In 1974, Aérospatiale commenced development of a new medium transport helicopter based on its SA 330 Puma, announcing the project at the 1975 Paris Air Show. While the new design was of similar layout to the AS 330, it was powered by two of the new and more powerful Turbomeca Makila turboshaft engines driving a four-bladed composite main rotor, and was designed to withstand damage better, with a more robust fuselage structure, a new crashworthy undercarriage and the ability to withstand battle damage to the rotor blades and other key mechanical systems. It was fitted with a ventral fin under the tail, a more streamlined nose compared with the SA 330, while from the start was planned to be available with two fuselage lengths, with a short fuselage version offering similar capacity to the SA 330, which gives better performance in “hot and high” conditions and a stretched version allowing more passengers to be carried when weight is less critical.
A pre-production prototype, the SA 331, modified from a SA 330 airframe with Makila engines and a new gearbox, flew on 5 September 1977. The first prototype of the full Super Puma made its maiden flight on 13 September 1978, being followed by a further five prototypes. Flight testing revealed that, in comparison with the SA 330 Puma, the AS 330 Super Puma had a higher cruise speed and range, in part due to the Makila engine having a greater power output and a 17% reduction in fuel consumption per mile; the Super Puma also demonstrated far superior flight stabilisation tendencies and was less reliant upon automated corrective systems. Development of the military and civil variants was carried out in parallel, including the certification process. The first civil model was delivered in 1981.
Production and improvements
In 1980, Aerospatiale had replaced the older SA 330 Puma with the newer AS 332 Super Puma as the firm’s primary utility helicopter. The AS 332 Super Puma proved to be highly popular; in between July 1981 and April 1987 there was an average production rate of 3 helicopters per month being built for customers, both military and civil. IPTN, an Indonesian aerospace company, also manufactured both the SA 330 and AS 332 under license from Aerospatiale for domestic customers; during the 1990s Iran also procured a number of Indonesian-built Super Pumas.
The Super Puma has proved especially well-suited to the North Sea oil industry, where it is used to ferry personnel and equipment to and from oil platforms. One of the biggest civil operators of the type is Bristow Helicopters, who have a fleet of at least 30 Super Pumas. By 2005, various models of Super Puma have been operated by 38 different nations for a wide variety of purposes; a total of 565 Super Pumas (including military-orientated Cougars) had been delivered or were on order at this point as well.
The success of the AS 332 Super Puma led to the pursuit of extended development programs to produce further advanced models; features included lengthened rotor blades, more powerful engines and gearboxes, increases in takeoff weight, and modernised avionics. A wide variety of specialised Super Puma variants followed the basic transport model into use, including dedicated Search and rescue (SAR) and Anti-submarine warfare (ASW) versions. Military Super Pumas have been marketed as the AS532 Cougar since 1990. As a fallback option to the NHIndustries NH90, a Mark III Super Puma was also considered for development.