6-Dec-2016 Source: The Helicopter Museum
A team at The Helicopter Museum, led by engineering volunteer Eric Butt, has just completed a seven year project to restore a 66 year old Westland Wessex helicopter, originally used by the manufacturer as an avionics development aircraft and then, from 1968, operated by the Royal Navy for anti-submarine and maritime surveillance work.
Serialled XM328, the Wessex began life as an early Mk.1 before being converted to a Mk.3 for its varied service career, which included a six month deployment in Northern Ireland in early 1978 to support anti-terrorism activities, service in 1981 on fishing protection duties with HMS Antrim during the Icelandic “Cod War” dispute over fishing rights and a deployment on the same ship to the Falklands in 1982.
On 19th January 1984, XM328 and a sister ship carried out the last official flight of a Wessex Mk. 3 before later being sent by road to RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, to help train aircraft handlers in the skills of moving helicopters around the deck of a dummy aircraft carrier. By this time it had been stripped of most of its internal equipment and by 2004, when it was acquired by the museum, was beginning to suffer from external and internal corrosion. Pressure on the museum’s restoration facilities meant that it was another three years before the aircraft could be brought into the engineering hangar for serious restoration to begin
Over the next seven years the team went through the Wessex from nose to tail, removing corrosion, replacing damaged parts from a second Wessex Mk.3 used as a donor aircraft and searching for missing equipment. In the end two camping sites became unlikely sources. The owner of a Wessex being converted in Ditchling, East Sussex to a holiday home donated a rescue winch and various avionics black boxes, whilst the much sought after sonar equipment came from a “glamping conversion” of a Sea King helicopter, being carried out by a campsite owner in Stirling. In both instances volunteers sallied forth to dismantle and remove the spoils before re-installing them on XM328. In Scotland they arrived just in time to stop the new owner cutting through the Sea King floor and into the fuel bays underneath, which still had fuel in. He had no idea!
Finally in late 2016, the team re-fitted the rotor blades in the folded position, and moved XM328 into the main display hangar before beginning to consider their next project. This is likely to be the museum’s Queen’s Flight Whirlwind
Mk.12, which needs some treatment for corrosion, but it could be another version of the Wessex in the collection, which also need some TLC!