While rotors over Gloucestershire are not a new phenomenon, the severe flooding of the River Severn valley in July 2007 created a new bond between those afflicted by the rising waters and the century-old helicopter, most specifically in the form of the Westland Sea King.
Before blue plastic bowsers on street corners, soldiers handing out bottled water and battery transistor sets tuned to BBC Radio Gloucestershire became icons of the civil emergency, one of my enduring images was of big yellow helicopters hovering over Tewkesbury, searching for survivors trapped on rooftops while being filmed from above by aircraft gathering national news.
Or as Richard Crosby wrote to The Citizen on Thursday 2 August:
“For those who constantly knock the activities of Gloucestershire Airport, I would like to point out and congratulate the staff at Staverton on their efforts during the flood crisis.
On Friday night the senior air traffic controller, Darren Lewington, and his team, the fire crew and all the other staff involved kept the airport open all night as a centre for the search and rescue helicopters. On the Saturday there were four RAF Sea Kings, one Coastguard Sea King, the Police, Air Ambulance, rail, pipeline and power inspection helicopters constantly on the go and all requiring fuel and food. The RAF mountain rescue team sent a radio communications vehicle along to help co-ordinate communications.
During the week they were joined by the Royal Navy and the Army Air Corps helicopters, a true multi-force operation. The airport had its own problems with the main runway flooding, power cuts and the water rapidly running out.
So much fuel was consumed that they had to have a delivery of fuel at 4.00am on Sunday. By Thursday they had dispensed over 60 000 litres.
On the first Saturday, desperate for fresh fire crew, Chief Fire Officer Ron Johnson called one of his team based in Tewkesbury. His response was ” If you need me, you’ll have to come and get me as I can’t get there by road”. The RAF duly obliged, airlifting him in.
The Aviator Restaurant, which was going to have to close with no water, has been able to remain open in order to feed the crews and staff.
As the week progressed Severn Trent Water was desperate for space for the tanker and bowser fleet for the area, so the airport offered a chunk of space to the north side including part of a runway.
On Saturday evening, with the weather forecast promising even more rain, the airport fire station became a temporary animal shelter as the nearby BJ Kennels, who had been severely affected by previous floods, were given space. Thanks again to Gloucestershire Airport.”
I spent the final six days of July 2007 on a pre-planned holiday in theLake Districtbut the internet and national newspapers kept me informed about the situation back home – not least the anti-social behaviour of those trying to poison bowser supplies or profiteer from the shortage of potable water.
However, although I was hundreds of miles away from Gloucestershire’s inundation I did get a chance to take a close look at one of those big yellow Westland Sea Kings that had just been flown north from the swollen Severn on yet another mission. As luck would have it, XZ589 was one of the star attractions at the 2007 Windermere Air Show. This article is my appreciation of the rotorcraft as written at the time.
As discussed in Rotors over Gloucestershire, helicopters first took over the job of air/sea rescue from flying boats at the end of World War II and the Westland Sea King has a proud lineage from a helicopter that was used to rescue the ultimate downed aviators – the astronauts who walked on the Moon.
As much a part of Project Apollo as the Saturn V rocket or the Lunar Module was US Navy Sikorsky SH-3D number 66 that plucked the astronauts from their splash-downed Command Module and carried them back to a heroes welcome ( and quarantine in some cases! ) on a nearby aircraft carrier. Usually the ride aboard Sea King 66 was long enough for the astronauts to shave in readiness to meet the Navy brass, if not President Richard Nixon himself! Indeed, a Sikorsky S-61 served for many decades in the fleet of helicopters available to the President of the United States and was operated by the US Marine Corps. This rotorcraft was known as “Marine One” when the President was aboard.
From the point of view of operation and design though, the Sikorsky SH-3D had been ordered for the US Navy as a submarine hunter – equipped with sonar, depth charges and torpedoes – and as a troop transport as well as a search and rescue machine.
