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  • The Merlin EH(AW) 101 by Rich Pittman

    A pre-production EH101 at an early stage of assembly. (Photo: Leonardo Helicopters, The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    Yeovil’s Helicopter Town - If Westland sneezes, Yeovil catches a cold!

    If you live In Yeovil Today your lifestyle is never very far away from helicopters and aircraft, with Westland now part of the Leonardo Company, being the local largest employer. A close family bond with aviation in the town that now extends over 100 years with aircraft manufacturing starting in 1915.

    Where it all started

    The Westland aircraft works were built during the First World War due to the need for naval aircraft. The first aircraft to be built, a Short 184 seaplane, left in early January 1916 by horse and cart. The fourth production aircraft built at Westland, took part in the Battle of Jutland. It was piloted by Frederick Rutland from Weymouth ‘Rutland of Jutland’ and the aircraft successfully reported by radio the movements of the German Fleet.

    Over 6000 fixed wing aircraft were built at Yeovil between 1915 and 1955. With the end of the 2nd World war, the large aircraft industry would have to adapt to peacetime needs. The board of Westland aircraft decided that the future would be with a totally different form of flying machine, the helicopter.

    A busy flight shed, filled with pre-production and future EH101s for the Royal Navy. (Photo: Leonardo Helicopters, The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    Several Westland aircraft including the Westland Wapiti in 1927, Westland Dragonfly in 1948, Westland Whirlwind in 1952, Westland Scout in 1960, Westland Sea King in 1969, Westland Lynx in 1971 and the EH (AW) 101 Merlin in 1987 have been built in Yeovil.

    The last few Decades

    During the mid-1980s Westland went through a decline in production. The company needed a partner to help sustain it, until new products could be brought online. At the same time the company was making considerable investment in composite blade technology and design of a replacement for the Sea King.

    Westland entered an agreement with the Italian firm Agusta, collaborating in the design, development and production of a new large helicopter. The two companies amalgamated forming EH Industries, specifically to produce the EH101, a multi-role helicopter designed to meet naval, military utility and civil requirements.

    A view from above. A Merlin HM.2 during an Air2Air photo flight. (Photo: Ian Harding, The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    In recent years the Yeovil Westland site has expanded its involvement in commercial helicopter programmes, in particular with the AW Family of new generation helicopters, which comprise the AW139, AW169 and AW189. The AW189 is the first civil aircraft to be built in Yeovil since the mid-1980s, whilst rotor blades and transmission systems are also manufactured for all three members of the AW Family of helicopters in Yeovil.

    The EH (AW) 101 Merlin

    The threat of an attack by Soviet missile submarines was judged as a serious threat during the 1970s and 1980s. During 1977, the UK Ministry of Defence issued a requirement for a new type of helicopter to be developed to counter the issue. Initially the Westland WG-34 was proposed to be the replacement for the WS-61 Sea King. It was planned to be a three engine helicopter of similar proportions to the Sea King, but the WG-34 was to feature more space in the cabin and have a greater range than its predecessor.

    At the same time, the Italian Navy was also considering a successor for its fleet of SH-3D Sea Kings, which had been manufactured by the Italian company Agusta. Westland and Agusta entered into talks regarding a joint development of a future helicopter.

    G-17-510, in US101 markings, flies over Yeovil. (Photo: Leonardo Helicopters, The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    After the companies finalised the agreement to work on the project together, a jointly owned company, EH Industries Limited (EHI), was formed for the development and marketing of a new helicopter to potential customers. The EHI-01 emerged as the collaborated design, but a clerical error in retyping hand written notes during early draft stages, renamed the helicopter by accident to EH-101 and the name stood.

    On the 12th of June 1981, the UK government confirmed its participation in the project and initially allocated £20 million for the development of the program. In 1984 a key agreement followed, which was signed by the British and Italian governments. This secured funding the majority of the EH101's development.

    An international marketing survey highlighted a requirement for a 30 seat helicopter. Following the early concept as a naval replacement anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft, EHI decided to develop the EH-101 into a multirole platform. As a medium-lift helicopter, the aircraft would be able to meet the demands of utility, government and civilian corporations of the 1990's. An initial 9 pre-production (PP) models were produced to demonstrate these potential configurations to the worldwide market.

    Originally part of a larger order for VVIP replacements in Indonesia, it is unclear what internal configuration was fitter to this AW101 at delivery. 17 January 2017. (The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    The AW101 today combines the most advanced technologies, safety by design, mission systems and leading-edge manufacturing to provide a proven platform for long-range Search and Rescue (SAR) operations in certain countries. With a typical range of 750 nm (over 1,300 km) in standard configuration, the AW101 is the most capable SAR helicopter in the world today. Other roles include transportation for Heads of State and VVIP operators; Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR); Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO); Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW); Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC); Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM); troop transport; utility support, CASEVAC/MEDEVAC; and Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR).

