Eurocopter is celebrating the 50th anniversary of one of its most popular helicopters–the Sud-Aviation (SA) 318 Alouette (Skylark). In May 1955, the second prototype of Sud-Aviation’s new turbine single took to the air for the first time near Paris. The next month, test pilot Jean Boulet took the new helicopter to a record (at the time) altitude of 26,932 feet.
Later that year the SA 318 became the first turbine-powered helicopter to enter series production.
Designers Charles Marchetti and René Mouille made the decision to abandon an earlier variant, fitted with a somewhat lethargic piston engine, for a gas turbine model. At the time, Turbomeca had developed two engines: the Artouste I, which developed 250 shp, and the Artouste II, which company president and founder Joseph Szydlowsky finally agreed to loan to the designers.
The engine proved its worth in bench tests, and the SNCASE (Société Nationale de Constructions Aéronautiques du Sud-Est) design office– one of Eurocopter’s ancestors–decided to design a new airframe around it.
Thirteen months after the helicopter made its maiden flight, the first production Alouette II lifted off and, in 1957, certifying agency SGAC awarded the helicopter its certificate of airworthiness.
Production stopped in 1975 after delivery of 1,324 examples. Eurocopter calculated that last year the nearly 300 Alouette IIs still in service logged 27,000 flight hours.