The S-61 marked a break from the previous Sikorsky S-55 and S-58 designs ( which in turn inspired the Westland Whirlwind and Wessex helicopters respectively ) by the movement of its engine from the nose to the roof, directly under the rotor. This allowed pilot to be on the same level as the passengers and/or payload and also nearer the ground for access purposes.
Aerospatiale’s Puma, Cougar and Frelon series of helicopters in particular took up this format, although the S-61 was also Sikorsky’s first amphibious helicopter. Just as earlier, smaller helicopters had sometimes been fitted with floats to let them land on water like seaplanes, the S-61 featured a boat-shaped hull and wheeled, braced, stabilizing floats on each side – making it more analogous to a flying boat. However, as the hull of the S-61 was only designed to remain watertight for a limited period of time, landing on water was only an emergency option.
The twin engined Sikorsky S-61 ( known by the US Navy as the SH-3D ) first flew on 11 March 1959 and was also licence built in Canada, Japan and Italy.
The Westland Sea King was based on the Sikorsky S-61D and was initially produced in the HAS 1 and 2 anti-submarine variants for the Royal Navy and the HAR3 version ( of which XZ589 is an example ) for the Royal Air Force. The Westland Sea King, first flown on 7 May 1969, has also been exported to West Germany, India, Norway, Pakistan, Egypt, Australia and Belgium and has been further developed by Westland into the non-amphibious fixed-undercarriage Commando which can seat 30 troops or carry 8 000 lb of cargo. This features short stub wings instead of stabilizing floats, is in Royal Navy service as the HC Mk 4 and is further examined below.
Back in the USA meanwhile, Sikorsky developed the Sea King concept with the S-61R featuring a flatter underside, nosewheel undercarriage ( with rear wheels retracting into sponsons either side of the rear fuselage ) and rear loading ramp. This in turn was the basis for larger single rotor helicopters such as the S-65A (CH-53) Sea Stallion.
Westland Sea Kings enter Royal Navy service
The Westland Sea King HAS ( helicopter, anti submarine ) Mark 1 became operational with the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy in February 1970 with the formation of 824 Naval Air Squadron. As well as replacing General Electric T58 turboshafts – as fitted to the four pattern S-61Ds supplied crated in summer 1967 – with Rolls Royce Gnome powerplants, Westland also equipped their HAS1s with Newmark Automatic Flight Control Systems, Marconi Doppler and Ecko search radar and Plessey sonar. Offensive armament comprised four homing torpedoes or depth charges.
Later HAS2s had uprated engines and were further distinguished by six – rather than five – bladed tail rotors and a number of early HAS marks were later converted to the air sea rescue role.
A Royal Navy Westland Sea King HAS also brought James Bond – played by actor Roger ( now Sir Roger ) Moore – to the nuclear submarine base at Faslane on the Clyde in the film “The Spy Who Loved Me” – also starring Caroline Munro.
HAS5 Sea Kings meanwhile had Sea Searcher radar and improved equipment – including dunked sonar – to accurately detect and attack enemy submarines at longer range. The HAS Sea Kings of the Royal Navy will thus prove a hard act to follow for the three engined Westland EH 101 Merlins that are now replacing them.
Following lessons learned in the 1982 Falklands Campaign – 10 HAS2s were converted to AEW2A standard to provide airbourne early warning cover for Invincible class aircraft carriers. The AEW2A Sea Kings can be distinguished by a large black thimble shaped radome – carrying a Thorn EMI Searchwater radar antenna – mounted on a rotating arm on the starboard side just behind the dorsal radome and the sliding fuselage door. This is positioned alongside the fuselage when on the ground but is rotated so that the curved end faces downward – below the level of the tail wheel – when the helicopter is flying.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Sea King is also the best selling Airfix kit helicopter and is number six in the Airfix all time best sellers behind the Supermarine Sptifire, Hawker Hurricane, Avro Lancaster, Messerschmitt Me Bf-109 and de Havilland Mosquito.
