Back Westland "Whirlwind"

Westland "Whirlwind"

The first S-55s received by the Royal Navy in 1950 were built by Sikorsky, but Westland acquired a license in 1950 and the first British-made S-55 flew at Yeovil in November 1952. Like the American models, the first Whirlwinds had Pratt & Whitney engines and were delivered to No.705 Squadron based at Gosport.

The RAF also ordered this helicopter for transport and rescue missions: the Whirlwind HAR Mk.2 (the same as the naval version except for some differences in equipment) joined the Transport and Coastal Command Units from 1955. With Wright R.1300 engines, the Whirlwind Mk.3 went into production for the Royal Navy in 1953 and operated for many years from both ship and shore bases. The subsequent RAF HAR Mk.4 version was modified for use in the tropics and fitted with a new variant of the Pratt & Whitney R-1340. It was used in Malaysia.

When Westland began producing the S-55, it specified that the American engine would be used until a more suitable British powerplant was available. To meet this requirement, Alvis developed a double radial called the Leonides Major, which delivered 882hp derated to 750hp. The re-engined Whirlwind flew in 1955. It was followed in 1956 by the Mk.7 version intended to replace the old Fairey Gannet antisubmarine aircraft.

Meanwhile, Westland had thought of adapting a turbine engine for the Whirlwind. The aircraft was first given a General Electric T.58 and then the more powerful D.H. Gnome turbine. The turbine-powered Whirlwind Series 3 flew in February 1959 and introduced a new nose profile which offered better visibility from the cockpit than the piston engine version. The Whirlwind could carry ten men or six stretchers, or a comparable load.

The RAF adopted the Whirlwind Mk.10 version in April 1960. More than 400 Whirlwinds were built, of which nearly 100 were exported to the following countries: Austria, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, France, Ghana, Jordan, Iran, Kuwait, Spain, Saudi Arabia and Yugoslavia.

G.Apostolo "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Helicopters", 1984

Westland "Whirlwind"

Westland obtained the licence to build the S-55 from Sikorsky in November 1950. The Series 1 and 2, powered respectively by a Pratt & Whitney R-1340 or Wright R-1300 engine or the 755hp Alvis Leonides Major 755, were used for both civil and military work.

The turbine-powered S-55 made its first flight as the Whirlwind Series 3 in February 1959, powered by a General Electric T58. At the end of the year a Series 3 flew with a 1050shp Bristol Siddeley Gnorne free-turbine - the licence-built version of the T58.

Like the S-55, the Series 3 has a single door on the left side. The pilot and co-pilot sit above and behind the engine which places their cabin directly under the centreline of the main rotor. The rotor is hydraulically operated for both cyclic and collective pitch controls. Forward vision for landing was not ideal in earlier versions of the Whirlwind since the engine housing was in the nose. The turbine version was better since, though the nose was longer, it was at a more raked angle. Unlike the US turbine-powered S-55, the Whirlwind Series 3 has its engine exhaust on the left side almost immediately above the forward wheel, which can make cargo loading slightly hazardous if the engine is running or the exhaust hot. The turbine engine can be retrofitted to Series 1 and 2 machines.

The Whirlwind can carry up to ten passengers, six stretchers or a freight load. The Series 2 machines in service with BEA were fitted with floats as well as wheels for use off inland waterways. Few Whirlwinds are in civil use in the 1980s.

Bill Gunston "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Commercial Aircraft", 1980

Westland "Whirlwind"


- Westland built a total of 364 S-55s under licence between 1953 and 1966, including 68 WS-55 civil aircraft.

- Bristow Helicopters' Series 1s were used for 'flying crane' and oil rig support duties.

- British airline BEA used WS-55s between central London and Heathrow airport.

- Most turbine-powered WS-55 Series 3s were converted from piston-engined Series 1s and 2s.

- WS-55s were used from the 1950s in the Falkland Islands for whaling operations.

- In 1955 a Whirlwind on delivery was flown 5000km to the Persian Gulf.

