THE WESTLAND WESSEX HELICOPTER: THE SOUND OF THE SEVENTIES IN THE NORTH SEA
The Westland Wessex was a British-built turbine-powered development of the Sikorsky H-34 helicopter. It was developed and produced under licence by Westland Aircraft (later Westland Helicopters). One of the main changes from Sikorsky’s H-34 was the replacement of the piston-engine powerplant with a turboshaft engine; the Wessex was the first large mass-produced helicopter designed around use of a gas turbine engine. The Wessex was initially produced for the Royal Navy and later for the Royal Air Force.
Bristow Helicopters Limited was established in June 1955 by Alan Bristow. From 17 February 1965 and onwards, it operated the Westland Wessex 60 ten-seat helicopter in support of North Sea Oil industry.
Westland built sixteen Wessex 60s, based on the RAF’s HC.2 model, for Bristow Helicopters, between 1965 and 1975. They serviced the expanding UK and overseas offshore oil and gas exploration sector.
The remarkable career of the Wessex in the North Sea was tarnished by a dramatic accident which occurred in Southern North Sea in August 1981.
On 13 August 1981 returning from the Leman field to the landing site at Bacton, Norfolk, the captain of a Bristow Helicopters Wessex, sent a distress message reporting that he was ditching due to engine failure. Three seconds later the aircraft was lost to radar. The crew consisted of the captain and a cabin attendant, plus 11 passengers.
A Royal Air Force Search and Rescue Westland Sea King left RAF Coltishall, sighting floating wreckage from the Wessex. There were no survivors.
Efforts to recover the wreck were delayed, meaning that the wreck was beyond recovery by the time salvage operations started. There was insufficient evidence to explain either the loss of power or loss of control that caused the aircraft to crash. Bristow withdrew the type after this accident.
Energy global news writer said: “Only the old drillers can remember the Wessex with its side turbine exhausts and the military style passenger’s cabin where you could see the pilot’s feet as the cockpit was located just above. Nice if we could board the Wessex again and hear the sound of the 70’s with the heart of our 20’s.”
(Source: Aviation Safety Network/Bristow/Wikipedia/HM friends – Image: Bristow Westland Wessex landing on Amoco 27 platform in Leman field in 1972)