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. This helicopter was designed to accept two different engines: a Lycoming engine for the North American market and a Turbomeca engine for the rest of the world. The drivetrain for the AS350D uses the Honeywell (Lycoming) LTS101-600 engine and has a three-bladed composite rotor head and blades. In addition, the 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, one or 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. The AS350D, also referred to as the AStar, was initially well received by the operators. However, as with other helicopters with this Lycoming engine, the engine reliability problems quickly dampened the enthusiasm.
The AS350D had its first flight in 1974, was certificated at the end of 1977 and was in production from 1978 until 1984. Approximately 105 AS350Ds are in commercial service, primarily in Canada and the U.S.