Aérospatiale SA 315B Lama

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SA 315B Lama
Aerospatiale SA-315B HB-XTM.jpg
An SA 315B Lama over Mt. Lauberhorn
Role General Purpose Helicopter
National origin France
Manufacturer Aérospatiale/Helibras/HAL
First flight 17 March 1969
Introduction July 1971
Retired Chilean Army
Status Active limited service
Primary user Indian Air Force
Developed from Aérospatiale Alouette II

The Aérospatiale SA 315B Lama is a French single-engined helicopter developed to meet hot and high operational requirements of the Indian Armed Forces. It combines the lighter Aérospatiale Alouette II airframe with Alouette III components and powerplant.

The helicopter have been built under licence by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in India, known as the Cheetah; HAL later developed an upgraded variant, powered by the Turbomeca TM 333-2M2 engine, which is known as the Cheetal.

Design and development

The SA 315B Lama was originally designed to meet an Nepalese Army Air Service and Indian Air Force requirement for a rotorcraft capable of undertaking operations at hot and high conditions. To achieve this, the Lama combined the Turbomeca Artouste turboshaft powerplant and the rotor system of the Alouette III with a reinforced version of the Alouette II's airframe.[1]

On 17 March 1969, the SA 315B Lama undertook its first flight. In 1970, a French airworthiness certificate for the type, and it was introduced to service as the Lama in July 1971. As with the Alouette series, the Lama can be fitted for various roles, such as light passenger transport or agricultural tasks. The military variants include liaison, observation, photography, air/sea rescue, transport and ambulance duties. The SA315B is particularly suited to mountainous areas due to its performance and can carry underslung loads of up to 1000 kg (2,205 lb). By December 1976, 191 Lamas had been ordered by 68 operators.[2]

SA-315B Lama, 2007

A significant number of SA 315B Lamas were manufactured under license in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), under the name Cheetah. More than three decades after production in India began, HAL was still receiving export orders for the original Cheetah.[3] Along with the Alouette III, the Cheetah was a key product for HAL; experience from manufacturing the type aided in the later development of more advanced indigenous helicopters such as the HAL Dhruv.[4] During the 1990s, HAL developed an armed version of the Cheetah, which received the name Lancer.[5]

In 2006, HAL proposed a modernised variant to the Indian Army, designated as Cheetal, the principle change of which being the adoption of a modern, more powerful Turbomeca TM 333-2M2 powerplant in the place of the Artouste; HAL promoting the Cheetal's capabilities for operating in high altitude environments, such as the Siachen Glacier. Other improvements include new warning indicates, a cockpit voice recorder, flight monitoring system, artificial horizon, and modernised electronics. In 2006, an initial 10 Cheetals were ordered by the Indian Air Force.[6][7] In February 2013, it was announced that the Indian and Nepalese Armies had signed a 300 crore (~US$55 million) contract for the urgent procurement of a further 20 Cheetals.[8][7]

Operational history

SA-315B Lama, 2003

The Lama was designed specifically for high-altitude performance and during demonstration flights in the Himalayas during 1969, an SA315B carrying a crew of two and 120 kg of fuel landed and took off at the highest altitude then recorded, 7,500 m (24,605 ft). On 21 June 1972, a Lama with a single pilot (Jean Boulet) aboard established a helicopter absolute altitude record of 12,442 m (40,814 ft),[9] immediately followed by an inadvertent record for the longest ever autorotation when the engine flamed out at the peak altitude of the flight.[10][11] Days before, the same pilot and aircraft had set a similar record at a higher weight.[12]

Following in the aftermath of the records set by the helicopter, a major order was placed by the Indian government in 1971. The Indian order included an arrangement for the indefinite license production of the SA315B to be conducted by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) at their facility in Bangalore, India. The first Indian-assembled SA315B flew on 6 October 1972, with deliveries starting in December 1973; Indian-produced helicopters were given the name Cheetah. Operated by both the Indian Air Force and the Indian Army's Aviation Corps, the Cheetah have proved capable, operating in difficult and remote areas such the mountainous Siachen region, and during times of conflict with neighbouring Pakistan.[3] Cheetahs have also been operated for civil purposes, such as aerial agriculture.[13]

In 1978, a similar export agreement was reached with Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Helibras for the domestic assembly of the Lama. Helibra-produced SA 315Bs were marketed under the designation Gavião;[14] several examples were successfully exported to neighboring Bolivia.