    My Father started working at Westland in 1980. This brought my family to Yeovil and why I have an interest in aviation and particularly the AW101. It has been fascinating to see the Merlin’s progression from pre production testing right through to today's exports to many foreign Nations.

    The Westland facility with all the sub departments along with the nearby RNAS Yeovilton keep the Town and surrounding area thriving.

    The Merlin EH (AW)101  From Design to Front Line book has been written to look back and celebrate some of the Merlin's history over the last 30 Years.

    Rich Pittman's new book The Merlin EH(AW) 101: From Design to Front Line is available for purchase now.

  • RAF Transport Command by Keith Wilson

    Ferio Ferendo – ‘I strike by carrying’

    RAF Transport Command 1 Aircraft assembled at RAF Tarrant Rushton on the afternoon of 6 June 1944 while being prepared for the reinforcement of the British airborne assault during Operation Mallard. On the runway are General Aircraft Hamilcar heavy-lift gliders, preceded by two Airspeed Horsa troop-carrying gliders. Parked on each side of them are Handley Page Halifax glider tugs of 298 and 644 Squadrons. (Crown Copyright/Air Historical Branch CL-26 - RAF Transport Command, Amberley Publishing)

    From a young age I was fascinated by aviation! Initially it was general aviation that caught my eye but eventually, after visiting a number of Royal Air Force and United States Air Force (USAF) open days, I was hooked on military aviation. Strangely, it wasn’t always the fast and loud fighter aircraft that caught my eye (and ear!) as I had an instant fascination for the older, lumbering but occasionally graceful, transport aircraft.

    Operating in service with the USAF were massive fleets of C-130s and KC-135s; some based in the UK, mainly at RAF Mildenhall. However, these were often supplemented by the piston-powered ‘Stars’ – the C-97 and KC-97 Stratocruisers; the C-124 Globemasters; the occasional C-54 and C-118; and by far my personal favourites – the C-121 Constellation and Super Constellation. What’s not to love about a Super Connie’!

    Around the same time and operating within the RAF were the Beverley, Hastings, Britannia, Belfast, Argosy and Comet; all along with the majestically graceful, fast and oh-so-noisy Vickers/BAC VC-10. Most of these aircraft were employed within RAF Transport Command and effectively they provided the backbone to a service that was often underfunded and overstretched; while occasionally – during periods of conflict – it was overstretched to its very limits!

    RAF Transport Command 2 No. 267 Squadron made remarkable contributions to the air war in both the Mediterranean and the Burma campaign. Here, Douglas Dakota III aircraft of No. 267 Squadron were photographed while unloading supplies for the Allied forces at Araxos, Greece, in October 1944. The activity drew considerable attention from the local population. (Crown Copyright/Air Historical Branch CM-5915 - RAF Transport Command, Amberley Publishing)

    Fast forward far too many years than I care to admit and I still find myself with an unhealthy fascination for old, lumbering, transport aircraft. So, when Kevin Paul at Amberley Publishing suggested I should research and write a book on RAF Transport Command, I could not resist the challenge!

    I find the research aspect of the book the most fascinating – especially the picture research. The vast majority of images for this book come from the archives at the Air Historical Branch at RAF Northolt where I am indebted to Lee Barton, the Branch’s Photographic Archivist. His knowledge of exactly which images are available and more importantly, just how to find them, is invaluable; as is his enthusiasm and attention to detail. Lee was also able to assist with additional research which enabled some ‘new’ information to be unearthed and included in this volume.

    RAF Transport Command was called into existence by Parliamentary proclamation on 25 March 1943. At the time, all of its component parts had already been on active service for three-and-a-half years. It was not a new role created for the RAF, as its main activities of transport and ferrying aircraft had already grown significantly under the demands of World War II; especially the reinforcement routes that crossed the Atlantic and Africa. UK-based transport squadrons had played a vital and active supporting role in the battles of France and Britain; had carried supplies to the beleaguered Malta; while the Middle East Air Force transport wing had operated in close co-operation with the Eighth Army – probably, the first use of integrated air power. Then there were the carriage of the airborne forces for both the Italian and European campaigns of 1943-45.

