AS) 321G, in October 1965. Approximately 100 Super Frelons have been delivered for civil and military duties in eight countries.


SA 321F: Commercial airliner, designed to carry 34-37 passengers in a standard of comfort comparable to that of fixed-wing airliners. The prototype was designed in accordance with US FAR Pt 29 regulations and flew for the first time on 7 April 1967. Type certification was granted by the SGAC on 27 June 1968 and by the FAA on 29 August 1968.

SA 321G: Anti-submarine helicopter. First version to enter production. The first SA 321G flew on 30 November 1965 and deliveries began in early 1966. Twenty-four built. In service with the French Navy (12). The SA 321G can also be operated from the French helicopter carriers.

SA 321H: Version for air force and army service, without stabilising floats or external fairings on each side of lower fuselage. Turmo IIIE_6 engines instead of Turmo IIIC_6 in other versions. No de-icing equipment fitted.

SA 321Ja: Utility and public transport version, intended to fulfil the main roles of personnel and cargo transport. Designed to carry a maximum of 27 passengers. External loads of up to 5,000kg can be suspended from the cargo sling. The SA 321Ja prototype flew for the first time on 6 July 1967. A French certificate of airworthiness was granted in December 1971.

DESIGN FEATURES: Six-blade main rotor and five-blade anti-torque tail rotor. Rearward folding of all six main rotor blades of SA 321G is accomplished automatically by hydraulic jacks, simultaneously with automatic folding of the tail rotor pylon. The rotor can be stopped within 40 seconds by a boosted disc-type rotor brake fitted to this shaft.

STRUCTURE: Main rotor blades of all-metal construction, with D-section main spar forming leading-edge. Tail rotor of similar construction to main rotor. Boat-hull fuselage of conventional metal semi-monocoque construction, with watertight compartments inside planing bottom. On the SA 321G, there is a small stabilising float attached to the rear landing gear support structure on each side. The tail section of the SA 321G folds for stowage. Small fixed stabilisers on starboard side of tail rotor pylon on all versions. The SA 321F has large external fairings on each side of the centre-fuselage which serve a similar purpose to stabilising floats and also act as baggage containers.

LANDING GEAR: Non-retractable tricycle type, by Messier-Hispano-Bugatti. Twin magnesium alloy wheels on each unit. Hydraulic disc brakes on mainwheels. Nosewheel unit is steerable and self-centring. Power Plant Three 1,170kW Turbomeca Turmo IIIC_6 turboshaft engines (IIIE_6 engines in SA 321H); two mounted side by side forward of main rotor shaft and one aft of rotor shaft. Fuel in flexible tanks under floor of centre-fuselage, with total standard capacity of 3,975 litres in SA 321G/H and 3,900 litres in SA 321Ja. Optional auxiliary fuel tankage comprises two 500 litre external tanks on all models, two 500 litre internal tanks in the SA 321G, and three 666 litre tanks in the 321H/Ja.

ACCOMMODATION: (military version): Crew of two on flight deck, with dual controls and advanced all-weather equipment. SA 321G carries three other flight crew, and has provision for 27 passengers. SA 321H transport accommodates 27-30 troops, 5,000kg of internal or external cargo, or 15 stretchers and two medical attendants.

(SA 321F): Airliner seats for up to 37 passengers (34 if toilets are installed) in three-abreast rows with centre aisle.

(SA 321Ja): Seating for up to 27 passengers in the personnel transport role. As a cargo transport, external loads of up to 5,000kg can be suspended from the cargo sling. Loading of internal cargo (up to 5,000kg) is effected via the rear ramp doors, with the assistance of a Tirefor hand winch.

ARMAMENT AND OPERATIONAL EQUIPMENT: The ASW SA 321G operates normally in tactical formations of three or four aircraft, each helicopter carrying the full range of detection, tracking and attack equipment, including a self-contained navigation system associated with a Doppler radar, a 360° radar with transponder and display console, and dipping sonar. Four homing torpedoes can be carried in pairs on each side of the main cabin. Both the SA 321G and H can be fitted with an anti-surface vessel weapon system, consisting of two Exocet missiles and launch installation associated with an Omera-Segid Heracles ORB 31D or ORB 32 radar for target designation. Other equipment is provided for secondary duties such as towing and minesweeping. Rescue hoist of 275kg capacity standard.

