Military Wiki
SA 330 Puma
SA 330 Puma of the French Armée de Terre
Role Utility helicopter
First flight 15 April 1965
Introduction 1968
Status Active service
Primary users French Army
Royal Air Force
Romanian Air Force
Produced 1968-1987
Number built 697
Variants IAR 330
Atlas Oryx
Developed into Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma
Denel AH-2 Rooivalk

The Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma is a four-bladed, twin-engined medium transport/utility helicopter. The Puma was originally manufactured by Sud Aviation of France, and continued to be produced by Aérospatiale. The Puma was also license-built in Romania as the IAR 330; unlicensed manufacture of an advanced derivative, the Atlas Oryx, was also conducted by South Africa. The Puma was a commercial success and was quickly developed into more advanced models such as the AS332 Super Puma and AS532 Cougar, manufactured by Eurocopter since the early 1990s; in this manner descendants of the Puma remain in production into the 21st century.

The Puma has seen combat in a range of theatres by a number of different operators; significant operations include the Gulf War, the South African Border War, the Portuguese Colonial War, the Yugoslav Wars, the Iraq War, and the Falklands War. The type also saw popular use in the civilian field and has been operated by a number of civil operators.


The SA 330 Puma was originally developed by Sud Aviation to meet a requirement of the French Army for a medium-sized all-weather helicopter capable of carrying up to 20 soldiers as well as various carry-carrying duties. The choice was made to develop a completely new design for the helicopter, work began in 1963 with backing from the French government.[1] The first of two Puma prototypes flew on 15 April 1965; six further pre-production models were also built, the last of which flew on 30 July 1968. The first production SA 330 Puma flew in September 1968, with deliveries to the French Army starting in early 1969.[2]

SA 330B Puma, 2004

In 1967, the Puma was selected by the Royal Air Force (RAF), having been impressed by the Puma's performance, it was given the designation Puma HC Mk 1. A significant joint manufacturing agreement was between Aerospatiale and Westland Helicopters of the UK; the close collaboration between the French and British firms would also result in subsequent purchases of Aérospatiale Gazelle by the United Kingdom and the Westland Lynx by France. Under this agreement, Westland manufactured a range of components for the Puma; additionally it also performed the assembly of Pumas ordered by the RAF.[3][4]

The SA 330 was a success on the export market, numerous countries purchased military variants of the Puma to serve in their armed forces; the type was also popularly received in the civil market, finding common usage by operators for transport duties to off-shore oil platforms.[5] Throughout most of the 1970s, the SA 330 Puma was the best selling transport helicopter being produced in Europe.[6] By July 1978, over 50 Pumas had already been delivered to civil customers, and the worldwide fleet had accumulated in excess of 500,000 operational hours.[7] Romania entered into an arrangement with Aerospatiale to produce the Puma under license as the IAR 330, manufacturing roughly 90 of the type for the Romanian armed forces, civil operators, and several export customers of their own.[8] Indonesia also undertook domestic manufacturing of the SA 330.[9] South Africa, a keen user of the type, performed their own major modification and production program conducted by the government-owned Atlas Aircraft to upgrade their own Pumas, the resulting aircraft was named Oryx. In the 1990s, Denel would also develop an attack helicopter for the South African Air Force based on the Puma, known as the Denel Rooivalk.[8]

In 1974, Aerospatiale began development of improved Puma variants, aiming to produce a successor to the type; these efforts would cumulate in the AS332 Super Puma. The first prototype AS332 Super Puma took flight on 13 September 1978, featuring more powerful engines and a more aerodynamically-efficient extended fuselage; by 1980, production of the AS323 Super Puma had overtaken that of the originating SA 330 Puma.[10] Production of the SA 330 Puma by Aérospatiale ceased in 1987,[11] by which time a total of 697 had been sold;[12] production in Romania would continue into the 21st Century.[10]


Spanish Air Force SA 300L Puma, 2008

The SA 330 Puma is a twin-engine helicopter intended for personnel transport and logistic support duties. As a troop carrier, up to 16 soldiers can be seated on foldable seats, in a casualty evacuation configuration, the cabin can hold six litters and four additional personnel; the Puma can also perform cargo transport duties, using alternatively an external sling or the internal cabin, with a maximum weight of 2500 kg. Civilian Pumas feature a variety of passenger cabin layouts, including those intended for VIP services. In a search and rescue capacity, a hoist is commonly installed, often mounted on the starboard fuselage.[13]