    RAF Transport Command 3 RAF Stirling aircraft were used to relieve some of the suffering of the war. As well as returning Czechoslovaks to their own country, the Stirling aircraft also returned to Britain with hundreds of Czechoslovak children; orphans who had been in concentration camps during the German occupation and who were being brought to Britain for rehabilitation. In this image, some of the children walk towards a line of 196 Squadron Stirling IV aircraft, including LK242/ZO-A, which had arrived in Prague earlier in the day to take them to the reception centre at Crosby-on-Eden, near Carlisle, on 13 August 1945. (Crown Copyright/Air Historical Branch CH-15899 - RAF Transport Command, Amberley Publishing)

    Transport Command went into battle on five occasions during the Second World War. Firstly, they supported the invasion of Sicily in 1943 (Operation Husky), then there was the aborted Dodecanese Islands operation later that year (Operation Accolade), they spearheaded the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944 (Operation Overlord), transported the airborne forces in the ill-fated attempt to capture the bridges at Arnhem in September 1944 (Operation Market), and carrying troops across the Rhine in March 1945 for the final push into Nazi Germany (Operation Varsity).

    Some readers may not be aware that a lesser-known but nevertheless essential wartime role of Transport Command was the moving of mail, particularly to the front line. Specially-modified Hawker Hurricane IIC of 1697 (Air Despatch Delivery Service) Flight based at RAF Northolt, were equipped with underwing tanks that carried the mail bags to the troops, providing them with a welcoming boost in morale.

    Later, when the war in Europe had been won, Transport Command were involved in a massive trooping operation to reinforce the Far East against the Japanese, before being involved in a significant logistical effort to repatriate British Serviceman after the Japanese surrender on 14 August 1945.

    At the end of the Second World War, Transport Command was spread far and wide across the globe. However, the thorny question arose of exactly what to do with such a large Command once the hostilities had ceased? Thankfully, there was no question of it being disbanded. An Air Staff paper of 28 May 1945 noted: ‘Experience has shown that Air Transport has a lasting place in the RAF which cannot be filled by other forms of transport of by the Merchant Air Fleet’.

    RAF Transport Command 4 After a wave of York aircraft had landed, they were marshalled in front of the hangars, allowing the German labourers to start the unloading process. In the front is York C.1 MW287/KY-N of 242 Squadron with similar York C.1 aircraft MW286 and MW303 parked nearby in this image taken at Gatow on 16 September 1948. (Crown Copyright/Air Historical Branch R-1818 - RAF Transport Command, Amberley Publishing)

    RAF Transport Command – a pictorial history is carefully divided into eight chapters, each representing a key period in the Command’s relatively short but impressive history – despite the various Governments’ Defence Reviews and the consequential swaging cuts they delivered. It includes the Berlin Airlift; activities in Korea, Malaya and the ‘Japan Shuttle’ (1950-54); Entering the jet age (1955-59); Air Mobility (1960-64); and the period of re-equipment with the Andover, Belfast and VC-10 (1965-67).

    As the title suggests, this is predominately a picture-led volume; each image being supported by a detailed and informative caption. In selecting the illustrations for this book I have often been obliged to choose between quality and originality and I have gone to great lengths to include as many ‘new’ images as possible.

    The change from Transport Command to Air Support Command on 11 August 1967 was not just a change of name but of operational concept. The searching review of Defence policy undertaken by the new Labour Government when they came to power in October 1964 had considered the former Imperial commitments and, in the words of the Defence Estimates1967, had aimed ‘to foster developments which will enable local peoples to live at peace without the presence of external forces’ – effectively allowing the withdrawal of British Forces from the Middle and Far East, as well as Aden.

    RAF Transport Command 5 The third Belfast C.1, XR364, photographed during a pre-delivery test flight in March 1965. Some 25 per cent larger than the Lockheed Hercules (which entered RAF service in 1967), the Belfast could carry a greater payload than the American design and was capable of accommodating three Whirlwind or two Wessex helicopters. It was the first military transport with a fully automatic landing system. (Crown Copyright/Air Historical Branch T-5365 - RAF Transport Command, Amberley Publishing)

    This policy was not without its implications. It was considered that ‘Britain should maintain obligations to friends and allies across the world and should retain a capacity for contributing to the maintenance of peace – a Rapid Reaction Force’. The Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy 1967 also stated: ‘In the next decade, new aircraft will enable us to move forces across the world faster and in larger numbers than was possible even a few years ago’.

    However, the role and title of ‘Transport Command’ did not accurately represent this new role and the title of ‘Air Support Command’ was considered more appropriate to moving the new ‘Air Mobility Force’ wherever it may be required.

    The change of name appears to have had little or no effect at squadron level as roles and tasks remained much the same, it was only the Command name on the side of the aircraft that had changed.

    Transport Command always was a formidable force and particularly demonstrated that in the final years of its distinguished existence; it had become a powerful and effective arm for the nation’s mobile ever-ready defence forces.

    9781445665986

    Keith Wilson's new book RAF Transport Command: A Pictorial History is available for purchase now.

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