Although an Aerospatiale design, the Super Frelon was developed in co-operation with Sikorsky, who assisted in the design of the rotor systems, and Fiat, who tackled the main gearbox and transmission. The end result was the largest helicopter ever built in quantity in Western Europe. The Super Frelon prototype was first flown on May 28th 1963 and production begun two years later. The type has been exported to various nations such as South Africa, China, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya. During the Iran-Iraq war, Iraqi Super Frelons armed with Exocet missiles were used in combat against Iranian fast-attack vessels, sinking at least one.
Israel's force of 12 helicopters was ordered in 1965 to provide the IAF with a heavy lift transport capability. The close ties between Israel and France in the mid 1960s made the choise of a French helicopter inevitable and in early 1965 an IAF delegation of air and ground crews left for France to study the new aircraft. The first Super Frelon arrived in April 1966 and entered service with the 114th squadron, nicknamed the "Super Frelon Squadron" (to this day, long after it has ceased operating the type). The 114th, a former training squadron disbanded in 1956, was reformed in Janurary 1966 under the command of Major Haim Nave', who had previously commanded the Sikorsky S-58 "Rolling Sword" squadron. The type was awarded the name "Tzir'a" (Hornet).
Although only four Super Frelons had arrived in Israel by the outbreak of the Six Days War in June 1967, the type was nonetheless put to use, in both the transport and assault roles. On the first day of the fighting, June 5th, the Super Frelons flew medical evacuation missions with the Israeli forces pushing into the Sinai. On June 7th three of the helicopters flew along S-58s to land IDF troops at Sharm-A-Sheik, a strategic point at the southern tip of the Sinai. After Israel had attacked the USS Liberty on June 8th, mistaking it for an Egyptian ship, IAF Super Frelons offered assistance to the stricken ship but were turned away. The type was active right up to the last hours of the war on June 10th, transporting equipment for Israeli forces fighting the Syrians on the Golan Heights. By the war's end, the 114th squadron had flown 41 sorties. The formal end of hostilities allowed the resumption of Super Frelon deliveries and the eight remaining aircraft arrived in Israel shortly later. Yet despite the official end of the war, Arab nations were not about to allow Israel to consolidate its hold on territories captured during the Six Days War and fighting on the various fronts erupted again. The War of Attrition which raged until August 1970 would be the heyday of the Super Frelons, with the 114th participating in some of the IDF's most daring operations.
On October 21st 1967 a number of Styx anti-ship missiles sunk the Israeli Navy destroyer Eilat off the Egyptian coast. Super Frelons participated in the rescue and evacuation of Eilat's sailors, employing the Super Frelon's unique ability to land on water. With its streamlined fuselage and the stabilising floats found on some of Israel's Super Frelons (picture below), the type was able to rescue 23 Israeli sailors from the waters of the Mediterranean. On October 31st 1968 Super Frelons took part in the deep penetration raid against the Egyptian dam and hydro-electric power station at Naj Hamdi and the nearby bridge at Kina. Two Super Frelons carried Israeli paratroops over 700 kilometers into the heart of Egypt to take out the power station, while another pair detonated bombs they had lowered into position at the dam and Kina bridge. The successful outcome of the mission, with no casualties suffered by the raiding party, encouraged the IDF to adopt this line of action again over the course of the War of Attrition, and the Super Frelons participated in many such undertakings over the next two years.
On December 26th 1968 Palestinian terrorists attacked an El-Al Boeing 707 at Athens and killed one of its passengers. The terrorists had come from Lebanon whose government had also given them assistance and Israel decided to retaliate, launching operation "Tshura" (reward). Late on December 28th three IAF Super Frelons landed at Beirut Airport. The Israeli commandos on board then proceeded to destroy 13 Arab airliners scattered throughout the field, before reboarding the Super Frelons for the return flight to Israel. The Israeli action, carried out by French helicopters against a former French colony, had enraged France and its direct result was the French boycott of weapon sales to Israel. Previous plans to purchase more Super Frelons were now scrapped, and Israel turned to the United States to procure CH-53 Sea Stallions.
On December 26th 1969 the Super Frelons and the recently delievered CH-53s carried out one of the best known actions of the war, operation "Tarnegol-53" (Rooster-53). Three Super Frelons participated in the operation, transporting Israeli paratroops to Ras-Arab where they took over an Egyptian P-12 radar. Another notable raid took place less than a month later. On January 22nd 1970 the Super Frelons participated in operation "Rodus" (Rhodes) against Shadwan Island, an Egyptian stronghold in the Gulf of Suez. The helicopters landed on the island, delivering the paratroops which then took it over.
During the Yom Kippur War, Super Frelons were active on all fronts, flying transport and medical evacuation missions. Although surpassed by the CH-53 by now, the Super Frelons nonetheless participated in some of the major operations of the war, such as the Israeli crossing of the Suez Canal on October 16th 1973. On October 21st the Super Frelons took part in operation "Kinuah" (Dessert), the retaking of the Mount Hermon Post, overrun by Syrian forces in the beginning of the war. Super Frelons and CH-53s airlifted 600 Israeli troops to the mountain, where they retook the post as well as a nearby Syrian post.
In the years following the war, Israel replaced the type's original Turbomeca Turmo engines with the 1,870shp General Electric T58-16 engines. The type's relative silence and vibration free handling qualities also qualified it as a VIP transport and in 1978 it carried Egyptian president Sadat on his historic visit to Israel. The Super Frelons also took part in operation "Peace for Galilee", the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982, but no information has been released about their activities. The type was finally retired in 1991 although 6 examples can still be seen at the IAF Museum at Hatzerim, one in flying condition.
Specification: Aerospatiale SA 321K Super Frelon
Type: medium assault and tactical transport helicopter.
Powerplant: 3 * six rotor Turbomeca Turmo IIIC turboshafts.
Performance: max speed - 248 km/h, range - 815km.
Weights: empty - 6,650kg, max takeoff - 13,000kg, payload - 28 troops or 5,000kg of freight carried internally or externally.
Dimensions: main rotor diameter - 18.90m, fuselage length - 19.40m, overall length rotors turning - 23.03m, height - 4.93m.
Armament: none (IAF service).
Sources: IAF Inventory