January 2015

Jan 2015Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Cheetah
Licensed-built Aérospatiale SA 315 Lama
First flight: March 17, 1969 (Lama)

The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Cheetah is a 5-seat light utility helicopter for observation, liaison and SAR duties by the Indian Air Force, Navy, Army and Coast Guard.

In June 1962, the Indian government signed a licensing agreement with Sud Aviation (later Aerospatiale and now Airbus Helicopters) to fulfill a need by the Indian Air Force (IAF) for light helicopters. The SA 316 Alouette III – called the HAL Chetak – was ordered in January 1965, with indigenous production from raw materials beginning in 1969. In September 1970, a second license was signed; this was for production of the SA 315B Lama, which combined the Alouette II airframe with Alouette III powerplant and rotor system for improved high altitude capabilities. The first delivery of the aircraft – dubbed the HAL Cheetah – to the Indian Army was in 1976-77.

To date, HAL has produced some 347 Chetak and 275 Cheetah helicopters for the Indian military, as well as state governments, civilian operators and export customers. HAL has also overhauled over 200 of the helicopters and conducted more than 75 Category B repairs to return aircraft to service. There are still nearly 400 of the aircraft in service with the Indian military. According to HAL, as of February 2009, there were 45 Cheetahs operated by the IAF and 127 by the Indian Army. In addition, there were 87 Chetaks still flying with the IAF, 55 with the Army, 64 with the Navy and 17 with the Coast Guard. Manufacture of the Cheetah continues, with assembly and overhaul of the legacy helicopters now being carried out at HAL’s plant in Barrackpore, in the state of West Bengal.

HAL formed its Helicopter Division in July 1970, and its design bureau (now the Rotary Wing Research & Design Centre) was inaugurated in 1973; a dedicated manufacturing facility opened in July 1974. HAL created derivatives of the Chetak (the Chetan) and the Cheetah (the Cheetal and Lancer). The Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) was the first all-new helicopter designed and developed by HAL.

(Photo by Dr. Ashish Bagai; text by Mike Hirschberg)

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