The Aérospatiale Gazelle (aka SA 341) is a light transport helicopter of French origin. It was manufactured by Sud Aviation and later by Aérospatiale, Westland and SOKO. It was introduced in 1973 after first taking flight in 1967.
The Gazelle started development in response to a French Army requirement for a new light observation helicopter, a role that the Alouette III had been fulfilling up to that point. Originally the Gazelle would replace the Alouette in the same service role. However, during its development it was enlarged to make it more versatile and became better suited to a light transport role. Which is why we eventually got the five-seat helicopter we know today. Despite being fattened somewhat the Gazelle fulfilled its original light observation role as well as light transport and attack.
Thanks to the design concessions made, the Gazelle became attractive for export and proved to be quite popular in that regard. The civil version of the helicopter bore the designation SA-341G and was powered by an Astazou IIIA turboshaft engine.
Notably, he Gazelle was the first ever helicopter to be certified for single-pilot operation under Category I weather conditions and that has since been upgraded to Category II. A testament to its robust flight dynamics.
The Gazelle has made several appearance in popular culture. The 1982 film Dealy Encounter had one appear in it. The 1983 film Bue Thunder featured a heavily adapted unit, which was then also used for the TV series of the same name. However, it’s most famous appearance was most likely in Rambo III.
Production of the Gazelle ceased in 1996 and nearly 1800 were built, but actual civil use was rather limited. Civil versions were much more likely to end up as corporate transports or private helicopters. Military use is widespread and it is mainly the French, British, Bosnian, Egyptian and Lebanese armed forces that used them. The gazelle remains in active use today.