First flown in November 1947, the 3 seat Hiller 360 was the first civilian helicopter to cross the United States. It was also employed by various branches of the U.S. military, which bought over 2,000 examples of the type.
The tremendous advantages offered by helicopters were obvious to the IAF's founders well before the formation of Israel in May 1948. During the War of Independence, helicopters could have ferried supplies to outlying settlements, evacuated wounded soldiers and even allowed the rapid deployment of ground troops. Yet despite repeated inquiries into the acquisition of a number of examples, fighter aircraft continued to dominate the IAF's shopping list, already very short because of a very limited budget.
The IAF finally begun operating helicopters in May 1951, when a pair of Hiller 360s arrived in Israel. Operated by the 100th light transport squadron out of Ramla, the Hillers were utilized to evaluate possible uses for helicopters in the IAF as well as pilot training and a little search-and-rescue. In December 1951 they provided flood relief to Kibbutz Palmahim (home to an IAF airbase since the 1970s), while on another occasion they rescued a police officer off a capsized boat. During their years in service, one Hiller was almost constantly in maintenance while the other suffered from severe electrical problems. In April 1954 they participated in the shooting of a film when one of the Hillers crashed into a sandbank after flying too low. The remaining Hiller 360 continued to fly until 1959 when it was retired.
Helicopter use by the IAF was still in its infancy by the mid 1950s, with only the light Hillers in service. In 1957 a delegation of Israeli officers was sent to observe the French usage of helicopters against the FLN rebels in Algeria, a delegation which included both air force and paratroops officers. Headed by the first helicopter squadron commander of the IAF, upon its return the delegation recommended the purchase of the Alouette II.
The first example to arrive in Israel was actually donated by a Jewish French woman on the condition that it be used for humanitarian missions only. It arrived in June 1957, transported by a Nord Noratlas and was given the serial 03. The donated Alouette was indeed used mainly for transport and evacuation, but on a number of occasions was used for more combative missions such as tracking infiltrating terrorists. For 4 years 03 was the only Alouette in service, until 1963 when it was joined by a further 3 examples from a failed local enterprise. A further dozen were purchased after the Six Days War of 1967, during which the Alouette proved its reliability and effectiveness. The Alouette II were phased out of service during the early 1970s with the arrival of the new Bell 206 JetRangers. They still took part in the 1973 Yom Kippur war, but May 1975 saw the retirement of the last nine examples, most handed over to Israel Aircraft Industries. IAI failed in its attempts to sell the old helicopters but this proved to be a blessing when Ezer Weizmann, former IAF commander, became Secretary of Defence in 1977. Upon his request for a helicopter that could serve him and that he could fly himeself, the Alouette II were returned to service. Two examples, 03 and 07, were salvaged from IAI and continued to serve the IAF until September 1982, when they were retired after spare parts began to run out. The last two Alouettes were flown to the IAF Museum at Hatzerim, where they are today.
Specification: Aerospatiale SE 313B Alouette II
Type: light general-purpose helicotper.
Powerplant: one Turbomeca Artouste II C6 turboshaft.
Performance: max speed - 115mph, ceiling - 7,050ft.
Weights: empty - 895kg, max weight - 1600kg.
Dimensions: rotor diameter - 10.20m, overall length - 9.70m, height - 2.75m.
The S-55, whose first flight took place on November 10th 1949, was the world's first certified transport helicopter, with both the power and capacity to carry large loads. It was also the first helicopter to fly the Atlantic and the first to be equipped with anti-submarine sonar and torpedoes. A total of 1,100 examples were built in the US while a further 550 examples were built elsewhere. The S-55 also took an important part in US operations during the Korean war.
The first two Israeli S-55s arrived in Israel shortly before operation "Kadesh" (the Suez campaign) in late 1956, but did not take any part in the fighting. Although helicopters of the same type were used by the British and French during their seizure of the Suez Canal, the IAF made no use of the type until the fighting had ended. Six more S-55 were purchased for the IAF in 1958 following the Suez campaign and the subsequent requirement for a troop transport. The helicopters also served as Search and Rescue (SAR) aircraft but were soon replaced by the Sikorsky S-58 when their engines proved unsuitable for Israel's humid climate. The type continued to fly maritime missions until it was finally retired from IAF service in 1963.
Specification: Sikorsky S-55
Type: three crew tactical transport and SAR helicopter.
Powerplant: one Wright R-130-3D Cyclone radial engine.
Performance: max speed - 180km, range - 570km, service ceiling - 3,231m.
Weights: empty - 2,380kg, max weight - 3,420kg.
Dimensions: length - 12.88m, height - 4.5m, rotor span - 16.15m.
The Bell 47 was the world's first helicopter to be granted US civil certification and was one of the world's most popular helicopters. Many Bell 47s continue to fly today though it has been many years since the last one rolled off the Bell production lines.
In 1965 Israel acquired 13 bell 47s to act as liaison, observation and targetting helicopters. The first helicopters arrived in Israel in September 1965 and the type entered service with the 123rd squadron at Tel-Nof, alongside Sikorsky S-58s. All 13 aircraft were in service during the Six Days War, in which the type was operated on all fronts and with great success. Following the war, all IAF Bell 47s were transfered to the newly formed 125th "light helicopters" squadron. The Bells served with the 125th for only a short time before being transferred to the IAF flight school, which had already been using the type for helicopter pilot training since 1966. The Bells was withdrawn from service in 1971, most examples sold off to private operators. Bell 47s were also among the first helicopters operated by the Israeli police force.
Specification: Bell 47G
Type: general purpose helicopter.
Powerplant: one Lycoming TVO-435.
Performance: max speed - 170km/h, service ceiling - 6,000m, range - 350km.
Weights: empty - 780kg, max takeoff - 1,300kg.
Dimensions: length - 9.63m, height - 2.83m.
Specification: Aerospatiale SA 342M Gazelle
Type: five crew attack helicotper.
Powerplant: one Astazou XIVM turboshaft with shrouded anti-torque tail rotor.
Performance: max speed - 174mph, ceiling - 13,450ft.
Weights: max weight - 2000kg.
Dimensions: rotor diameter - 10.50m, overall length - 11.97m, height - 3.19m.
Armament: 2 * 7.62mm or one GIAT 20mm gun, up to 6 HOT missiles , two AS.12 missiles or two pods of 68mm rockets.
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