Cosford’s helicopter tribute to RAF 100
Welcome to this latest edition of Aerodrome and our regular delve into the fascinating world of aeroplanes and the historic aviation scene in the UK. This coming weekend will see the final major Airshow of this significant RAF centenary year taking place, as the Imperial War Museum Duxford plays host to a show which should be one of the highlights of the 2018 season. Boasting strong RAF participation and one of the largest gatherings of Spitfires and Hurricanes on the same airfield since the end of the Second World War, the event is a complete sell out and if you have not already secured your ticket, there will be no point heading to the airfield, as no tickets are available on the day. Everyone will be keeping a close eye on the weather and hoping that the efforts of the display organising team at Duxford is rewarded with fair conditions, as they have put together what looks like being a cracking show. Aerodrome will be in attendance for both days of the show and we look forward to bringing you a full review in a future edition of our blog.
For this 103rd edition of Aerodrome, we stay with the RAF 100 theme and head back to RAF Cosford for a second look at their magnificent tribute event to this centenary year for the Royal Air Force. Proving to be one of the most memorable events of the year, the Cosford show boasted so many aviation highlights that it will probably keep us going right through the winter months with regard to future blog content, however, for this latest review, we are going to be looking at the impressive line up of helicopters in attendance at this year’s show. With aircraft representing the earliest days of British helicopter development, through to the very latest machines to enter RAF service on show, Cosford 2018 will be remembered as a special year for anyone with an interest in rotary aviation, especially as several significant European based helicopters had been added to the programme. In a photo rich review, we will see how this fine selection of helicopters proved to be a memorable feature of the show and combined to present a fitting rotary tribute to the RAF’s historic anniversary.
A display of distinction
Cosford’s Search and Rescue sentinels are positioned for display on the Friday prior to the show, as part of an impressive rotary air power contingent
Even though the centenary year of the Royal Air Force held the prospect of producing one of the most memorable Airshow seasons for many a year, the annual show at RAF Cosford quickly revealed itself to be one event enthusiasts would not want to miss, with organisers revealing their ambitious plans for their RAF 100 commemoration early in the new year. At the centre of their plans was an impressive static display, which intended to chart the history of the Royal Air Force and could involve up to 100 aircraft. This number would be made up of aircraft from airfields and museums all around the UK – they were even intending to allow some of the museums priceless aviation exhibits to be moved from the safety of their hangars on out onto the airfield for one very special weekend. This alone made Cosford 2018 an event not to be missed, but as the weeks passed and the show weekend approached, it seemed as if new additions to both the flying and static displays were being announced with each passing week and held the potential of elevating this show to almost legendary status. With fine weather forecast for show day and very few cancellations from the impressive programme that had been circulated in advance, I think Cosford 2018 will be regarded by many who attended as something of a ‘classic’ Airshow and certainly managed to produce many display highlights and memorable photo opportunities.
It is always nice to catch up with one of my old friends from the Gazelle Squadron
For the purposes of this latest review, we are going to be looking at the rotary contribution to the show, a feature which was overlooked by most people in advance of their show attendance, but one which proved to be particularly memorable. The helicopter displays on the airfield took a number of different guises, including RAF Museum aircraft outside and forming part of the static display, aircraft transported from other museums specifically for this event and airworthy aircraft flown in from the RAF, Royal Navy, overseas air arms and civilian operators, all taking their place in a stunning static display. On the other side of the airfield, helicopters scheduled to take part in the Airshow were positioned on the live side and only visible from behind the crowd barriers, but essentially forming part of both the static and flying helicopter displays. In reviewing Cosford Airshow’s rotary delights, I intend to purposely make this feature image heavy and description light, as these beautiful machines really do speak for themselves, however, with one very special helicopter proving to be a significant show attraction, there really is only one place for us to start.
