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SA 315B Lama
A 1982-built SA 315B Lama
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 was license built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in India as the Cheetah; an upgraded variant powered by the Turbomeca TM 333-2M2 engine is known as the HAL Cheetal.

Design and development

Originally designed to meet an Nepalese Army Air Service and Indian Air Force requirement for operation at in hot and high conditions, the Lama combines the Artouste powerplant and rotor system of the Alouette III with a reinforced Alouette II airframe. First flown on 17 March 1969, the SA 315B received its French airworthiness certificate in 1970 and was introduced 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).

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.[1] Along with the Alouette III, the Cheetah was a key product for HAL, experience from manufacturing the type aided HAL's development of more advanced indigenous helicopters like the HAL Dhruv.[2]

In 2006-2007, HAL proposed a modernised variant to the Indian Army, designated as Cheetal, fitted with a more powerful Turbomeca TM 333-2M2 engine, promoting its capabilities for operating in high altitude environments, such as the Siachen Glacier. In 2009, due to issues with the newly introduced HAL Dhruv helicopter, the Indian Army increased operations on their older Cheetah/Cheetal helicopters to meet the temporary shortfall.[3] In February 2013, it was announced that the Indian and Nepalese Armies had signed a 300 crore (~US$55 million) contract to procure a further 20 Cheetals.[4]

Operational history

Helicoptere Lama2.jpg

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), immediately followed by an inadvertent record for the longest ever autorotation when the engine flamed out at the peak altitude of the flight.[5][6]

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.[1] Cheetahs have also been operated for civil purposes, such as aerial agriculture.[7]

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 name Gavião; several example were successfully exported to neighboring Bolivia.

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.[8]


SA 315B Lama
Derived from the SE 3150, it was designed for high altitude operations using a 650kW (870shp) Turboméca 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.
HAL Cheetah
Indian license-built version of the SA 315B Lama.
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.[9]
HAL Cheetal
Modernised variant, fitted with the Turbomeca TM333-2M2.[10] Speed is increased to 210 km/h (130 mph) and range is increased to 560 km (350 mi).[11]


A 1990-built Swiss-operated Lama


Former operators

 El Salvador

Specifications (SA 315B Lama)

Data from Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1982–83[23]

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)
  • Empty weight: 1,021 kg (2,251 lb)
  • Gross weight: 2,300 kg (5,070 lb)
  • 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



  1. 1.0 1.1 "HAL bags $10 mn order for Chetak, Cheetah from Namibia." Economic Times, 10 June 2009.
  2. Kjelgaard 1982, pp. 1772-1773.
  3. Rao, Radhakrishna (15 July 2009). "Indian report slams performance of HAL's Dhruv helicopter". Flight International. 
  4. "Army, HAL sign Rs 300 cr deal for 20 Cheetal choppers." Business Standard, 21 February 2013.
  5. FAI Records set by SA-315B
  6. Randall Padfield, R. (1992). "Chapter 8 Autorotation". Learning to Fly Helicopters. McGraw-Hill Professional. p. 151. ISBN 0-07-157724-6. Retrieved 4 November 2010. 
  7. Kjelgaard 1982, p. 1774.
  8. Matthews, Neehlam, "Spares Unavailability Threatens India’s Aging Helo Fleet." AIN Online, 14 September 2012.
  9. Anantha, Krishnan M. "Army turns to HAL for Lancer supply." Times of India, 3 January 2001.
  10. "First Flight of the HAL Cheetah Powered by Turbomeca's TM 333 2M2 Engine" Turbomeca, 6 February 2003.
  11. Upgraded HAL Cheetal Helicopters for Indian Army -, December 19, 2012
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 "World Air Forces 2013". Flightglobal Insight. 2013. Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  13. "World Air Forces 1987 pg. 38". Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  14. "World Air Forces 1987 pg. 40". Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  15. "National Gendarmerie SA315". Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  16. "World Air Forces 2001 pg. 38". Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  17. "Ejercito de chile Alouette II". Retrieved 12 March 2013. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 "World Air Forces 1987 pg. 51". Retrieved 2013-03-14. 
  19. "World Air Forces 1987 pg. 60". Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  20. "World Air Forces 1987 pg. 73". Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  21. "World Air Forces 2011 (pdf)". Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  22. "World Air Forces 1987 pg. 77". Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  23. Taylor 1982, pp. 50–51.


  • "Airplane Magazine". London: Orbis Publishing Ltd. 1990. p. 138. 
  • Kjelgaard, Chris. "HAL spools up." Flight International, 18 December 1982.
  • Taylor, John W. R. (1982). Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1982–83. London: Jane's Yearbooks. ISBN 0-7106-0748-2. 

External links

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