WESTLAND WESSEX

In the late 1950s, the British Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm placed a tender for a helicopter that could be used across a broad range of operations including anti-submarine warfare, marine reconnaissance and search and rescue.

The Royal Marines were also keen for the aircraft, or a variant of it, to be used as a troop transport and rapid deployment platform - operating from the navy’s amphibious assault ships

In 1956 a US built Sikorsky H-34 helicopter was provided to the British government to be used as a starting point in the development of a British sourced helicopter to be built under licence by Westland Aircraft.

Westland replaced the original piston-engine with a single Napier Gazelle turboshaft engine and after further modifications, an initial order of Wessex HAS.1s were delivered to the Royal Navy in 1961.

The Gazelle engine allowed for rapid starting and its turbo-charged output gave the Wessex a greater load carrying capacity whilst also making it quieter and significantly reducing traditional helicopter airframe vibration.

The RAF variant, the HC - 2 was a high-performance development of the Mk 1, with twin Bristol Siddeley Gnome turboshaft engines. 

Intended as an air transport, ambulance and general purpose helicopter, the HC-2 could carry 16 battle-equipped troops or a 4000lb underslung load (such as a 105mm Pak Howitzer) whilst also providing air to ground troop support with its Nord SS-11 anti-tank missiles and machine guns. 

The HC-2 began service with No 18 Squadron at RAF Odiham, in 1964, with 71 delivered and soon became a familiar sight on anti-terrorist operations in Northern Ireland, as well as supporting UN Peacekeeping forces in Cyprus.

With increasingly more sophisticated Soviet submarines taking to sea, the Royal Navy began replacing their original anti-submarine HAS 1s with an improved variant featuring additional radar capacity, more advanced electronics and weaponry systems as well as a power-plant upgrade to the same twin Gnome turboshaft engines that had been installed in the RAF's HC-2s.

Many of the original RN HAS 1’s were modified further with the addition of an ‘over-door' mounted winch designed for maritime and mountain search & rescue (SAR). These were operated by the RAF’s SAR units and kept on permanent standby around Britain - being able to respond to any emergency within 15 min, within 40 miles of the British coast. 

A 'commando assault' variant, the Wessex HU5, was also developed as a battlefield transportation helicopter.

Deployed from the RN's amphibious assault ships, the HU5’s twin Rolls-Royce Gnome engines provided nearly double the power of the original HAS1 model and significantly expanded the aircraft's operational range in a wider range of conditions.

Wessex squadrons often flew in support of British Army operations and in large-scale helicopter assault operations, they could be escorted by the RAF's Hawker Harriers.

This was most clearly demonstrated during the Falklands War in 1982 when 55 Wessex HU.5s accompanied the British landing forces in the South Atlantic.

On 21 May 1982, 845 Squadron's Wessex HU.5s supported British landings on East Falkland with the transportation and insertion of British special forces, including members of the Special Air Service (SAS) and the Special Boat Service (SBS). 

Nine Wessex (eight HU.5s and one HAS.3) helicopters were lost during the Falklands campaign. 

Two HU.5s of 845 Squadron crashed on the Fortuna Glacier in South Georgia during an attempt to extricate members of the SAS; six of 848 Squadron's Wessex HU.5s were lost when the container ship Atlantic Conveyor was sunk and the HAS.3 aboard HMS Glamorgan was destroyed when the ship was struck by an Exocet missile.

The Australian RAN had also been impressed with the Westland Wessex and in April 1961, had followed the British lead by selecting it to become their standard naval service helicopter. In September 1963, they received the first two of 27 Wessex Helicopters for anti-submarine patrols, evacuations and naval transportation duties.

This was a major shift for the RAN Fleet Air air who had been in the process of converting the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne to an anti-submarine platform.

In typical carrier operations, a Wessex would be deployed during the launch and recovery of fixed-wing aircraft as a guard helicopter and during anti-submarine patrols, one Wessex would remain airborne to actively screen the ship while a second fully armed helicopter prepared for operations. This twin role was used during troop transport deployments by HMAS Sydney in Vietnam during the 1960s.

Search and rescue missions became another valued role and in 1974, multiple Wessex helicopters participated in the relief efforts in Darwin in the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy.

With the retirement of the Australian aircraft carriers and a refocus on smaller, faster naval destroyers  the Wessex proved to be too large to operate from the new vessels and although retained as a supply and troop transport, it was eventually replaced by the smaller but more advanced Westland Sea King, retiring from service in 1989.

Britain’s RAF continued to operate their Wessex helicopters in a search & rescue capacity both in the UK and in Cyprus up until their retirement in 2003.

Many thanks to RAAF Gp Capt Nigel Ward for the use of some of these Wessex HC-2 images.

As well as offering either the standard 1/72 or larger 1/48 scale model to complete your Westland Wessex HC-2 Collectable Display, we are also delighted to be able to offer a rare and awesome, Super Scaled 1/32 model of this iconic RAF /RN helicopter. Click here for a quick look!

All Westland Wessex Instruments listed below come complete with detailed Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus Printed Fact Sheet featuring photo of instrument in aircraft cockpit.

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  • WESTLAND WESSEX HC-2 INCLINOMETER/SLIP INDICATOR

    Rare Westland Wessex HC-2 Inclinometer/Slip indicator

    $620.00
  • WESTLAND WESSEX HC-2 ANTI COLLISION TAIL LAMP

    Rare Westland Wessex HC-2 XR498 Anti-Collision Tail Lamp

    $980.00
  • WESTLAND WESSEX HC-2 EXHAUST TEMPERATURE GAUGE

    Weston 6A/6685 Exhaust Temperature Indicator installed in the British RAF...

    $790.00