Warbirds Online recently visited the Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour Sydney NSW to photograph the beautifully restored Westland Wessex helicopter, an Mk31A/B serial N7-216 WA216. This is one of 27 Wessex Helicopters operated by the RAN from 1962 until retirement of the type in 1989. This is a long time for a naval helicopter fleet and the type also suffered a very low attrition rate which is unusual given Naval Helicopters lead a very hard life in very difficult operating conditions.
N7-216 was built in the UK at Westland’s at Yeovil UK in 1963 and was used as a standard service helicopter from ships for anti-submarine patrols, casualty evacuations, and fleet communications duties. The aircraft served with all 4 RAN squadrons over its time in service and operated from Aircraft carriers HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Sydney. It also participated in many civilian searches and natural disaster relief missions. The aircraft was retired with the remaining Wessex in December 1989 and almost immediately made available to the Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbor Sydney NSW. The aircraft is absolutely immaculate externally and it is totally complete internally. It was recently announced however that as of October 2016 the Museum is in discussion with the Fleet Air Arm Museum (FAAM) with a view to returning the Wessex to Nowra and replacing it with a Seahawk Bravo. So there could be a move afoot for this aircraft – we will await developments and see if N7-216 returns to the Nowra FAAM.
During Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, four Wessex helicopters were assigned to the former aircraft-carrier HMAS Sydney, which had been converted to a fast transport, ferrying troops and equipment to Vung Tau on some 24 occasions, escorted by other ships, including HMAS Melbourne in 1965 and ‘66.
The Wessex was a development of the American-built S-58 but replaced the American Wright Cyclone piston engine with a UK developed Napier Gazelle turboshaft engine and as such was the turboshaft engine powered Helicopter to go into volume production. In this respect the Wessex is a milestone type. It was also well equipped with anti-Submarine detecting and anti-Submarine torpedo offensive capability and had a large transport capability. The Wessex can be said to be the first fully capable Naval Helicopter and with its turboshaft engine was at the cutting edge of innovation.
- Crew: Two pilots (civilian type 60 Wessex cleared for single pilot operation
- Capacity: 16 troops or 8 stretchers
- Length: 65 ft 10 in (20.07 m)
- Rotor diameter: 56 ft 0 in (17.07 m)
- Height: 15 ft 10 in (4.83 m)
- Disc area: 2,463 ft² (229 m²)
- Empty weight: 8,340 lb (3,767 kg)
- Loaded weight: 13,500 lb (6,136 kg)
- Powerplant: 2 × de Havilland Gnome H.1200 Mk.110/111 turboshaft, 1,350 shp (1,007 kW) (limited to 1,550 shp (1,156 kW) total) each
- Maximum speed: 132 mph (115 knots, 213 km/h)
- Cruise speed: 122 mph (106 knots, 196 km/h)
- Range: 310 mi (270 nmi, 499 km) with standard fuel
- Service ceiling: 12,000 ft (3,660 m)
- Rate of climb: 1,650 ft/min (8.4 m/s)
© John Parker 2017