Westland Sea King HAR3 XV589
Carrying the Westland Aircraft constructor’s number WA 855, X-ray Zulu 589 was first flown at Yeovil on 30 March 1978 and delivered to the Royal Air Force on 17 May 1978. As such it was part of the first batch of 15 HAR3s – dedicated to Search And Rescue (SAR) – which began delivery in September 1977.
An early 1990s Ministry of Defence report concluded that a total of 25 Sea Kings were required to ensure that Search And Rescue duties were carried out effectively and an announcement was made in 1992 of an order for six updated HAR3As from Westlands, to bring the total up to the required 25. Of these 25 aircraft, 16 are allocated for SAR duties in the UK, two in the Falkland Islands, three for conversion training and the remaining three form an engineering and operational pool. The Sea King HAR3 replaced the Wessex HC2 in the SAR role in 1996 and the RAF Sea King HAR3/3A are due to be phased out of service in 2017. XZ589 also features a high intensity spotlight in the glazed nose.
Approaching XZ589, the most obvious characteristic is its bright yellow colour, although Sea King HAR3s based with 78 Squadron at RAF Mount Pleasant in the Falkland Islands are camouflaged in Matt Dark Sea Grey with roundels composed entirely of blue and red and the red and white tail rotor tips alone offering any other hue.
Also noticeable bisecting the red and white tail rotor danger notice is the fold line of the tail section itself – two hinges allowing the empennage to be folded back toward the port side – with the starboard horizontal stabilizer sticking out – for easy storage on a flight or hangar deck.
In 2007 XZ589 belongs to Boulmer based A flight of 202 Squadron whose badge is a Mallard duck with outspread wings. As well as A Flight, 202 Squadron operate Sea King aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth (D Flight) and RAF Leconfield (E Flight) while St Mawgan headquartered 22 Squadron operates from Royal Marine Base Chivenor (A Flight), Wattisham Airfield (B Flight) and RAF Valley (C Flight). In each location Sea Kings operate in either pairs or trios.
The ‘E’ on the tail of XZ589 is not related to the aircraft’s unit, but is a unique character designed to allow recognition of the aircraft’s identity from further away than the visibility of the registration. Because the RAF fleet comprised 25 aircraft, each aircraft had its own letter (from A for the first, XZ585, to P for XZ599 – the missing letter being O. The aircraft bought later filled in Q to Z). The letters were first applied around 2005 as each aircraft went through Depth Servicing at RAF St Mawgan, although at least one never actually had the letters applied and others had the letters applied and then removed to allow repainting or repairs to that part of the airframe.
As well as 22 and 202 Squadrons flying Sea Kings in the Royal Air Force, 203 (Reserve) Squadron operates 3 Sea King HAR3/3A at RAF St Mawgan in Cornwall while Royal Navy and Coastguard helicopters are available in the search and rescue role at a further six places. A Coastguard Sea King in its smart red and grey livery was very visible at Staverton along with XZ 589 – which even made “Picture of the Week” at fan site http://www.gloster.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/main.htm.
This also reported on 24 July 2007 that “A week on from the heavy rains, over 300,000 residents are still without running water and some home are still flooded. Nine different S-61/Sea King variants have visited so far on either rescue or or water-drop duties.”
In fact over nearly 30 years of service, XZ589 has served with Flights of both 22 and 202 Squadrons RAF and travelled to places as far apart as St Mawgan, Fairford, Cosford,Valley, Llandudno, Blackpool Squires Gate, Southport, Finningley, Elvington, Whitby and Aldergrove.
Indeed, although the primary role of Search And Rescue (SAR) aircraft within the Royal Air Force is the recovery of downed military aviators, in peacetime its aircraft are available all year round for civilians in distress. In fact since 1973 over 95% of 202 Squadron rescues have been civilian incidents and Lossiemouth based D Flight logged its 5000 th rescue in 2001. This was a fallen climber with a dislocated shoulder – one of 5 rescues tasked to D Flight that day!
