Westland Wessex HAS1 XS877 Rescue Report

Rescue 887 – Mike Fitch

There were those who ignored my ‘quip’ regarding the Wessex from newsletter 15. There were those who were concerned it ‘may be true’. There were those who took to ground and kept their heads down hoping I might go away and there were those who ‘told me to go away’.

However from among these non believers came one or two who were resigned to the fact that once on the trail of an aircraft suitable for our collection (& bank balance) I tend not to give up easily. So there follows the diary of the acquisition of our latest exhibit Westland WS58 Wessex HAS 1 XS887.

Around early June I had confirmed to me a rumor that had been around for a while that Flambards in Helston, Cornwall may be contemplating the disposal of ‘887 from their remaining aircraft collection. It has been on display for around 25 years and it was with this in mind that I began to plan a survey and discuss with Sam Hearn then head of marketing at Flambards the possibility of its acquisition by the group.

Having obtained approximate costs of £1000 for the transport and £600 for crane hire along with any purchase cost the whole exercise was looking out of our finance range. This was before any costs relating to the restoration/preservation of the helicopter were taken into account. Having discussed these costings with the owners they came back with a very generous offer. If we could arrange the transport side they would donate the aircraft to us.

This was around the time of publication of the last newsletter in which we asked for sponsorship or donations to cover the remaining costs. Stalwart group member Dave Knowlson came to the rescue with a fantastically generous offer of sponsorship from York based Transport and Land drainage company J Atkinson & Son which included offloading costs at our Aeroventure base in Doncaster.this left us with only the loading costs from a Cornwall based plant hire company and the future costs relating to obtaining a replacement tail unit to find.YHPG member Alan Beattie’s former employer, The Yorkshire Bank, has very generously made the group a donation of £500 under the “Yorkshire Bank Staff Volunteer Grant Programme” which will cover these costs. With all this in place it was project on and suitable dates for working parties and transport were decided upon.

12th September came around and following a site briefing by Paul Morris, Andrew Nunn and his son Robert who are Cornish based YHPG supporters and I were allowed access to the Wessex to attend to the removal of some non conspicuous items and logging of other work and tools required on the next visit. Following our visit to site John Morley of Aeroventure who is currently nearby working at RAF St Mawgan, spent some time over the next couple of weeks removing hard to shift bits and pieces which we appreciate as this probably saved us an extra trip down.

A more in-depth two day work visit was made on 1st/2nd November which saw us removing and refitting the main undercarriage units. In this exercise we are indebted to Derek Thompson for his assistance with one particularly stubborn radius arm which simply refused to be pulled out. Following the attentions of Derek’s trusty grease gun filled with oil removal was soon effected. We also removed under fuselage aerials etc and ensured the tail rotor pylon could be removed and complete removal of the tail rotor blades, the main rotor blades were unbolted and then refitted for safe keeping. Following this work the aircraft move could be planned in earnest.

December 8th was decided upon for the move and as it had now been considered prudent to remove the gearbox / rotor head assembly to allow for road bridge clearance Aeroventure’s Bill Fern and I journeyed again the 400 miles to Helston overnight on the 6th / 7th. With the two of us putting in a very full days work assisted again by Andrew and Robert we believed the gearbox was free for lifting off. Main rotor blades were removed and other minor jobs readied ‘887 for loading the following day.

At 8.30 a.m on the 8th with 44 ton hyab, low loader and us all on site, you’ve guessed it the heavens opened with sleet, rain, and wind – the works. The only thing to do was brave the elements, don waterproofs and get on with it.

Exactly to plan the aircraft was lifted, undercarriage removed and fuselage loaded onto the lorry. The next operation was to remove the four gearbox mounting bolts and lift the unit off, here we came up against our only hitch a hitherto unseen hydraulic pipe under the gearbox had not been disconnected so we had a twenty minute holdup whilst this was removed. The gearbox was then loaded onto the front of the lorry trailor.Once the tail pylon had been removed and loaded onto our car trailer it was time to say thanks and let the crane driver go on his way. With the rain still incessant we finished loading the rotor blades and ancillary minor components. Loading was completed around 11.30 am more or less to plan and it was time to dry ourselves off for the return journey
(but not before Cornish pasties were sourced for the guys back at base) and of course the rain eased considerably now. Bill and myself in our car with the tail pylon on our trailer arrived back at Aeroventure around 7pm with the lorry making it back about 10.

The final phase was started at 8.30 am on Sunday when ‘887 was unloaded and reassembled before all went on their way knowing they had been involved in a tiring but satisfying undertaking.

Over the next six months XS887 will receive a basic restoration and repaint which should see its condition stabilized for around 5 / 6 years after which it will be fitted into the groups programme for a more comprehensive restoration.

YHPG would like to pass on grateful thanks to Commander D Kingston – Hale MBE for his generous donation of ‘887. Also to Paul Morris, Derek Thompson and the rest of the team at Flambards for their assistance. This also extends to Bill Fern of Aeroventure for his help. Phil Atkinson of J Atkinson & Son and Dave Knowlson for their part in the sponsorship and therefore making it all happen, and everyone else who made the move to Doncaster possible. We are also grateful to the Aeroventure trustees and committee for agreeing to accept ‘887 and their continued support in housing our collection.

And those pasties? We have our suspicions and we think the smiles condemned the guilty. Hopefully they will work all the harder this year on this excellent fare. What’s on the horizon for the group now? Who knows, I’ll keep looking around and something is bound to turn up ………….. Oh come on lads let me out of the cupboard its dark in here. I promise I won’t look for anything else (until 2008)! Happy new year by the way.

(P.S. – Apparently, after Mike’s visits, Cornwall has shut down until they can replace the Cornish Pasty stocks !!) AJB