Sikorsky S-58 (H-34) Westland Wessex Development Aircraft, 1957

Like its predecessor, the Westland Whirlwind, the Wessex was a development of  a successful Sikorsky design.  Early in 1956, Westlands acquired an S-58 as a test bed for the installation of a light and powerful gas turbine engine to replace the S-58’s Wright piston engine. Only two and a half years after the S-58’s first flight in the UK, the initial UK-built Westland Wessex HAS.1s entered RN service as the first mass produced gas-turbine powered helicopter and the most advanced ASW platform in the world.

Westland Wessex HAS.1, 815 Sqn FAA, HMS ARK ROYAL, 1965

On its introduction to service in 1961, the gas turbine powered Wessex marked a step change in the Royal Navy’s anti submarine warfare capabilities.  It was the first Fleet Air Arm helicopter to be designed for ASW from the start, bringing a number of key improvements over its predecessor, the Whirlwind.

With advanced avionics, the ability to carry the latest NATO Mk.44 homing torpedoes and a US-sourced Bendix dipping sonar, its Napier Gazelle turbine provided far greater power and reliability at a lower weight than the conventional piston engine that powered the US Sikorsky H-34 from which the Wessex had been developed. Better still, its gas turbine engine allowed the RN’s carriers to dispense with flammable petroleum fuel and move to the far more stable, safer and easier to handle AVCAT.

The Wessex HAS1 was hugely successful, but naval technology was moving rapidly forward and it was soon obsolescent.  With the introduction in 1967 of a far more capable UK dipping sonar by the Plessey company a practical lightweight radar set and a more powerful engine, a new Wessex variant, the HAS3, was introduced.  A number of Mk.3s were converted from Mk.1s, with many of the rest being adapted for Search and Rescue duties, a role in which they continued until the late 1970s.

Westland Wessex HAS.3, 100 Flight, 737 Sqn FAA,

HMS ANTRIM, Falklands, 1982 - "Humphrey"

"Be pleased to inform Her Majesty that the White Ensign flies alongside the Union Jack in South Georgia. God save the Queen."

The Wessex was a Westland licence-built derivative of Sikorsky's S-58 Choctaw airframe. From 1960 it began to replace the Whirlwind (itself a licence built Sikorsky design) as the RN's primary ASW helicopter, and it was the first RN helicopter designed from the start as an ASW platform. Much larger than the Whirlwind, the main attraction of the Wessex lay in its development potential, starting with the replacement of its marginal US piston engine with the much more powerful 1450SHP Napier Gazelle engine (making it the world's first production gas turbine powered helicopter). Further improvements included an effective autopilot system that enabled greater ASW operation at night and in poor weather.

As the available power of the Gazelle engine increased to 1600SHP, Westland introduced the definitive ASW Wessex Mk3, with Radar, an advanced dipping sonar system, improved weapons fit, in-flight refuelling facilities (by hovering over any capable ship) and a sophisticated automatic flight control system, allowing it to hover safely over the sea, at night or in bad weather.

Although it began to be replaced in the early 1970s by the Sea King, Wessex HAS.3s remained in front line ASW service until 1983, embarked in the powerful County Class Destroyers (whose snug sideways-entry hangar had been specifically designed around the aircraft).

"Humphrey" at the FAA Museum

The Wessex 3's last operational deployment was during the 1982 Falklands War, when aircraft of 737 Sqn in HMS GLAMORGAN and ANTRIM played key roles. ANTRIM's Wessex 3, nicknamed "Humphrey" (for its camel-like hump), was the sole survivor of Operation PARAQUAT/PARAQUET's Fortuna Glacier assault, for which her pilot, Lt Cdr Ian Stanley RN, was awarded the DSO and Observer, Lt (later Rear Admiral) Chris Parry was Mentioned in Despatches. Humphrey subsequently took part in the co-ordinated attack and capture of the Argentine submarine Santa Fe, immobilising the submarine with her Mk11 Depth Charges.

Humprey currently resides in the FAA Museum at Yeovilton, still bearing shrapnel damage from the 1982 conflict.

Revell and Italeri have both issued this particular kit, which is generally very well formed, albeit with a few surprisingly basic faults. This one has a scratch built interior, weapons pylons and Mk11 depth charges, whilst the radome has been replaced with a better shaped item from an old Airfix Sea King kit. Link to Build Page

Westland Wessex V, 771 Sqn FAA, RNAS Culdrose 1984

Following the successful use of the Wessex Mk1 in the Commando Assault role, the RN commissioned Westland to develop a specific troop carrying aircraft for use by the Royal Marines. Fitted with more powerful twin Bristol-Siddeley/Rolls Royce Gnome engines (2x1250SHP) and able to be armed with machine guns, SS11, or AS12 missiles, or to carry 16 fully equipped Royal Marines, it entered service in 1963 and remained until gradually replaced by Sea King HC.4s in the early 1980s. HRH, The Prince of Wales qualified as a Wessex pilot with 707 Naval Air Sqn in 1974.

Wessex Vs saw their last RN service as shore based SAR and RFA based utility aircraft, whilst the RAF also adopted a variant of the Wessex V as a troop carrier and SAR aircraft. The RAF Royal Flight also operated the Wessex HCC.4 VIP variant as transport for the Royal Family from 1968 to 1998.

Matchbox. Although this same kit was issued by Revell with similar markings, these are a composite of various Modeldecal markings. The Matchbox kit is rather chunky and fiddly, but looks good when finished.

Westland Wessex V "Junglie", 845 Sqn FAA,

HMS HERMES - Kyerenia Evacuations, Cyprus 1974.

Matchbox again. Modeldecal markings.

on to Helos Part 3

Return to Helos Index

Links to Website Index:

Helos Index Early Helos Wessex Lynx Sea King Small Helos EH101 Chinook Puma Miscellaneous
#s58 #HAS1 #HAS3 #Culdrose

The Westland Wessex……….