HKP 2 – The French lark
A new machine with many innovations
It was not until the 1950s that the helicopter made its breakthrough, and the engineers at the French company Sud Aviation started to design a new light helicopter. Until that time, helicopters had been powered by heavy piston engines. Engineer Joseph Szydlowski, who founded the Turbomeca company, had succeeded in developing a lightweight gas turbine engine that suited installation in a helicopter. The result was the SE 3130 Alouette (Lark) II. The first flight of the prototype took place on 12 March 1955 and very quickly proved the advantages of the turbine engine for helicopters, compared with the older piston engine. A particular advantage was the ability to fly at extreme heights.
One of the projected tasks was rescue operations in the Alps and even before this helicopter had entered service, on the 3rd of July 1956 the first mountain rescue mission ever by helicopter had been carried out. A climber who had suffered a cardiac arrest at a height of 4,000 metres (13,000 feet) was picked up and transported to the nearest hospital. The Alouette II had demonstrated its capability, and thus began what would become one of the helicopter’s most important tasks, namely rescue missions from difficult terrain.
However, the French Army and Navy could see other possibilities for helicopters besides transportation and rescue. The French Navy armed its helicopters with torpedos and depth charges for operations against enemy vessels and submarines.
The French were also well ahead in the development of anti-tank missiles, and the first helicopter to carry a total of four SS.11 type missiles was the Alouette II. These were probably the first armed helicopters.