Aircraft of the Month
The Westland Wessex was a turbine-powered version of the Sikorsky S-58, developed under licence for the Royal Navy and later the RAF.
The Wessex HAS 1 first flew in 1958 and entered service with the Royal Navy for anti-submarine duties in 1961. A second naval version powered by 2 x Rolls Royce Gnome turbo-shaft engines, the HU5, was designed as a utility troop transport capable of carrying 16 fully equipped marines. Thereafter, a number of modifications to the HAS 1 led to the much-improved HAS 3 which saw embarked service with County Class Destroyers from 1967. Armament for both AS versions included Aerospatiale SS11 and AS12 missiles and 2 x 7.62 mm General Purpose Machine Guns. Alternatively, the HAS3 could carry 2 x Mk 44 or Mk 46 homing torpedoes or 4 x Mk 11 depth charges. The Wessex saw operational service during the Falklands campaign in 1982, one aircraft being seriously damaged near San Carlos Water and a second lost when an Exocet destroyed HMS Glamorgan’s hangar.
The aircraft was developed as a general-purpose helicopter for the RAF, initially in 1962 as a troop carrier (the HC2), and shortly thereafter as the HAR2 in the search and rescue role. Moreover, two machines were converted to HCC4 standard for VVIP duties with the Queen’s Flight. As a measure of its longevity in service, the Wessex was one of the RAF’s main transport helicopters from 1962 until the final unit, No 84 Squadron, retired its aircraft at RAF Akrotiri in January 2003 a total of some 40 years.
The Wessex also served with six foreign countries and it is believed that a few remain flying with the Uruguayan Armed Forces today. A total of 347 were built for the Royal Navy and RAF and a further 20 commercial machines were operated by Bristow Helicopters.
Wessex HU5 XS511 is on loan to the Air Training Corps and held at Tangmere for safekeeping.