Jane's Helicopter Markets and Systems

Aerospatiale "Super Frelon"

SE.3210 / SA.321 Super Frelon


Larger development of SA.320 with boat hull and outrigger floats, rear loading doors, boom tail, six-blade main rotor driven by three 1320shp Turbomeca Turmo IIIC turboshafts. Prot. F-ZWWE FF 7 Dec. 1962.

SA.321B Super Frelon


Standard French Air Force/Army Super Frelon.

SA.321D Super Frelon


Standard French Navy Super Frelon.

SA.321F Super Frelon


Civil Super Frelon with streamlined external sponsons

SA.321G Super Frelon


Anti-submarine Super Frelon for Aeronavale.

SA.321H Super Frelon


Simplified military version of SA.321.

SA.321J Super Frelon


27-passenger civil utility version of SA.321.

Aerospatiale SA-321 "Super Frelon"

France's largest production helicopter originated with two prototypes of the SA.3200 Frelon (Hornet), the first of which was flown on 10 June 1959. Completed to a multi-service specification, the SA.3200 was powered by three 750/800shp Turmo IIIB shaft turbines and had a swing-tailed rear fuselage. Two large external tanks held the fuel, leaving the entire cabin free to accommodate up to a8 troops. Each engine supplied independent drive to the rotor head, thus ensuring twin-engined capability if one unit should fail. However, further development of the Frelon lapsed in favour of the SA.3210 (now SA.321) Super Frelon, a more advanced and more powerful version developed with assistance, especially with the rotor system, from Sikorsky.

Major differences revealed by the two Super Frelon prototypes included a watertight boat-type hull (another sign of Sikorsky influence) with a rear-loading ramp instead of the swing-tail, although the extreme rear of the tailboom and the 6-blade main rotor can be folded for stowage purposes. The SA.3210-01 (F-ZWWE), which first flew on 7 December 1962, was powered by three 1320shp Turmo IIIC engines, and in July 1963 set up three speed records, including one of 350.47km/h that remained unbeaten until 1967. The second prototype, fitted out to I'Aeronavale requirements, had stabilising floats incorporating search radar, dipping sonar and other anti-submarine equipment. Four pre-series Super Frelons were followed by the flight of the first production machine on 30 November 1965 and by the start of deliveries to I'Aeronavale early in 1966. By mid-1967, twenty-five were in service. These are a mixture of SA.321G's, which can carry four homing torpedoes or other antisubmarine stores, or gear for mine-sweeping, minelaying or ship towing; and pure-transport versions capable of airlifting up to 30 troops, 18 casualty litters or 4000kg of cargo over 200km stage lengths. Five SA.321 transports have also been supplied to the Heil Avir le Israel, and delivery of sixteen Super Frelons to the South African Air Force began in July 1967.

A commercial 'air utility' version, the SA.321J, is also in current production, eighteen having been completed up to the end of September 1967. This can be used as a 27-seat passenger transport, as a freighter with a 2500kg payload, or for firefighting, flying crane or other duties; at least one is acting as a supply transport to offshore oil drilling operations. Certificated on 20 October 1967, the SA.321J is powered by Turmo IIIC5 engines. On 7 April 1967, the prototype SA.321F (F-WMHC) made its maiden flight. This is an enlarged passenger version with a 19.40m fuselage seating up to 37 occupants, a gross weight of 12000kg, and large sponson-type fairings amidships which act as baggage holds. The SA.321F, whose type certification is expected in spring 1968, is powered by three 1400shp Turmo IIIC3 shaft turbines.

K.Munson "Helicopters And Other Rotorcraft Since 1907", 1968

Aerospatiale "Super Frelon"

At the end of the fifties, the French armed forces issued a specification for a heavy helicopter for troop transport and Sud-Aviation initiated the SA.3200 Frelon project. This helicopter had three 750/800shp Turbomeca Turmo IIIB turbines, but trials were suspended in 1963 in favour of the SA.3210 Super Frelon programme developed jointly with Sikorsky.