A pair of roof-mounted Turbomeca Turmo turboshaft engines power the Puma's four-blade main rotor. The helicopter's rotors are driven at a speed of roughly 265 rpm via a five reduction stage transmission. The design of the transmission featured several unique and uncommon innovations for the time, such as single-part manufacturing of the rotor shaft and the anti-vibration measures integrated into the main gearbox and main rotor blades.[14] The Puma also featured an automatic blade inspection system, which guarded against and alerted crews to fatigue cracking in the rotor blades. There are two hydraulic systems on board, these operate entirely independent of one another, one system powers only the aircraft's flight controls while the other serves the autopilot, undercarriage, rotor brake, and the flight controls.[15]

In flight, the Puma was designed to be capable of high speeds, exhibit great maneuverability, and have good hot-and-high performance; the engines have an intentionally high level of reserve power to enable a Puma to effectively fly at maximum weight with only one functioning engine and proceed with its mission if circumstances require.[16] The cockpit has conventional dual controls for a pilot and copilot, a third seat is provided in the cockpit for a reserve crew member or commander. The Puma features a SFIM-Newmark Type 127 electro-hydraulic autopilot; the autopilot is capable of roll and pitch stabilization, the load hook operator can also enter corrective adjustments of the helicopter's position from his station through the autopilot.[17] The Puma is readily air-transportable by tactical airlift aircraft such as the Transall C-160 and the Lockheed C-130 Hercules; the main rotor, landing gear, and tailboom are all detachable to lower space requirements. Ease of maintenance was one of the objectives pursued in the Puma's design; many of the components and systems that would require routine inspection were positioned to be visible from ground level, use of life-limited components was minimised, and key areas of the mechanical systems were designed to be readily accessed.[13] The Puma is also capable of operating at nighttime, in inhospitable flying conditions, or in a wide range of climates from Arctic to desert environments.[18]

Although not included during the original production run, numerous operators of Pumas have installed additional features and modern equipment over the aircraft's service life; Pumas used by the RAF have been equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation equipment, a range of self-defense measures including infrared jammers and automatic flares/chaff dispensers, and night vision goggles.[18] Third party aviation companies such as South Africa's Thunder City have ran life extension and modernisation programmes for the Puma with some choosing to refurbish the aircraft with glass cockpits.[19]

Operational history


During the Falklands War in 1982, five SA 330 Pumas of the Argentine Army and one of the Argentine Coast Guard were deployed to the theatre; these could either operate from the decks of Navy vessels as well as performing missions across the breadth of the islands; all were lost in the ensuing conflict.[20] On 3 April, while landing Argentine troops as part of the capture of South Georgia, a Puma was badly damaged by small arms fire from British ground forces and crashed into terrain shortly after.[21] On 9 May, a single Puma was destroyed by a Sea Dart anti-aircraft missile launched from HMS Coventry.[22] On 23 May, a pair of Royal Navy Sea Harriers intercepted three Argentine Pumas in the middle of a supply mission to Port Howard; during the subsequent engagement one Puma was destroyed by colliding with the terrain and a second was disabled and subsequently destroyed by cannon fire from the Sea Harriers, the third Puma escaped.[23] On 30 May, a Puma was lost in the vicinity of Mount Kent under unknown circumstances, possibly due to friendly fire.[24]


In September 1974, four Pumas were employed during Operation Barracuda to transport a French assault team directly upon the government head quarters of the Central African Empire; after which confiscated valuables and assorted diplomatic and political records were quickly extracted to the nearby French embassy by continuous air lifts by the Pumas.[25]

One distinctive use of the Puma in French service was as a VIP transport for carrying the President of France both at home and during overseas diplomatic engagements; these duties were transferred to the larger AS332 Super Puma as that became available in sufficient numbers.[26][27]