For land rescues, the RAF can also call upon the services of its five Mountain Rescue Teams (MRTs), each manned by a core of permanent staff supported by about thirty volunteers. A standby Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft, specially equipped for SAR duties, is also based at RAF Kinloss in Scotland. This descendent of the de Havilland Comet can be quickly despatched to the scene of a maritime emergency and act as an on-scene co-ordinator for helicopters or ships involved in the rescue operation.
In an average year RAF Sea Kings will be called out 170 or so times to civilian emergencies and they are ready to go 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. During nominal daylight hours ( 0800 to 2200 ) they are on 15 minutes readiness, stretching to an hour at night, though in fact their response time would usually be much quicker. The unofficial 22 Squadron motto is “22 Rescue You” !
The power to save
For the search aspect of its role, the Sea King is able to operate to precise navigational standards and is fitted with a multi-band homing system, satellite navigation systems, a search radar ( located in the dorsal dome behind the engines ), a comprehensive avionics suite and a large selection of radios. These are operated from a workstation positioned to port behind the cockpit and also behind the left hand window seen above. An interior view of this workstation is also depicted below.
For its rescue role, the aircraft is equipped with a hydraulically-operated main rescue hoist, an electrically-operated emergency rescue hoist and electrical connections suitable for powering medical equipment such as incubators. This is particularly necessary when Sea King helicopters are called upon to transfer patients to hospitals in cases where other forms of transport are not possible.
The SAR fleet of Sea Kings are fitted with a video/ infrared detection pod, which is similar to the equipment used by police helicopters, to help search for casualties. All SAR crews are trained to operate using night-vision goggles over unfamiliar terrain.
The standard SAR crew is made up of four members. Two of these are pilots, one of whom is the Aircraft Captain and flying pilot during most rescues. The Co-Pilot aids the Captain with navigation, fuel planning and radios and flies the helicopter during transit flights and some rescues.
The third crew member is the RadOp/ WinchOp – a radar operator who acts as the winch operator at the rescue scene. The RadOp/ WinchOp is responsible for voice marshalling the aircraft into position and operating the radar to descend and approach ships in poor weather.
Finally, a Winchman, normally trained to paramedic standard, will supply immediate first-aid and recovery services at the rescue site as well as helping the pilots with navigation, performance information and observation in flight.
The 17.01 metre – 55′ 10″ – long, 6 201 kg Sea King HAR 3 is powered by two Rolls Royce Gnome gas-turbine engines, each rated at 1,660 shp ( and giving 1,389nm of thrust to its 18.9 – 62′ – metre rotor span ) and is fitted with advanced all-weather search and navigation equipment, as well as autopilot and onboard computers to assist positioning and hovering at night or in bad weather.
In addition to four crew members the HAR3 can carry up to six stretchers, or 18 survivors. Under normal conditions expect the HAR3 to have an operational radius of approximately 448 kms (280 miles) a maximum altitude of 10 000 feet, endurance of 5 hours with maximum fuel loading and a cruising speed of 129 mph, rising to a maximum of 143 mph.
Training to save
This is a unit of the contractorised Defence Helicopter Flying School and is nothing directly to do with the RAF SAR wing, and hence 22 Squadron. Some (and only some) of the students flying the Griffin at SARTU will go on to fly with the RAF SAR Wing and 22 Squadron, once they have graduated from their main rotary course at RAF Shawbury. However, most students attend a one week SAR familiarisation course that gives them some understanding and experience in the role as part of their overall rotary training package. Most will go on to fly battle field or maritime helicopters, flying in primary roles other than SAR.
One student who did move from SARTU to C Flight of 22 Squadron in September 2010 – after 70 hours live flying, 50 hours of simulator work and the inevitable underwater escape test – however was HRH Prince William. His younger brother Prince Harry meanwhile continued to learn to fly Apache attack helicopters
Dartmoor May Bank Holiday 2007
Unfortunately this feature is too small to list every rescue carried out by the Sea King HAR3/A fleet of the Royal Air Force but here are just some recent examples to illustrate the challenges that they face.
