Westland Wasp HAS Mk 1 XT787 (G-KAXT)
Westland Wasp HAS Mk 1 XT787 (G-KAXT) represents the first generation of British helicopters purpose-designed to operate from frigates at sea, a key milestone in the rotary wing element of our naval aviation heritage. The Wasp formed an integral part of the ship’s weapon system, armed with anti-submarine torpedoes and later air to surface missiles, allowing the ship to extend its range and influence beyond that of its own weapons. With its folding tail and rotor blades, quadricycle undercarriage and castoring wheels, the development of the Wasp made a vital contribution to understanding and solving the challenges of flying helicopters from small ships. The Wasp proved the Medium range Anti-submarine Torpedo Carrying Helicopter (MATCH) concept and was the forerunner of all small ship helicopters including the emerging unmanned versions of today.
Westland Wasp XT787 entered service with the Royal Navy in 1967 and operated with 829 Naval Air Squadron from the frigates HMS Leander and HMS Rhyl, then later with 703 Naval Air Squadron at Portland. She also served with the Royal New Zealand Navy before passing into private ownership. She is painted in the historic camouflage scheme of the Falklands conflict, and keeps alive the memory of the first generation of the Royal Navy’s small ship’s Naval helicopter and its 30 years of Naval service.
The Wasp was a small shipboard gas turbine powered anti-submarine helicopter. Produced by Westland Helicopters, it came from the same P.531 development programme as the British Army Westland Scout. Its design was a response to the Royal Navy requirement for a helicopter small enough to land on the deck of a frigate and yet still carry a potent payload of two homing torpedoes. The increased range at which the submarine threat could be detected led to the need for “Manned Torpedo-Carrying Helicopter” (MATCH). Contemporary shipboard weapons did not have the necessary range so the helicopter effectively took the weapon to the adversary before being instructed on where and when drop it. Unlike the larger Wessex, the Wasp had no sonar capacity and so was limited to working in partnership with its parent ship, with other ships or other ASW units.
The first prototype Saro P.531 flew on 20 July 1958 with a pre-production order for two of what were originally called Sea Scouts being placed in September 1961. Following trials of a number of undercarriage designs, the first flight of the pre-production Wasp took place on 28 October 1962. Full production soon commenced, 98 in total being procured for the RN. The Wasp was successfully exported to Brazil, the Netherlands, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand and South Africa. 133 aircraft were built in total.
The Wasp was essentially a Scout modified to be fit for Navy purpose. Differences included folding fuselage and rotors as well as its unique 4-wheeled caster style undercarriage that allowed the aircraft to be finely manoeuvred on small, pitching flight-decks. Although small, the Wasp was a versatile and effective aircraft for short range transport and casualty evacuation as well as its primary anti-submarine role. Its success is attested by the fact that its service career lasted until its withdrawal in 1988. Its most notable success was during the Falklands War when Wasps damaged the Argentinian submarine ARA Santa Fe and forced it the crew to abandon it and surrender to British forces. It was withdrawn from service when the last of the Type 12 Rothesay class frigates was decommissioned and was replaced by the Westland Lynx.
CREW – 2
Speed – 120mph or 104 knots
Range – 303 miles
Ceiling – 12,200 ft