French Puma during Operation Desert Shield, 1990

During the 1991 First Gulf War, France chose to dispatch several Pumas in support of coalition forces engaged in a conflict with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Those Pumas that had been assigned to the role of performing combat search-and-rescue duties were quickly retrofitted with GPS receivers to enhance their navigational capabilities.[28] As part of France's contribution to the 1990s NATO-led intervention in the Yugoslav Wars, a number of French Pumas operated in the region alongside other Puma operators such as Britain and the United Arab Emirates; one frequent mission for the type was the vital provision of humanitarian aid missions to refugees escaping ongoing ethnic genocide.[29] In April 1994, a French Puma performed a nighttime extraction of a British SAS squad and a downed Sea Harrier pilot from deep inside hostile Bosnian territory, the aircraft came under small arms fire while retreating from the area.[30][31] On the 18 June 1999, a single coordinated aerial insertion of two companies of French paratroopers was performed by 20 Pumas, helping to spearhead the rapid securing of Kosovska Mitrovica by NATO ground forces.[32]

As of 2010, both the French Army and French Navy have opted to procure separate variants of the NHIndustries NH90 to ultimately replace the Puma in French military service.[33]


In 1974, Morocco made an agreement with France for the purchase of 40 Puma helicopters for their armed forces.[34] During the 1970s and 1980s, Moroccan Pumas saw combat service against Polisario Front separatists and helped exert greater control over the Western Sahara region; use of air power by Moroccan forces was severely curtailed after several aircraft were lost or damaged due to the presence of Soviet-provided 2K12 Kub anti-aircraft missiles in rebel hands in the early 1980s.[35]

In October 2007, as part of a €2 billion deal between Morocco and France, a total of 25 Moroccan Pumas are to undergo extensive modernisation and upgrades.[36]


In 1969, Portugal emerged as an early export customer for the Puma, ordering 12 of the helicopters for the Portuguese Air Force; Portugal would also be the first country to employ the Pumas in combat operations during the Portuguese Colonial War; the type was used operationally to complement the smaller Alouette III helicopter fleet during the Angola and Mozambican wars of independence, the type had the advantages of greater autonomy and transport capacity over other operated helicopters.[37]

During the 1980s, Portugal engaged in an illicit arrangement with South Africa in order to circumvent a United Nations embargo being enforced upon South Africa under which France had refused to provide upgrades and spares for South Africa's own Puma fleet. In the secretive deal, Portugal ordered more powerful engines and new avionics with the public intention of employing them on its own Pumas, however many of the components were diverted via a Zaire-based front company to South African defense firm Armscorp, where they were used to overhaul, upgrade and rebuild the existing Pumas, ultimately resulting in the Atlas Oryx; the Portuguese Pumas also received significant upgrades which were paid for under the terms of the agreement.[38]

In 2006, the Portuguese Air Force began receiving deliveries of the AgustaWestland AW101 Merlin, a larger and more capable helicopter, replacing the aging Puma fleet.[39]

South Africa

South African Air Force Puma, 2011

From 1972 onwards, Pumas operated by the SAAF were deployed on extended operations in neighboring Namibia and Angola during the Border War. During the first deployment to the Eastern Caprivi, one Puma crewmember became the first member of the SAAF to be awarded the Honoris Crux.[citation needed] The Puma was to be involved in normal trooping, rapid deployment during “follow up” operations, radio relay, evacuation of casualties, rescuing downed aircrew, insertion of Special Forces, and large scale cross border operations such as Savannah, Uric, Protea, Super, and Moduler.[citation needed]

The majority of South African Puma purchases, including spare parts, were made in advance of an anticipated United Nations embargo which was applied in 1977.[40] South Africa would subsequently upgrade many of its Pumas, eventually arriving at the derived indigenous Atlas Oryx; external assistance and components were obtained via secretive transactions involving Portugal during the arms embargo era.[38][41]

In December 1979, South Africa's government acknowledged the presence of their military forces operating in Zimbabwe; Pumas were routinely used in support of the South African Army's ground forces.[42] In June 1980, 20 Pumas accompanied a force of 8000 troops during a South African invasion of Angola in pursuit of nationalist SWAPO fighters.[43] In 1982, the government confirmed that 15 service men had been killed when South African Puma was downed by SWAPO forces, it was one of the worst losses suffered in a single instance in the conflict.[44]