A typical rain drenched bank holiday weekend proved to be a typical weekend of search and rescue for the RAF’s Sea King helicopters from A flight, 22 Squadron.
Flying from the Royal Marines Base at Chivenor, in North Devon, the RAF Search and Rescue team were called to one emergency on Sunday 27 May 2007 and two on Monday 28 May 2007.
“It’s been a busy bank holiday weekend, but these things happen,” said one of the Sea Kings’ co-pilots Flight Lieutenant Ian Saunders.
On Sunday the unit was called to Dartmoor to help five youths who had run into trouble while undertaking the Duke of Edinburgh Award. The sole man in the group, an 18-year-old, had started suffering breathing difficulties in the very low fog and rain.
His four female companions, aged between 15 and 17, administered aid to him and called the emergency services. A police helicopter first went to the scene followed by an air ambulance but neither could land due to the conditions, which offered minimal visibility.
“We were then called in,” said Flight Lieutenant Saunders. “We went really low, hovering at 15 feet. It was raining quite hard and the ground was basically covered in cloud. You could only see about 50-100 metres ahead and we were hovering with our wheels just above the trees. It’s not difficult to fly like this, as long as you take it slow.”
The group had given the Search and Rescue team their position but when the RAF Sea King arrived they weren’t there. The teenagers had seen the helicopter, though, and rang the base, who put them through to the helicopter via the radio so they were able to give their position. Flight Lieutenant Saunders explained:
“They did a good job, phoning for help, giving their position and staying put. They also put out red panels although we couldn’t see them in the fog. The guy was almost recovered, but by the time we got there they were all cold and wet and we airlifted them all out. It was a remote part of Dartmoor with rough terrain and nothing there, no roads. They’d been caught out with bad weather and a member becoming incapacitated.”
Due to the weather conditions this was not a routine rescue, but one the RAF teams have practiced well for, added Flight Lieutenant Saunders.
The next day 22 Squadron were called to help three boys who had camped out on an island in the River Exe. They awoke at 4.00 am to find the island had flooded overnight and their campsite washed away. They waited until 6.00 am to call for help though as they thought no one would be up!
The fire brigade were first on the scene but could not get to the boys as the island had been cut off from the mainland, so the Sea Kings were called in to winch them away to safety.
On the way back the coastguard called the RAF team to help airlift a man who had climbed a cliff in north Somerset, in rain and wind, but slipped and broken his ankle. He managed to pitch a tent on the cliffside where he waited for 36 hours before he was spotted. He was airlifted off the cliff and taken to Taunton hospital.
So, just a normal bank holiday weekend for all concerned!
Meanwhile, in Sheffield
RAF Search and Rescue helicopters joined the emergency services in helping to rescue more than 100 people after flash floods cut off a large area of Sheffield on Monday 25 June 2007 : just as Tewkesbury was to be cut off by rising river water one month later.
A call from the Brightside area of Sheffield, where 20 people were trapped on the roof of a factory which was in danger of collapsing, was the first sign that a major incident was in progress. Once the water began to rise, it spread very quickly and affected a considerable area of Sheffield, including homes, offices and the transport system.
In what was a police-led operation, four RAF Sea King helicopters – two from E Flight, 202 Squadron, at Leconfield ( including XZ589 ), one from A Flight, 202 Squadron, at RAF Boulmer and one from B Flight, 22 Squadron, at RAF Wattisham – took turns throughout the evening to rescue a number of people believed to be in immediate danger. A further three helicopters at the training school in Cornwall were on standby to assist, but with a concentration of flights in a relatively small area the decision was made not to use them.
Sergeant Jonathan Carrington, aged 37, from 202 Squadron explained how he and his colleagues were tasked with several jobs in relation to the flooding, firstly around the Hull area and then subsequently in Sheffield:
“We winched a disabled man from a ground floor flat in Analby, along with his social worker, and took him to a nursing home in North Ferriby. The helicopter had to land in a school and they transported him to the nursing home in the back of a transit van.”
