Swiss Air Force say “Goodbye Alouette 3 1964-2010”

Swiss Air Force say “Goodbye Alouette 3 1964-2010” 21 Oct, 10, Source: HeliHub.com

Photographer Bruno Siegfried has caught this photo of Swiss Air Force Alouette III V-262 in a special livery – credit to SwissHeli.com for publishing this and to both for agreeing to HeliHub.com running this photo.  Titles show “Goodbye Alouette 3 1964-2010” to record the 46 years of operation of the venerable fleet of helicopters.  A total of 84 Alouette IIIs were delivered between 1964 and 1974, and this year has seen the last ones retired.  The final batch has been donated to Pakistan.

The Swiss Air Force website profiles the type as follows:-

Between 1958 and 1963 the Swiss Army established a helicopter division comprising of 5-seater Alouette II helicopters. However it soon became apparent that more powerful turbines and greater payloads were needed.

This led to the decision to procure 9 gas-turbine 7-seater Alouette III versions manufactured by Sud-Aviation in France. The more powerful turbines incorporated in these Alouette III helicopters proved especially efficient in mountain operations. The advantage of transporting material by helicopter was soon recognized which led to an expansion of the helicopter fleet. The new helicopters were acquisitioned in 2 installments; in 1966, 15 units were delivered directly from the manufacturer in France, and between 1972 and 1974 a further 60 units were assembled under license in Switzerland at the Federal Aircraft Works in Emmen.

Today helicopter pilots undergo initial training on the Alouette III. The Alouette III have been distributed forming different light aircraft squadrons which play a vital role in air transportation. They have proven especially efficient in personnel transport as well as being able to transport external loads with the use of carrier nets. These helicopters are able to lift large amounts of water, and can be used in combating forest fires. With the aid of a fixed winch the Alouette can also conduct air-rescues in the Alpines regions.

1964 saw the introduction of nine Alouette III helicopters (V-201 to V-209), along with their logistics, acquired for some 10.5 million Swiss francs. As early as 7 July 1964, the Alouette III was deployed on its first rescue mission. An accident in Bergell required the rescue in deep snow of two severely injured members of a rope team as quickly as possible. Many lessons were learned and since then, almost all Alouette helicopters in Switzerland have been retro-fitted with landing skis. During the Gotthard manoeuvres in 1966, the gathered press saw in a demonstration how three helicopters could supply an entire battalion in the mountains within 20 minutes. The following day, the headlines of the ‘Blick’ daily newspaper simply read: ‘We should have more of these birds’. The performance of this flexible means of transport was so convincing that a second procurement was made adding 15 Alouette helicopters to the existing fleet from 1966 to 18 January 1967. The machine with registration number V-210 was delivered to Switzerland at no charge in exchange for three used Djin helicopters.

An additional third procurement augmented the Alouette III fleet massively. Even though acquisition of heavy transport helicopters was also discussed, the federal council decided in favour of procuring 60 additional Alouette IIIs that were to be built under licence at the Emmen Federal Aircraft Factory (F+W). The Bell 205 (Bell UH-1) was evaluated several times but did not prove efficient in the mountains. From 1972 to 1974, a total of 60 Alouettes were produced and delivered by Emmen F+W.

Highly visible orange fluorescent strips were painted on the Alouettes in 1973 so that they were well visible to the Venom and Hunter aircraft that flew at low altitudes. Later, with the introduction of the Super Pumas, this colour scheme was removed as the Alouettes were fitted with the same strobe lights as new helicopters. Several Alouette IIIs were rebuilt no less than three times after they had been damaged in accidents. The Alouette III was not suitable to carry guns. Firing trials proved it to be an unstable platform for unguided missiles. The first trials with night vision goggles were in 1990 and V-272 was fitted with a NVG compatible cockpit two years later. The first FLIR infrared camera, taken over from REGA air rescue, was introduced to the air force’s Alouette IIIs in 1996. It proved efficient in the following year in the first FLIR search and rescue mission when a snowboarder was missing in the Canton of Obwalden.

When signing the delivery contract for the first nine Alouette III helicopters for Switzerland in 1963, the manufacturer guaranteed support with spare parts until 2015. In 2000 when the decision was made to no longer spend 1.5 million Swiss francs on the basic overhaul for twelve of the Alouette IIIs, the end of the Alouette era in the Swiss Air Force came in sight. Two years later the reduction of the fleet by 35 machines until 2004 was decided. After many years the Alouette III helicopters have been used to teach generations of pilots to fly, this role in the Swiss Air Force is now being transferred from the French classic to the new Eurocopter EC635 helicopters.

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