Bristol 171 Sycamore
As the only flying Bristol Sycamore in the world, this early British helicopter would be a definite show highlight for many
If helicopters are your thing, then the chance to see the only flying Bristol Sycamore in the world would have seen you booking your Cosford ticket as soon as its attendance was announced. This early British machine really is a classic and heralds from design work started at the end of the Second World War – as a consequence, this could easily be described as first generation helicopter technology and an aircraft which paved the way for today’s impressive and incredibly versatile machines. With the huge potential possessed by rotary aircraft, the race to produce a helicopter robust and reliable enough for military service began before the end of WWII, but as fixed wing aviation was entering the jet age, helicopters were still very much in their infancy. Early machines were powered by noisy and relatively heavy piston engines, which generally dictated that these first helicopters were rather cumbersome aircraft and something of a challenge to fly. Without the technological innovations incorporated in modern designs, helicopter pilots would need some physical strength to tame these beasts and if you suffered from motion sickness, a helicopter ride was probably not something to look forward to, as the vibration from the main rotor could be significant. Slowly though, designers began to overcome many of these obstacles and the first practical helicopters started to enter service.
The Bristol Sycamore has the distinction of being the first British designed helicopter to be granted a certificate of airworthiness and the first to serve with the Royal Air Force. Despite still being a relatively primitive machine, it allowed the RAF to operate in areas where fixed wing aircraft simply could not and would go on to serve with nine RAF squadrons at the pinnacle of its career. Performing such roles as casualty evacuation, search and rescue, communications and supply delivery, the Sycamore could also deliver and extract troops into relatively inaccessible locations, particularly useful during jungle operations and in support of special forces missions. Powered by a noisy Alvis Leonides Mk.173 piston engine, the Sycamore has a unique sound that simply demands to be noticed and is quite befitting of an aircraft which has not been seen in British skies for over 40 years.
Sycamore selection. A UK Airshow has not been able to boast the appearance of an airworthy Bristol Sycamore for many a year, but Cosford’s RAF centenary show had that historic honour
This particular Sycamore was built at Bristol’s Weston-Super-Mare factory in 1957, making its first flight in February 1958. It was ordered by the West German Navy in VIP transport configuration and later went on to serve in a similar role with the German Air Force, until decommissioned in 1969. The aircraft eventually ended up in private ownership in Switzerland following the end of its military career, where even though it was maintained in good order, it was not in airworthy condition. A decision was made return the Sycamore to the skies once more and following an intensive ten year restoration programme, the aircraft made its first post restoration flight in July 2013. Now based in Austria, the Bristol Sycamore is owned and operated by the famous ‘Flying Bulls’ display team and is without doubt one of the aviation jewels in their impressive collection. The aircraft’s visit to the UK this year was a historic one and saw the world’s only flying example of the Sycamore returning to home skies for the first time in 46 years, coinciding with the significant centenary commemorations of the Royal Air Force. Scheduled to attend several UK Airshows as a high profile static exhibit, the Cosford crowds were treated to a flying display by this rare bird, a sight (and sound) which will live long in the memories of those lucky enough to see it.
Westland Whirlwind – the 'happy helicopter'
Always guaranteed to raise a smile, the Westland Whirlwind always appears to be a happy sort of aeroplane
Still representing a relatively early military helicopter type, but already illustrating how important rotary technology was becoming in the world of aviation, the Westland Whirlwind was a British licence built version of the American Sikorski S-55 which saw service initially with the Royal Navy and also later with the Royal Air Force. The Whirlwind is colloquially known as the ‘happy helicopter’ and it is not difficult to see why – looking at the helicopter from the front, its intake grilles give the appearance of a smiling mouth and nose, with the canopy windscreen looking like bulbous eyes, almost giving the aircraft a comical face-like profile. Although this certainly endears the Whirlwind to anyone who catches a glimpse of it and can usually be guaranteed to raise a smile, they are admiring an extremely capable aircraft and one which could claim to be amongst the first truly effective and increasingly versatile helicopters to enter military service.