This initial incident was followed by the rescue of a man stuck up a tree in Chesterfield “There was torrential water around the base of the tree,” Sgt Carrington continued. “The Fire Service, Police and Ambulance were in attendance and a fireman had chucked him a rope, which he’d used to tie himself to the tree, but they couldn’t get to him.” Sgt Carrington was winched down through the branches and cut him free, then the man was winched to safety. The crew left him with the emergency services and medics.
Meanwhile in Sheffield, where most of the evacuations took place, there was chaos with people wading through water waist deep. Sgt Carrington explained:
“People stuck in offices were waving out the windows trying to get our attention. We prioritised jobs for those who looked most in danger. The majority of people were calm, some were scared to be winched, but they were grateful we could get them out of there to somewhere safe, with food and dry clothes. The water was waist deep and in one place we tried the window, but around the other side we could get the door open and we got the people to wade through the waist deep cold water, so we could get them out. The locals were gobsmacked. They’ve never seen anything like it in Sheffield before. They’ve never seen flooding to that extent.”
RAF involvement lasted around seven-and-a-half hours, the aircraft being stood down just before midnight, though the Sea King from RAF Boulmer remained overnight on standby at Sheffield City Airport.
The Air Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) at Kinloss coordinated the military effort and the Police led the major incident, which quickly escalated through the bronze, silver and gold levels. Regular training exercises are held with the emergency services and this major incident was well coordinated following many years experience and training in order to achieve better coordination.
A history of 22 Squadron Royal Air Force
Number 22 Squadron was formed as part of the Royal Flying Corps at Fort Grange, Gosport, on 1 September 1915 and departed for France seven months later with twelve FE2B two-seat pusher biplanes. These outdated aircraft were used for a year on reconnaissance tasks before Bristol Fighters replaced them. 22 Squadron moved to Germany as part of the Army of Occupation after the 1918 Armistice and returned to the UK in August 1919 prior to disbanding at the end of the year.
The Squadron was reformed at Martlesham Heath in July 1923 but in name only as the aircraft it flew belonged to the Aeroplane Experimental Establishment. During the next decade, many new RAF aircraft were tested by the Squadron pilots before 22 was reformed at Donbristle with torpedo-carrying Vickers Vildebeests. After flying anti-submarine patrols over the North Sea after the declaration of War in 1939, 22 Squadron re-equipped with Bristol Beauforts in early 1940.
On 6 April 1941 Flying Officer K. Campbell led a flight of six aircraft in an attack on the German battlecruiser Gneisenau which was anchored in Brest harbour. Despite heavy enemy opposition, he alone pressed home his attack before being shot down and was later awarded the Victoria Cross.
In 1942, 22 Squadron re-equipped with rocket armed Bristol Beaufighters and moved to the Far East, disbanding a month after the Japanese surrender. However, it was reformed in 1955 as a search and rescue unit equipped with Westland Whirlwinds and then theWestland Wessex before converting to Sea Kings – with twice the range and endurance – in the mid 1990s.
The Squadron’s official Motto “Preux et audicieux” – Valiant and Brave – is surmounted by a badge approved by King Edward VIII in May 1936 when the unit was based in Malta. It comprises, on a torteaux, a Maltese Cross throughout, overall a pi fimbriated. The Greek sign for pi is a reference to the Great War when 22 Squadron often used to take off over the headquarters of the 7th Wing – hence 22 over 7.
A history of 202 Squadron Royal Air Force
Number 202 Squadron’s origins can be traced back to Number 2 Squadron Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) which formed at Eastchurch on 17 October 1914. equipped with a variety of aircraft it moved to Dover in February 1915 but lost its identity in June when it became Number 2 Wing. Reformed again at Dunkirk in November 1916, Number 2 Squadron RNAS flew reconnaissance, bombing and escort sorties for the remainder of the Great War and was renumbered as 202 Squadron Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918.