In 2009, due to issues with the newly-introduced HAL Dhruv helicopter, the Indian Army increased operational usage of their older Cheetah/Cheetal rotorcraft to meet the temporary shortfall.[15] In September 2012, it was reported that an ever-decreasing amount of spare parts compatible with the Cheetah has led to the type's operators being required to cannibalise helicopters in order to provide components for others.[16]


SA 315B Lama
Derived from the SE 3150, it was designed for high altitude operations using a 650kW (870shp) Turbomeca Astazou IIIB turboshaft, derated to 410kW (550shp). This derivative still holds the absolute altitude record for all types of helicopters since 1972: 12,442 m.
HB 315B Gaviao
Brazilian license-built version of the SA 315B Lama.[14]
HAL Cheetah
Indian license-built version of the SA 315B Lama.[14]
HAL Lancer
Modified armed combat variant. Changes include composite armouring, toughened glass, and can carry two 12.7 mm machine guns and up to six 70 mm rockets.[17]
HAL Cheetal
Modernised variant, fitted with the Turbomeca TM333-2M2.[18] Speed is increased to 210 km/h (130 mph) and range is increased to 560 km (350 mi).[19]


A 1990-built Swiss-operated Lama

Former operators

SA315B Lama lifting off from St Johann im Pongau
 El Salvador

Specifications (SA 315B Lama)

View of a SA 315B Lama; note the three-bladed main rotor

Data from Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1982–83[32]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Capacity: 4 passengers or 1,135 kg (2,500 lb) slung payload
  • Length: 10.24 m (33 ft 7¼ in)
  • Main rotor diameter: 11.02 m (36 ft 1¾ in)
  • Height: 3.09 m (10 ft 1¾ in)
  • Main rotor area: 95.38 m2 (1,026 ft2)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Turbomeca Artouste IIIB turboshaft, 649 kW (870 hp) derated to 410 kW (550 hp) each


  • Maximum speed: 192 km/h (119 mph)
  • Range: 515 km (320 miles)
  • Service ceiling: 5,400 m (17,715 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 5.5 m/s (1,080 ft/min)

See also

Related development
Related lists



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  2. "SA.315B Lama." Flight International, 27 November 1976. p. 1589.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "HAL bags $10 mn order for Chetak, Cheetah from Namibia." Economic Times, 10 June 2009.
  4. Kjelgaard 1982, pp. 1772-1773.
  5. "High hopes." Flight International, 15 March 2005.
  6. "Cheetal." Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Retrieved: 30 November 2015.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Mathews, Neelam. "HAL’s Cheetal Meets Indian Army’s Urgent Needs." AIN Online, 1 March 2013.
  8. "Army, HAL sign Rs 300 cr deal for 20 Cheetal choppers." Business Standard, 21 February 2013.
  9. ""FAI Record ID #754 Altitude without payload. Class E-1 (Helicopters), turbine." "FAI Record ID #753 - subclass." "FAI Record ID #11657 - Absolute." Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). Retrieved: 21 September 2014.
  10. FAI Records set by SA-315B
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  12. ""FAI Record ID #788 - Altitude without payload. Class E-1c (Helicopters: take off weight 1000 to 1750 kg), turbine." Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). Retrieved: 21 September 2014.
  13. Kjelgaard 1982, p. 1774.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Chant 2014, p. 348.
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  16. Matthews, Neehlam, "Spares Unavailability Threatens India’s Aging Helo Fleet." AIN Online, 14 September 2012.
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  18. "First Flight of the HAL Cheetah Powered by Turbomeca's TM 333 2M2 Engine" Turbomeca, 6 February 2003.
  19. Upgraded HAL Cheetal Helicopters for Indian Army - Armedforces-International.com, December 19, 2012
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External links