Aerospatiale SA 321K Super Frelon
by Dennis Lautwein (1:72 MACH2)
Seen from today’s perspective, the Sa 321 Super Frelon (Frelon = Hornet) is often considered exotic in the family of medium transport helicopters. Even though production numbers never reached those of H-47, H-53 or Mi-8, it was the only European helicopter in this class to reach series production until the EH/AW-101 appeared a lot later.
Derived from the rather unsuccessful SE 3200 Frelon and re-designed with considerable support from Sikorsky (mainly in, but probably not limited to, dynamic components) the SA 3210 Super Frelon was developed. After the merger of Sud-Est into Sud Aviation the designation changed from SE to SA 3210 and later to Sa 321 Only the basic design in the cockpit area and the location of the three Turmo IIIC remained during re-design of the Frelon and MTOW was increased from 7500kg to 12000kg. Cooperation with Sikorsky was not new to Sud-Est for they had licence-produced the French S-58 (HSS-1) before.
When designed and still at its maiden flight 1962, the Frelon was an advanced design and somewhat introduced the configuration „box fuselage, hydraulic ramp, 1 side door starboard“. This configuration is classic with Sikorsky designs of medium and heavy helicopters until today (S-61R, S-65, S-80, S-92). When finally ready for series production in 1966, its performance was matched and succeded by H-47 and H-53.
So the missing link in the evolution of dynamic components between Sikorsky S-61 [H-3] and S-65 [H-53] can be found in France. That is also the reason why the Super Frelon is one of the very few French designs having the main rotor turn counterclockwise.
With her main operator, the French Aeronavale (24 Sa 321G), the Frelon was primarily used as an anti-submarine platform, not as a transport. At the End of its career the Frelon returned to its roots and serves as SAR and transport platform until today.
Export success was rather limited. Most customers were countries having strong bounds to France anyway. So Frelon were delivered to Israel (12 Sa 321K), South Africa (17 Sa 321L), Libya (8 Sa 321M, 6 Sa 321 GM), China (13 Sa 321Ja+1[+x Z-8]), Iraq (14 Sa 321GV), Zaire (1 Sa 321 Ja) and 1 Sa 321 J and 1 Sa 321F were used by civil operators.
Today, the Frelon is still build in china as Changhe Z-8. Here, the engines were replaced by PT-6 and just recenty a follow-on development, the AC-313 had its maiden flight.
Germany evaluated the Super Frelon in 1963 but decided it did not suit its needs. So Germany bought CH-53 later on.
Israel was the first export customer and bought 12 Sa 321K (called: Tsir’a) in two lots. The first Frelon (No.104, #02) was delivered in April 1966, the one shown here (No.114, #09) shortly after the six-day-war in July 1967. The last Sa 321K (No.146, #21) was delivered in September 1969.
In literature, sometimes the designations Sa 321Ka (5 h/c) and Sa 321Kb (7 h/c) are used. The difference is given as being equipped with floats and hoist for the Sa 321Ka. I could not confirm this, partly because this mission equipment has been seen on nearly all Sa 321K. If thes designations were used, they only seem to refer to the lot.
A MTOW upgrade to 13000kg and a re-engining to Turmo IIIC7 seems not to have taken place for Sa 321Ks. Later, they were re-engined to American T58.
In contrast to the French Sa 321G the Sa 321K were equipped with particle seperators. These differ between the early airframes. The first type seems to be mesh-like, the second, as shown here, just seems to shield the intakes from the sides and the third, retrofitted to all Sa 321K, seems to be a filter type. Israel later converted to the better known EAPS style with vortex tubes.
In the beginning, the Israeli Frelons used the paint scheme as shown here. The demarcation on each airframe was different and makes it possible to identify most of the airframes, although the numbers are not consistent and available pictures are often censored. Beginning in 1968 (possibly on No.130, #15) the well-known 4-tone scheme of the IDF/AF was used, later a wrap-around sand brown.
The Frelon was operated by 114 squadron, the „Super Frelon Squadron“. They served usefully in assault operations. After the S-65C-3 arrived they were used in the supply role and as VIP-Transport. In the early 1990ies, the Sa 321K were retired.
This build was challenging and took about 4 years in total (including breaks). Partly, but not in total, this is due to the short run nature of the kit. Nearly everthing had to be reworked.
Additional work was necessary because I wanted a Sa 321K without floats, the kit undercarriage does only comes with them.
The particle seperators are also „custom“. The kit comes with the very early type, but does not capture the shape at all.
The canopy had to be sanded smooth and polished on both inside and outside. After that the frame was reapplied in a correct manner (this is wrong in the kit).
As I wanted to have the sliding door and the ramp open, all the interior was build from scratch (just excluding the floor).
The rest of the long duration was my fault and included messing up the first paintjob (and reapplying all outer details…), a crash from the table (and opening the fuselage again because the seats in the cockpit had come loose…). In between, of couse, were periods of waiting for motivation.
The decals are out of the kit and from Isradecal’s „Israel Airforce Helicopters“. The Isradecal sheet was rather disappointing concerning accuracy and research, the kit decals were better than expected.
Only for advanced modellers really wanting a 1/72 scale Super Frelon. The parts appear as if a 1/35 scale Heller kit has been the inspiration for master and parts breakdown (and that is one of the best helicopter kits ever produced!). Molds (or Master) seem to be good, just the quality of manufacturing leaves a lot to be desired.
Anyway, this is still the only game in town. (But as I have finished now, luck has it that Trumpeter or Hobby Boss could come up with one, there are still some Changhe Z-8 out there...)
Published on 22. September 2012
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