Westland Whirlwind HAR.10 XJ729 (G-BVGE) is now an extremely rare aeroplane indeed and one which is a highlight performer at any event she is scheduled to appear. Currently the only airworthy Whirlwind HAR.10 in the world, she represents the early years of British helicopter technology and it is particularly interesting to see her performing alongside current rotary air power, such as the powerful Boeing Chinook and the sinister Apache – she certainly adds a touch of class to the proceedings. The aircraft has been finished in the striking yellow scheme of an RAF Search and Rescue Whirlwind, a role which this aircraft was performing during her final days of military service. Originally built as an HAR.2 aircraft, XJ729 was first flown from the Westland’s Yeovil factory on 18th January 1956 and just two months later, she was on strength with RAF No.22 Squadron, performing Search and Rescue duties from her home base at St. Mawgan. Patrolling the packed holiday beaches of Devon and Cornwall, these distinctively presented helicopters quickly became firm favourites with the British public, not just because they were the military aircraft most members of the public were likely to come across, but also because of their growing reputation for saving the lives of people finding themselves in perilous situations. In 1961, XJ729 went back to Westland Helicopters for upgrade to HAR.10 standard, before returning to RAF St. Mawgan the following year to continue her duties, a little more ably than she could previously. During an extensive service career, the aircraft also spent time operating from the RAF stations at Leconfield, Leuchars, Coltishall and Chivenor, before ending her career at the Search and Rescue Training Unit at RAF Valley, on the island of Anglesey.
Another classic British helicopter which is the world’s only airworthy example of its type, Westland Whirlwind HAR.10 XJ729 is now a firm favourite on the UK Airshow circuit and an early example of an RAF Search and Rescue aircraft
In classic Search and Rescue pose, the happy looking Whirlwind was one of the first truly practical helicopter designs to enter RAF service
Following withdrawal from service, XJ729 was sent to RAF Finningley, where she served as an instructional airframe, however, despite still performing an important service role, her condition began to quickly deteriorate from this point, due to the fact that she was left outside on the airfield, open to the elements. Looking very much the worse for wear, she was subsequently sold for scrap, a fate which claimed many aircraft which had previously served the country so faithfully. Thankfully, this was not to be the end of her story, as the aircraft was rescued from the clutches of the scrap man and underwent a concerted period of restoration, which culminated in a triumphant appearance in the static aircraft display at the 1995 Royal International Air Tattoo. Following her RIAT appearance, XJ729 was purchased by an Irish businessman and spent the next few years gracing Airshows and public events, until the expiration of her certificate of airworthiness in 2007. There then followed a period where the aircraft appeared to disappear from the historic aviation radar and it seemed as if she may have finally hung up her rotors for good.
They always say that you can’t keep a happy helicopter down (ok, I made that up) and in late 2013, news began to circulate about a possible return to flying condition for this classic British aircraft. With a new owner in England and following significant investment in his desire to see his new Whirlwind returning to the skies once more, XJ729 was granted a certificate of airworthiness in late November 2013 and started to appear at Airshow events during the following summer, initially as a static display item, but already building up a small army of devotees who were captivated by her stunning good looks and classic aviation status. Representing one of the most famous early helicopter types to see British service, this last airworthy example of the Whirlwind HAR.10 has gone on to become a regular and much-loved performer at events all over the country and despite her advancing years is regarded as an aircraft of real character and distinction.
Another unexpected aircraft in the static display was this distinctive RAF Whirlwind in UN markings, which is owned by the Yorkshire Helicopter Preservation Group
Not content with having one stunning example of the Whirlwind HAR.10 at Cosford 2018, the organisers also arranged to have this handsome machine transported from the South Yorkshire Air Museum to star in the RAF 100 static display, where she made quite an impression. XP345 served for several years attached to No.1563 Flight at Nicosia in Cyprus and was tasked with supporting UN operations during what was quite a troubled period in the island’s history. Following the end of its service career, the Whirlwind was maintained in a static display condition and is now one of the airframes owned by the Yorkshire Helicopter Preservation Group – she also has the distinction of being the only preserved helicopter in the UK to be presented in a United Nations scheme.