During the 1990s, concealed efforts to purchase surplus SAAF Pumas were made by then-President Pascal Lissouba of the Republic of Congo, most likely intended for use in the Congolese Civil War.[45] When the MTS Oceanos sank off the coast of South Africa in 1991, as many as 13 Pumas played crucial roles in the rescue efforts, winching 219 survivors to safety during bad weather conditions.[46]

United Kingdom

An RAF HC1 Puma inflight, 2012

The first two Pumas for the Royal Air Force were delivered on 29 January 1971,[47][48] with the first operational squadron (33 Squadron) forming at RAF Odiham on 14 June 1971.[49] The RAF would order a total of 48 Puma HC Mk 1 for transport duties; during the Falklands War, an additional SA 330J formerly operated by Argentine Naval Prefecture was captured by British forces.[50] The Puma became a common vehicle for British special forces, such as the SAS, and has been described as being "good for covert tasks".[51]

RAF Pumas have been based at early on at RAF Odiham, and later at RAF Benson; during The Troubles it was also common for a detachment to be based in Northern Ireland as well.[52] In British service, the Puma has seen active duty in Belize, Venezuela, Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Zaire.[52] Britain has frequently dispatched Pumas on disaster relief and humanitarian missions, such as during the 2000 Mozambique flood and the 1988 Jamaican flash flood;[53] and to conduct peacekeeping operations in regions such as Zimbabwe and the Persian Gulf.[52]

During the climax of the First Gulf War, the Puma proved decisive in rapidly mobilizing and deploying troops to prevent Iraqi troops intending to sabotage the Rumaila oil field.[51] From the beginning of the Iraq War, between 2003 and 2009, RAF Pumas would be used to provide troop mobility across the theatre.[54] On 15 April 2007, two RAF Pumas collided during a special forces mission close to Baghdad, Iraq.[55] In November 2007, a Puma crashed during an anti-insurgent operation in Iraq; an inquest found the cause to be pilot error primarily, however the Ministry of Defense (MoD) was criticised for failing to equip RAF Pumas with night vision goggles and inadequate maintenance checks compromising safety, these shortcomings were addressed following the incident.[56]

In order to extend the type's service, six ex-South African SA 330L were purchased by Britain in 2002.[57] An extensive upgrade of the RAF's Pumas, the Puma HC Mk2, began deliveries in late 2012;[58] this programme of upgrading the aging Puma fleet is expected to enable the aircraft to remain in operational service until 2025. In 2008, the original intention was to upgrade 30 aircraft,[59] this was subsequently cut to 22,[60] and has been revised upwards for a total of 24 HC Mk2 Pumas to be produced.[61]


One of the largest and prominent operators of the type was Bristow Helicopters, where the Puma was regularly used for off shore operations over the North Sea.[8][62] during the 1970s, Bristow had sought to begin replacing their Sikorsky S-61 helicopters, the Puma was selected after a highly competitively-priced bid had been made by Aerospatiale; Puma G-BFSV was the first of the type to enter service with Bristow.[63] From 1979 onwards, the Puma formed the mainstay of the Bristow fleet;[64] the type took over the duties of Bristow's retiring Westland Wessex helicopters in 1981.[65] In 1982, Bristow introduced the more powerful Super Puma into service, supplementing their then-total fleet of 11 SA 330J Pumas.[66]


Portuguese Air Force Puma during a Space Shuttle recovery exercise at Lajes Air Base, Azores in 2004

French Army Puma at RIAT 2010

External video
French Army Puma during an exercise
In-cockpit view of a SA 330J flight
Spanish Air Force SA 330 Puma performing at an airshow in 2011

