The Bristol Belvedere was a twin-engine military helicopter designed to operate in the troop transport, freight carrying and casualty evacuation roles. Based on a cancelled civilian design and 2 x naval variants, also cancelled, the prototype first flew on 5th July 1958 and the production version, the Belvedere HC Mk 1, entered service with No 66 Squadron at RAF Odiham in 1961.
The aircraft retained some of the design features of the naval variants. The engines were placed at each end of the fuselage thereby precluding a rear access ramp and forcing the main passenger/cargo door to be positioned forward, some 4 ft above the ground – hardly ideal for loading/unloading. On the other hand, the machine boasted a very useful payload of 6,000 lbs which translated into 30 seated passengers, 19 fully equipped troops or 12 stretchered casualties plus 3 seated personnel. An external freight hook permitted an under-slung load of 5,250 lbs.
In addition to No 66 Squadron, the Belvedere also equipped Nos 26 and 72 Squadrons. It saw service in Europe, and the Middle and Far East, and was heavily involved in operations during the Aden Emergency and Indonesia/Malaya confrontation of the mid-1960s. Indeed, the aircraft’s heavy-lift and troop-carrying capability proved invaluable in support of ground forces during the Radfan campaign in South Arabia.
Unfortunately, the Belvedere suffered a number of problems, including a propensity to catch fire, and for this reason its service life was cut short. No 72 Squadron was re-equipped with the Wessex in 1964, No 26 disbanded at RAF Khormaksar, Aden, in 1965 and No 66 Squadron disbanded in 1969. A total of only 26 aircraft were built of which 7 were lost in accidents. Three survivors are on display at Helicopter Museum in Weston-Super-Mare, the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, and the RAF Museum, Hendon.