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Search And Rescue Helicopters
Wessex - Gone but not forgotten
Externally immaculate in their bright yellow livery, internally the Wessex showed signs of a long and productive working life stretching back many years.
Fresh in from a training mission over Snowdonia, a Wessex is immediately refuelled from one of the many bowsers at the base. RAF Valley is only a few minutes flying time from the mountains of Snowdonia and the beaches of North Wales, a popular tourist area for mountaineering and water sports. It is these pursuits that provide the rescue service with most of its 'trade'.
The nose of the Wessex swings forward to reveal the twin engines, here being checked moments after recovery by a technician. The Wessex has an excellent safety record, assisted no doubt by the twin engine design. The engines are Rolls Royce Gnome gas turbines producing 1,320 Shaft Horse Power each.
The engines slope diagonally upwards from the air intake towards the pilot's cabin. Drive is sent to the main rotor assembly above the passenger area, where the gearbox is fixed to the aircraft by just four bolts. A long shaft runs directly from the gearbox to the tail rotor. The passenger cabin is capable of holding up to 15 survivors with a low fuel state. The Wessex crew comprises a pilot, a navigator/winch operator, and a winchman.
The pilots sit high up above the engines and set forward from the passenger cabin. Instrumentation has recently been upgraded to allow the use of Night Vision Goggles, improving the aircraft's ability to work in arduous conditions. Having navigated to the scene of the rescue, the winch operator will assist the winchman as he is lowered down to the scene, relaying instructions to the pilot. The helicopter will often be asked to hover in high winds over the sea, or in vicious downdrafts close to mountainsides. Training takes place most days in and around the base, and of course in the nearby mountains. There is a winch on the starboard side of the aircraft which swings out above the side door. It can extend 300 feet, and one of the ground crew's jobs after it has been used is to pull the entire length out horizontally on the pan and rewind, washing down the cable to remove salt water. As the cable is wound out, a reinforced glove is worn by a technician, wiping the cable with a rag. On the way back in again the cable is lubricated with PX-24 to help protect it.
The tail unit is hinged to allow the aircraft to take up
less hanger room. Drive from the main gearbox to the tail
rotor is transmitted through a coupling in this assembly.
A failure in this component was discovered to be the cause
of a tragic accident to befall one of Valley's helicopters.
On August 12th 1993 while flying over Snowdonia, Wessex XR524
suffered a complete tail rotor failure. The pilot managed
to avoid a nearby town before ditching the aircraft into a
lake, Llyn Padarn. Sadly, of the seven on board, three lost
their lives and the others were seriously injured.
Wessex HC Mk2 statistics