Design of the AS350 family of light single-engine helicopters was started in the early 1970s as a successor to the SA 316 Alouette and the SA 341 Gazelle. The design was one of the first to be executed by the newly formed helicopter division of French aircraft manufacturer, Aerospatiale. Aerospatiale was formed in the early 1970s by combining most of the French government-owned aerospace companies, including Sud Aviation, which had been responsible for helicopter design and production. In the 1990s, the helicopter division of Aerospatiale was merged with the German MBB helicopter company to form Eurocopter. Today, Eurocopter is a division of EADS, a multinational European aerospace giant.
The AS350 was a completely new design that introduced several major innovations to the helicopter world, including the use of composites for the cabin structure, the rotor head as well as the blades. The helicopter was originally designed to accept two different engines (a Lycoming LTS 101 for the North American Market and a Turbomeca Arriel 1B for the rest of the world). However, the AS350 B3, was offered only with the Turbomeca engine as a result of customer preference. Cabin design incorporates a wide, unobstructed cabin as first used on the SA 316. The standard seating configuration has a pilot and one or two passengers up front and a four-place bench in the back. Alternatively, two litters can be placed longitudinally on the left side of the cabin, one on top the other. The helicopter is also approved for external lift work and the AS350 B3 is specifically designed for hot and high work. The AS350 series has proven to be very popular with all segments of the commercial helicopter industry. In addition, many law enforcement and military organizations have found it to be a cost-effective machine.
The name “Ecureuil” is used in the French-speaking world. The English translation of this name is “Squirrel”, which is used in the British-speaking portion of the world. And the name AStar, or just AS350, is used in the U.S. and elsewhere.
The first flight of the AS350 B3 was in 1997 and production started in 1998.
The drivetrain for the AS350 B3 (2B1) was upgraded in 2008 and now uses a Turbomeca Arriel 2B1 engine and a three-bladed composite rotor head and blades. The AS350 B3 differs from its stable mate, the AS350B2, by using an engine with significantly higher shaft horsepower. This provides the AS350 B3 with better hot and high performance than the AS350B2.