Returning to the Uk in March 1919 and disbanding on 22 January 1920, 202 Squadron reformed at Alexandria on 9 April 1920 as a naval co-operation unit, disbanding again on 16 May 1921. A longer ressurection began on 1 January 1929 at Kalafrana, Malta, with Fairey IIID seaplanes being replaced by the IIIF variant in 1930. Supermarine Scapas, the unit’s first flying boats, arrived in May 1935 only to be replaced by Saro Londons – flown on anti-submarine patrols. 22 Squadron moved to Alexandria in September 1938 and again to Gibraltar a year later to patrol the approaches to the Mediterranean. Fairey Swordfish floatplanes came on strength for local patrols in September 1940 while 1941 saw the arrival of Sunderland and Catalina flying boats.
202 Squadron moved to Northern Ireland in September 1944 to patrol for U-boats off the west coast and disbanded on 12 June 1945, only to reform at Aldergrove on 1 October 1946 with Handley Page Halifaxes for meterological patrols over the Atlantic. Handley Page Hastings were received in October 1950 and flown until 202 Squadron disbanded on 31 July 1964.
On 1 September 1964, Leconfield-based Westland Whirlwind equipped 228 Squadron was renumbered as 202 with SAR flights outstationed at Coltishall, Acklington and Leuchars. In January 1976 the headquarters of both 202 and 22 Squadrons moved to Finningley to form the Search and Rescue Wing. The Whirlwind HAR10s were replaced by Sea King HAR3s in 1978/9 and equipped 202 Squadron detached flights at Boulmer, Brawdy, Coltishall and Lossiemouth. Immediately after the South Atlantic campaign of 1982 C Flight was sent from Coltishall to provide SAR cover for the Falkland Islands, being later recognised as an independent unit – 1564 Flight.
On 2 September 1985 C Flight was reformed with Sea Kings at Coltishall, moving to Manston on 1 September 1988 and E Flight later formed at Leconfield. In December 1992, 202 Squadron’s second line engineering facility moved to St Mawgan and its HQ joined A Flight at Boulmer. In June 1994 the Squadron re organised with B Flight moving from Brawdy to Chivenor and C Flight moving to Wattisham. Simultaneously they became A and B Flights of 22 Squadron leaving 202 Squadron with HQ and A Flight at Boulmer, D Flight at Lossiemouth and E Flight at Leconfield.
The 202 Squadron badge – without the motto ” Semper Vigilate” -is visible on the starboard cockpit side of Westland Sea King HAR 3 XZ5
Epilogue on flooding in Gloucestershire
“On behalf of the staff at Gloucestershire Airport I’d like to thank those individuals who have written to acknowledge the supporting role the airport has played during the recent flooding crisis. I, too, am immensely proud of the efforts of my small team and the staff at the Aviator Restaurant who have worked extremely hard in these past weeks to keep things running smoothly.
In total, over 100 emergency helicopter flights were handled, more than 70 000 litres of fuel dispensed and the airport terminal even became temporary home to eight people and three cats, rescued from a caravan park near Tewkesbury.
His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales departed by helicopter from the airport and the Prime Minister held a brief meeting with the Chief Constable and the region’s MPs in our departure lounge before returning to London.
As the airbourne operations began to scale down, the ground-based supply of drinking water became the priority. Users of the Old Cheltenham Road will know that a large portion of the airfield was temporarily handed over to Severn Trent Water and was occupied by many hundreds of vehicles replenishing and delivering bowsers 24 hours a day.
Appropriate safety and emergency contingency arrangements have have been put in place to ensure our normal flying operations can continue.
Clearly the airport’s role has been important during this crisis. During the initial emergency phase, the availability of fuel and facilities kept the rescue helicopters “on task” with minimal delay. With Birmingham and RAF Brize Norton as the closest alternatives – a forty minute return flight away – lives were probably saved as a result.
Our central location, self-supporting facilities and space available have also served the local communities in the aftermath of the crisis minimisung the disruption. One would hope that our elected representatives tasked with planning for future infrastructure, contingencies and emergencies will recognise the value of this important asset to the region.