Aérospatiale versions

SA 330A
Prototypes, originally called "Alouette IV".
SA 330B
Initial production version for the French Army Light Aviation. Powered by 884  kW (1,185 hp) Turbomeca Turmo IIIC4 engines. 132 purchased by France.[67]
SA 330 Orchidée
SA 330 modified to carry an Orchidée battlefield surveillance radar system with a rotating underfuselage antenna, for the French Army. One demonstrator was built, flying in 1986. The Orchidée programme was cancelled in 1990, but the prototype rushed back into service in 1991 to serve in the Gulf War, leading to production of a similar system based on the Eurocopter Cougar.[68]
SA 330C
Initial export production version. Powered by 1,044 kW (1,400 hp) Turmo IVB engines.[69]
SA 330E
Version produced by Westland Helicopters for the RAF under the designation Puma HC Mk. 1.
SA 330F
Initial civilian export production version with Turbomeca Turmo IIIC4 turboshaft engines.[70]
SA 330G
Upgraded civilian version with 1175 kW (1,575 hp) Turbomeca Turmo IVC engines.[70]
SA 330H
Upgraded French Army and export version with Turbomeca Turmo IVC engines and composite main rotor blades. Designated SA 330Ba by the French Air Force. All surviving French Army SA 330Bs converted to this standard.[70]
SA 330J
Upgraded civil transport version with composite rotor blades and with higher maximum takeoff weight.[71]
SA 330L
Upgraded version for "hot and high" conditions. Military equivalent to civil SA 330J.[71]
SA 330S
Upgraded SA 330L (themselves converted from SA 330C) version for the Portuguese Air Force. Powered by Turbomeca Makila engines.[71]
SA 330Z
Prototype with "fenestron" tail rotor.[72]

Versions by other manufacturers

Atlas Aircraft Corporation Oryx
This is a remanufactured and upgraded SA 330 Puma built for the South African Air Force.
This is a version that was assembled by IPTN of Indonesia under the local designation NAS 330J and the Aerospatiale designation of SA 330J. Eleven units were produced.
IAR 330
This is a licence-built version of the SA 330 Puma manufactured by Industria Aeronautică Română of Romania. Designated as the SA 330L by Aerospatiale.
IAR-330 Puma SOCAT
24 modified for antitank warfare.
IAR-330 Puma Naval
3 modified for the Romanian Navy, using the SOCAT avionics.
Westland Puma HC Mk 1
SA 330E equivalent assembled by Westland Helicopters for the RAF, first flown on 25 November 1970. Several similarities to the SA 330B employed by the French Armed Forces. The RAF placed an initial order for 40 Pumas in 1967, with a further eight attrition replacement aircraft in 1979.[50]
Westland Puma HC Mk 2
Modified Puma HC Mk1s, upgraded with more powerful Turbomeca Makila 1A1 engines, a glass cockpit and new avionics, secure communications and improved self-protection equipment.[58]


Military operators

Aérospatiale Puma of the 801 Squadron of Spanish Air Force.

RAF Puma HC1 at Royal International Air Tattoo 2009

A contracted Puma from Evergreen resupplies the USS Pinckney for the US Navy Sealift Command

A SA330C Puma of the Royal Moroccan Air Force

 Abu Dhabi
 Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Bundesgrenzschtuz - 2 x SA 330F, 4 x SA 330G, 17 x SA 330J[91]
 Ivory Coast

Philippine Air Force Puma greeted by US and Philippine Marines at Subic Bay

 South Africa
 United Kingdom

Specifications (SA 330H Puma)

Orthographically projected diagram of the SA330 Puma Line Drawing
External images
SA 330 Puma cutaway
SA 330 Puma cutaway from

Data from Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1976-77[121]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 3
  • Capacity: 16 passengers
  • Length: 18.15 m (59 ft 6½ in)
  • Rotor diameter: 15.00 m (49 ft 2½ in)
  • Height: 5.14 m (16 ft 10½ in)
  • Disc area: 177.0 m² (1,905 ft²)
  • Empty weight: 3,536 kg (7,795 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 7,000 kg (15,430 lb)
  • Powerplant:Turbomeca Turmo IVC turboshafts, 1,175 kW (1,575 hp) each


  • Never exceed speed: 273 km/h (147 knots, 169 mph)
  • Maximum speed: 257 km/h (138 knots, 159 mph)
  • Cruise speed: 248 km/h (134 knots, 154 mph) econ cruise
  • Range: 580 km (313 nm, 360 mi)
  • Service ceiling: 4,800 m (15,750 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 7.1 m/s (1,400 ft/min)


  • Guns:
  • Various others
  • Popular culture

    See also



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