‘Price­less’ ex-mil­i­tary he­li­copters take cen­tre-stage

Bay of Plenty Times - - LO­CAL NEWS -

A ‘price­less’ gem of avi­a­tion mil­i­tary his­tory is set to take pride of place at the Clas­sic Fly­ers Mu­seum after more than a decade in stor­age.

Five ex-British Royal Air Force HC.2 West­land Wes­sex he­li­copters, which had been stored in a ware­house in Taranaki for the past 14 years, were de­liv­ered to the Clas­sic Fly­ers base in Mount Maun­ganui this week.

Three flown by the RAF 84 Squadron mainly dur­ing search and res­cue op­er­a­tions ar­rived on Wed­nes­day, and the other two, con­fig­ured as troop car­ri­ers, were de­liv­ered yes­ter­day.

Get­ting them to Tau­ranga was a mam­moth task and was made pos­si­ble thanks to a joint-ven­ture op­er­a­tion be­tween Clas­sic Fly­ers and New Ply­mouth-based truck­ing firm TIL.

The UK-built Wes­sex was first used by the British Royal Navy in 1961, and the Royal Air Force be­gan us­ing them in 1962 for air-sea and moun­tain res­cue op­er­a­tions.

Clas­sic Fly­ers vol­un­teers Wally Gee and Ge­off Tans­ley were in their el­e­ment as they showed off three of the Wes­sex which had been bought from a pri­vate Taranaki owner.

The for­mer owner brought eight Wes­sex into the coun­try but, after one was lost in a tragic ac­ci­dent, the rest were grounded and re­mained in stor­age, Tans­ley said. It was be­lieved the two other Wes­sex HC.2 were still some­where in New Zealand.

The Wes­sex was the first size­able mass-pro­duced he­li­copter de­signed around the use of Gnome tur­binepow­ered en­gines, and it was be­lieved fewer than 400 were ever built.

The Royal Aus­tralian Navy also used Wes­sex he­li­copters, and the British Royal Navy used them dur­ing the 1982 Falk­lands con­flict.

Gee, a for­mer com­mer­cial pi­lot, said the in­ten­tion was to sell four of the Wes­sex HC.2 and keep the fifth to put it on static dis­play in the Clas­sic Fly­ers Mu­seum.

“As vol­un­teers and avi­a­tion buffs it’s pretty cool to be able to get this close to th­ese unique he­li­copters which played such a key life­sav­ing role in mil­i­tary his­tory. The he­li­copters were pretty much all in­take but, after years in stor­age, they need a ma­jor clean both in­side and out,” he said.

Tans­ley, an ex-Royal NZ Air Force pi­lot, said the ini­tial thought was to wa­ter blast the 3.76-tonne beasts to re­move years of grime and bird drop­pings but the idea was soon aban­doned in favour of truck-wash.

“Once we have cleaned them they will look like a mil­lion dol­lars,” Gee said, with a mas­sive grin on his face.

Tans­ley said the Wes­sex also had “royal con­nec­tions” as Prince Wil­liam flew a Wes­sex dur­ing his mil­i­tary ser­vice and, ac­cord­ing to Wikipedia, Prince Charles and his fa­ther Prince Philip were trained Wes­sex pi­lots.

Re­luc­tant to talk dol­lars, Gee said it was hoped Clas­sic Fly­ers could get top dol­lar from the sale of four of the Wes­sex be­ing ad­ver­tised on Trade Me to cover the trans­port costs.

It was also hoped the fifth would be ready for dis­play within six weeks.

“Word is al­ready get­ting around in the avi­a­tion com­mu­nity that we have five in Tau­ranga and in­ter­est is def­i­nitely grow­ing,” Gee said.

Tans­ley said that, given the sta­tus of th­ese he­li­copters on the world stage, it was a priv­i­lege to be able to help pre­serve th­ese price­less aircraft for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions’ ben­e­fit. Hav­ing one shortly on dis­play in Tau­ranga was a “real coup”, and he en­cour­aged peo­ple to come and see a piece of his­tory.

PHOTO / AN­DREW WARNER

Clas­sic Fly­ers vol­un­teers Wally Gee and Ge­off Tans­ley give an ex-Royal Air Force West­land Wes­sex HC.2 he­li­copter a de­cent wash after years in stor­age.

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