By Staff Writer | February 1, 2016

The Alouette III had been in service for more than 50 years with the Dutch air force until its retirement in December.

The Aérospatiale Alouette III served more than 50 years with the Royal Netherlands Air Force, demonstrating the helicopter’s reliability and versatility.

The aircraft’s operational capabilities by the time it was introduced were many times greater than the available helicopters up to that point. It had more applications, from search and rescue and tactical air rescue to transportation of cargo and passengers. At one point, Dutch defense forces were major users of the type, with no less than 77 in service among three squadrons. It was called Leeuwerik (Skylark), or otherwise known as the Alouette.



Army Support

From 1964, when the first of this batch arrived at Soesterberg Air Base, the aircraft began its operational life with the “groep lichte vliegtuigen” (or lightweight airplanes). These acted in support of the army, which provided a budget while air force pilots manned the helicopters. Its major tasks were tactical and comprised observation flights at low levels above the battlefield and hiding among trees in small areas to serve as the eyes of the tank force. The Alouette III fit perfectly in this role, which was a product of typical Cold War thinking.

The Alouette III also was used in a variety of other tasks, like liaison, VIP and even medevac and SAR flights. For the last role, a few were specially converted with a winch in the door and some with two pylons.


The Inevitable Reduction

The cockpit views were a favorite of Queen Beatrix in the Alouette’s VIP transport configuration.

During the 1990s, the terms of warfare were rapidly changing, and the Alouette III was becoming obsolete. Other helicopters then came into service. Cougars and Chinooks took over most of the work, and a group of Bolkow Bo-105 helicopters began supplementing the Alouette III. The SAR role was transitioned many years ago to the Lynx helicopters of the Navy. Out of all older airframes that were taken out of service, about 35 remained in 1995. Further reductions three years later left only nine. The Bolkow 105s eventually left the scene, surprisingly much earlier than anticipated due to defense cuts.

One of the main advantages of the Alouette III was its reliability and somehow pretty comfortable flying characteristics. The cockpit windows provided a great view of the outside. This is why it became a favorite of Queen Beatrix for her VIP transport. It is said that she had much influence on the decision to soldier on with the type.


In its Dutch-flag paint scheme, the Alouette was known as the “Grasshopper”.


During its years of service, the Alouette saw deployments in international crises like those in Tunisia in 1970, Turkey/Northern Iraq in 1991 during the Gulf War, the former Yugoslavia with NATO’s Implementation Force in 1996 and Cambodia in 1992 to 1993. During several operations, the Alouettes flew in U.N. white-painted configuration. Special versions included its most famous: a design painted in the Netherlands’ flag colors of red, white and blue.

Meanwhile, the Alouette was tasked with playing a role as forward air controller, learning how to operate in the field. The Alouette’s former tasks on tactical levels shifted from Cougars and Chinooks to the Apache and FACs on the ground.


Swiss Upgrade

Since 2004, four Alouettes remained in the Royal/VIP flight configurations, and they were upgraded by RUAG in Switzerland to extend life service. They then were incorporated in the Defense Helicopter Commando at Gilze Rijen. About 10 pilots and 10 technicians were assigned to fly and maintain the Alouette in this period. Nearly 400,000 hr in total were flown by the Alouettes, with only a few accidents due to mechanical failure.

The Alouette’s parting ceremony was held Dec. 15.

Water blasts shower the Alouette during its Royal Netherlands Air Force “Last Flight” ceremony Dec. 15, 2015.




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