As an interesting aside to our pair of featured Whirlwinds, both of these magnificent aircraft have been immortalised in 1/72nd scale die-cast metal and have taking their place within the Corgi Aviation Archive model range.
Juno and Jupiter report for duty
One of the latest helicopters to come into RAF service is this Juno HT.1 of the Defence Helicopter Flying School
Replacing the Bell Griffin at RAF Shawbury, the Jupiter HT.1 is the larger of the two new Airbus manufactured RAF helicopters
At the opposite end of the British helicopter spectrum, Cosford 2018 also saw the attendance of two of the very latest types to enter service with the Royal Air Force, in the shape of the Airbus Helicopters Juno HT.1 (H135) and the slightly larger Jupiter HT.1 (H145). Replacing the RAF’s Squirrel and Griffin helicopters respectively, these new aircraft bring Royal Air Force helicopter flight training right up to date, adopting the latest technologies in what are considered two of the quietest aircraft of their type, minimising the impact of flight operations on communities close to their home base. Operating in the colours of the Defence Helicopter Flying School at nearby RAF Shawbury, these aircraft will become familiar to enthusiasts over the coming years, with the first RAF student pilot courses beginning earlier this year, as both the Juno and Jupiter embarked on their RAF careers. Boasting a full glass cockpit and the ability to accept upgrades to keep the aircraft at the forefront of helicopter training, both of these new helicopters are destined for long and active service careers, but it has yet to be seen if they will eventually be held in the same affection as either the Bristol Sycamore or the Westland Whirlwind.
Cosford rotary review
In this final section, we will be looking at some of the other helicopter highlights which featured in Cosford’s impressive RAF 100 show, both in the static aircraft display and taking part in the flying programme. With an event packed full of aviation highlights, few people would have been expecting the helicopter to play such a significant role in this celebration of the first 100 years of the RAF, however, it definitely proved to be one of the show’s aviation highlights. Proving there is more to the Royal Air Force than just Spitfires and Typhoons, this memorable collection of classic and contemporary helicopters ensured that rotary aviation was well represented at this celebration of the world’s oldest independent air force.
This classic helicopter was the star of a previous edition of Aerodrome and our memorable visit to the Gazelle Squadron during one of their crew training days
The epitome of rotary power, the Boeing Chinook is one of the most capable helicopters in service today
Keeping the Sycamore company, this MBB Bo105 CBS-4 was also representing ‘The Flying Bulls’ and gave one of the most agile flying displays of the day
This exotic overseas visitor came courtesy of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, who sent one of their new NH90 Naval Frigate Helicopters
With its attractive special markings, this Belgian Air Force Augusta A109 was one of the most photogenic helicopters at the Cosford RAF 100 show
Following on from the Whirlwind in RAF Search and Rescue service, the Westland Wessex proved to be a significant upgrade in capability and a truly exceptional aeroplane. Wessex HC.2 XR498 was the former ‘gate guardian’ at RAF St. Mawgan and arrived at Cosford for preservation during 2017
The final helicopter in RAF Search and Rescue service was the incomparable Westland Sea King, a true rotary giant. HAR.3 XZ596 only arrived at Cosford in April 2018, specifically so she could take her place in the station’s ambitious RAF 100 static display
I am afraid that’s all we have for you in this latest edition of Aerodrome, but we will be back as usual in two weeks’ time with more aviation related features for your enjoyment. If you have any ideas for a future edition of our blog, or if you would like to supply a feature of your own which will be of interest to our worldwide aviation readership, please send your suggestions to one of our regular contact e-mail addresses at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com where we will be only too pleased to hear from you.
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