The influence of the American company was seen in the US-built rotor system with six blades which folded back automatically and the boat-type hull. However, the basic structure of the Super Frelon was no different from the original model: the three turbines were located side-by-side above the fuselage and the landing gear was of the fixed tricycle type. The two prototypes were followed by two pre-production models with Turmo III turbines and other variants with civil registrations.

At this point, the French government placed a firm order for 17 aircraft in the ASW version for the Aeronavale. Meanwhile, the prototype, with a modified fuselage and retractable landing gear, set the following world speed records in July 1963: 341.23km/h over 3km; 350.47km/h over 15/25km; 334.28km/h over 100km — truly outstanding results.

The second prototype was fitted out with the equipment needed by the French Navy (flotation gear, search radar, sonar and other ASW equipment), and trials with the first four pre-production Super Frelons were followed by the first production helicopter, which flew on 30 November 1965. Delivery of the SA.321G maritime patrol and ASW versions began at the same time. These were equipped with two Sylphe radars, all-weather navigation systems, an automatic stabilization system, and mine-laying and mine-sweeping equipment. The Aeronavale assigned them to Flotille 32F for both shore-based and shipboard use.

Of the 99 Super Frelons completed, 12 have been supplied to the Israeli Air Force, 16 to the South African Air Force, and nine to Libya. Others have been supplied to Iraq and China. The cabin of the Super Frelon in the military transport version is 7m long and can take two jeeps or two DCA 20mm cannon. For casualty evacuation it can take 15 stretcher cases with two medical attendants. The rear loading ramp is hydraulically operated and can remain open even in flight.

Of the three Turmo IIIC turbines, two are installed in front of the rotor drive shaft while the third, at the center rear, has an air intake on the port side and exhausts on the same side. Crash resistant tanks under the fuselage floor contain 3900 liters of fuel. A utility version has also been developed from the military version. Designated the SA.321J, it went into production in 1968 and can carry 27 passengers or 4000kg internally, with a slung load of up to 5000kg.

The one-off SA.321F commercial transport version, test-flown in 1968, had an air-conditioned, soundproofed cabin, a sliding door on the starboard side and a rotor head fairing. The two stub wings at the sides of the fuselage were used as baggage holds, and airline-style seating provided for 34-37 passengers.

G.Apostolo "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Helicopters", 1984


- Iraq used Super Frelons, equipped with Omera radar and AM39 Exocet missiles, in anti-shipping strikes against Iran.

- Production of the Frelon continues in China, where the type is called the Z-8.

- Israel re-engined eight of its Super Frelons and sold them to Argentina.

- In French naval service the Frelon equips three units: 33F and 20S at St Mandrier and 32F based at Lanveoc.

- The prototype troop-carrying Super Frelon first flew on 7 December 1962.

- French Aeronavale SA 321s are used to refuel naval vessels from the air.

Technical data for Aerospatiale SA-321

Crew: 2, engine: 3 x Turbomeca Turmo IIIC6 turboshaft, rated at 1156kW, main rotor diameter: 18.9m, length with rotors turning: 23.03m, height: 6.6m, width: 5.2m, take-off weight: 13000kg, empty weight: 6910kg, fuel: 3975kg, max speed: 275km/h, cruising speed: 210km/h, rate of climb: 12.0m/s, service ceiling: 3150m, hovering ceiling: 2170m, range: 920km

H. Wessels, e-mail, 08.06.2016reply

Good helicopter, but underpowered. Under hot and high conditions, performance was poor. The South Africans limited their Super Frelons to the coastal regions and both the Israelis amd the Chinese resorted to re-engining in an effort to improve peformance.

Masoud, e-mail, 23.12.2012reply

Hello there,

Thanks for your article. I am wondering how many 'reliable' aviation sources claim Iran has also purchased thie Helicopter, but I cannot find any photo of them in Iranian service.

Paul Scott, e-mail, 05.02.2015reply

Great helicopter, the best the French produced.

gary small, e-mail, 25.11.2009reply

are there any drawings or prints for the main rotorhead or main transmission

Do you have any comments ?

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