As has been mentioned earlier in this article, RAF Leconfield – near Beverley in East Yorkshire – has had a long association with RAF Search and Rescue helicopters. However, Alexandra Wood writing in the Yorkshire Post of 6 September 2007 threw yet more light on this remarkable yet not widely celebrated aerodrome:
The bravery of RAF crews who manned an East Yorkshire air base during the Second World war was remembered yesterday with a spectacular flypast and the dedication of a new memorial – which still bears the scars from the conflict. Yesterday veterans gathered at RAF Leconfield to mark 70 years of flying as the Red Arrows display team and the Battle of Britain memorial Flight passed overhead. Air Marshal Stephen Dalton CB RAF flew into the Defence School of Transport in a De Havilland Tiger Moth to declare the memorial open. The simple but poignant memorial is formed out of an “A” frame from one of the hangars at RAF Leconfield, which still has the bullet holes from where it was strafed by machine gun fire during attacks in 1940 and 1941. Silhouettes of the aircraft which were based at Leconfield, made from the heavy steel blast doors of the hangar, adorn the 30′ high structure. On one occasion in May 1941 six or seven Heinkel He 111s and Junkers Ju 88s attacked the station, dropping around 1 000 incendiary bombs during a two hour assault, killing one airman but amazingly not damaging any aircraft at the aerodrome.
Despite the passage of the years, evidence of those dramatic times is still easily found. Just 15′ from the new memorial Alan Bakewell, the Conservation officer at the Defence School of Transport, and metal detecting enthusiast Stephen Foster discovered .303 bullet cases from Lee Enfield rifles as well as a greatcoat button from a member of the Prince of Wale’s own Regiment. There were a couple of live rounds as well as a 20mm canon shell which matched the size of those fitted to the German aircraft.
Mr Bakewell said :”It is amazing that after all this time,70 years of life in and around Leconfield, now a very,very busy Defence School of Transport, we are able to find these things so readily.
Leconfield became an RAF station in 1937 and was used by the old Handley Page Heyford biplane bombers. In October 1939 it was taken over by Fighter Command and during the Battle of Britain the station was a temporary home to many other squadrons. In 1941 the runway was extended and Leconfield became part of Bomber Command. During the 1950s it was home to the Central Gunnery School “with just about every conceivable aircraft”. Leconfield is now the Defence School of Transport, Europe’s largest driver training establishment, but has two Sea King helicopters based there in a search and rescue role”
Westland Sea King HC4 at Southport on 10 September 2005
As a comparison to XZ589, these pictures of a Royal Navy Westland Sea King HC4 were taken at the Southport Air Show and Military Display on 10 September 2005. Unfortunately it was not possible to identify this particular machine due to a combination of low visibility markings and low visibility weather! However, particularly apparent are the lack of dorsal radome and mainwheel floats.
Full sized aircraft on that day included Bae Systems Hawk, Consolidated Catalina ( G-PBYA 433016 ) De Havilland Sea Vixen FAW2 ( G-CVIX XP 924 ), Lockheed C-130 Hercules ( carrying RAF Falcons parachute team) North American T28F Fennec ( uprated Harvard) Panavia Tornado GR4 and Westland Merlin while among the large scale radio controlled models were Bleriot IX monoplane, De Havilland Canada Beaver seaplane, Douglas C-47, Douglas Dauntless, Fiat G50bis, Heinkel 111, Junkers 52, Rearwin Speedster ( 52% scale cabin monoplane ), Republic Thunderbolt and Vickers Wellington.
The Sea King display at Southport included a demonstration of abseiling from a helicopter – a vital skill for inserting airbourne troops into less than ideal positions. Already on the beach at this point were a Challenger 2 tank, AS90 self propelled guns, Warrior and Stormer tracked vehicles and Leyland National bus BVV 543T in the olive green drab of SaBRE (Supporting Britain’s Reservists and Employers ) and Westland Gazelle helicopter XZ304. And finally, Jack Vettriano doesn’t paint helicopters, but if he did…