Monday 22 June, a HeliOps’ Sea King landed at Leonardo in Yeovil, Somerset. The visit by HeliOps formed part of a commemoration celebrating the first flight of the XV666 ‘Damien’ aircraft by returning it to its place of manufacture as part of its 50th birthday celebrations.
“I can remember being the programme lead back in the mid-1990s when we delivered the final Sea King to the Norwegian customer. Seeing the helicopter today still in operation is testament to the team at Leonardo as we continue to build strong products for our UK and international customers for the long-term. Here at Leonardo, we’re continually investing in the future of UK rotorcraft engineering and I’m proud to see the Sea King still in flight performing its operations around the world,” commented Nick Whitney, MD of Leonardo Helicopters (UK).
Sea King – the majesty of the skies for over 50 years
The Westland Sea King first took to the skies in 1969. Over the course of the last five decades, the aircraft has proven to be trustworthy and reliable and has seen service with the UK MoD and eight international operators, with over 340 aircraft being delivered – it has not only stood the test of time but has bridged the gap to the latest-generation AW101 helicopter.
Today, there is a global fleet of more than 70 Sea King aircraft still active with six international operators. Whilst the helicopter’s key capabilities are bespoke to each respective customer, the Sea King’s mission roles include: troop transportation, search and rescue, anti-submarine warfare, airborne early warning, and anti-ship warfare.
Leonardo provides existing customers with comprehensive support services including: technical support, technical documentation, training, as well as maintenance working parties for repairs and upgrades and material support (spares, repair and overhaul).
The Sea King has enabled Leonardo to maintain its leadership in the military rotorcraft market and the next iteration of the aircraft has often been seen as the AW101 helicopter, originally the result of a collaboration between the UK and Italy on the future replacement of the Royal Navy’s and Italian Navy’s Sea King fleets.
On why the Sea King has proven to be so popular and is still being operated more than 40 years on, Christopher Williams, Head of Customer Service at Leonardo Helicopters (UK), explained that the aircraft’s versatility, reliability and ability to adapt to environmental and operational demands has helped with its continuous development and role adaption.
He said: “With a heritage evolving from the Westland Whirlwind and the Westland Wessex, combined with the flight control system developed by Leonardo Helicopters and Louis Newmark, the Sea King had a significant advantage over other similar platforms in terms of stability and capability in all-weathers.”
Currently, Norway operates ten Mk43 Sea Kings within its inventory and it is now expanding its fleet with AW101 helicopters. The Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security ordered 16 AW101 All-Weather Search and Rescue helicopters in 2013 and the government received its first AW101 in 2017.
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