As world conflicts have evolved since the end of the Second World War, it could be argued that the helicopter has become the most flexible and invaluable asset available to any air arm. Able to perform a multitude of military tasks no other type of aircraft is capable of undertaking, the helicopter is now at the forefront of any conflict, humanitarian, or rescue situation, wherever they occur in the world. One of the machines that transformed the operational capabilities of the modern military helicopter in the UK was the Westland Wessex – based on the US designed Sikorski S-58 ‘Chactaw’, Westland engineers replaced the original piston engine with a turboshaft powerplant, which amongst other benefits, allowed the aircraft to carry much greater payloads. Entering service with the Royal Navy in the early 1960s, the Wessex proved to be a huge improvement on the earlier Westland Whirlwind and began to serve the fleet in such varied roles as anti-submarine warfare, supply and general utility tasking, along with the vital search and rescue support.
The strength of the Wessex design allowed this impressive helicopter to have a long service career with both the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. Entering service with the Navy in 1961, the last of the RAF machines were not retired until 2003, which is an impressive record for these extremely hard working helicopters. RAF machines were designated HC.2 and were required to be powered by twin turboshaft engines, which is the reason why older Royal Navy machines did not end up in the colours of the Royal Air Force.
This particular RAF Wessex HC.2 (XV721/H) entered service with No.72 Squadron in 1968 and appears to have spent its entire service career with the same unit. A regular static exhibit at Airshows around the UK between 1999 and 2001, the aircraft features a specially marked door to commemorate No.72 Squadron’s long association with the Wessex HC.2 – ‘35 years of active service’. The Wessex helicopters of No.72 Squadron also hold two further impressive records from their distinguished service career. Serving with the security forces in Northern Ireland as part of Operation Banner, the Wessex holds the record for the longest operational deployment of any RAF Squadron, from 1969 until 2002. Also, at one time, No.72 Squadron was the largest in the RAF, with no fewer than 25 Wessex, 4 Puma and 2 Chinook helicopters on strength. On its retirement from RAF Service, Westland Wessex HC.2 XV721 was sold to the National Navy of Uruguay.