Technical data for Westland "Whirlwind 3"

Crew: 2, passengers: 8-10, engine: 1 x Bristol Siddeley "Gnome" turboshaft, rated at 795kW, rotor diameter: 16.2m, length: 19.0m, height: 4.0m, take-off weight: 3629kg, empty weight: 2159kg, cruising speed: 167km/h, rate of climb: 6.1m/s, service ceiling: 4870m, range with max fuel: 834km, range with max payload: 174km, service ceiling: 4870m

Comments1-20 21-40
John Stubbert, e-mail, 01.06.2020reply

I had many happy hours in these aircraft. I was Photographer, RAF. I had trips in GB, Cyprus, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Happy days!

Rolie James, e-mail, 28.01.2018reply

First flew Wirlwind HAR 10 during my flying training at Tern Hill in 1971! On course completion l was posted to Odiham and was the first, first tourist to fly the Puma helicopter. After 5 years on the Puma, I was posted to the UN at Nicosia to fly the Wirlwind 10! Whilst the Puma was a fabulous helicopter, the Wirlwind was more fun! After the QHI course and a posting to Oman, I was fortunate to fly Bell 205, 212 and 214, but the Whirlwind 10 was 'still in my system!'. I was fortunate to fly it again in UK and Cyprus. I retired from flying this year, aged 70 years!

Bob Cowell, e-mail, 10.12.2017reply

I can always remember the 103 sqn whirlwind helicopters based at RAF Tengah in the early seventies which were camouflaged. Back in the mid sixties to early seventies , I'm led to believe at RAAF Butterworth , there was at least one Whirlwind Har10 I think was a yellow Raf rescue helicopter, does anybody remember or ever seen these whirlwinds at Butterworth?

Steve Lister, e-mail, 15.09.2017reply

The article states that the single cabin door was on the LHS of the fuselage & the jet exhaust made loading hazardous??? The door was on the RHS of the fuselage. If this has already been pointed out I missed it

Regards Steve

Darrell Drury, e-mail, 30.09.2016reply

Hi, I work with British Forces Postal Service. We produce commemorative covers for Forces charities. We are producing a commemorative cover for the 60th Ann, of Op Musketeer. Based on the first helicopter troop landings. We are desperately short of an image showing 45 Commando troops be flown in by the Wessex Whirlwind helicopter. There are a couple on the internet but they do have IWM copyright. I would be grateful if you could email me if you can help us out. Kind regards, Darrell

John Eaves, 11.07.2016reply

I have read with interest the e-mail from Bob Cowell regarding the Mirage crash July 1972. I was one of the crewmen (M.A.L.M.) involved in that incident and spent many sorties to and fro the incident site. I spent just over 5 years on whirlwinds (mks 7 and 10)based at Boscombe Down, Changi and Tengah. Fond but distant memories. Went on to Wessex mk 2 at Odiham but not quite the same.

Vic, e-mail, 21.11.2015reply

I served with the 1st and 2nd Royal Australian Regiment [Infantry]in Malaya 1959-63 and recollect the Battalion being airlifted from an LZ by Whirlwinds off the H.M.S. Ark Royal, it turned out as I remember to be a bit of a shambles with a good number of the aircraft [which I was told were veterans of the Suez crisis in 56] failing to fulfill the requirement to lift troops, something to do with air density ? tropical conditions ? don't know only a "grunt"

Mac McConnell-Wood, e-mail, 27.05.2015reply

Hello Damian Waters,
Yes- I remember your Grandfather -I was with the Joint Helicopter Unit on the Suez op. Flew from HMS Theseus-trained on HMS Ocean.
First attempt to get the choppers decked and stowed prompted Commander Air to announce over the tannoy Happy days! "Get those B..things stowed or we'll be in Paris in 5 minutes"...Oh how we chortled !

Mac McConnell-Wood, e-mail, 27.05.2015reply

McConnell-Wood...Just found this blog. I was a crewman at Butterworth '59 -'61. Remember picking up an Aussie Sabre pilot who'd ejected over light ulu-and we trecked in from a nearby paddy to get him....Also remember fixing a hydraulic snag with the help of aboriginals, who operated the test rig from the deck, while I was bleeding the system from the top--all done by sign language.!These guys looked primitive , but they were intelligent enough to figure out what I was trying to explain!...Happy days!

Mac McConnell-Wood, e-mail, 27.05.2015reply

McConnell-Wood...Just found this blog. I was a crewman at Butterworth '59 -'61. Remember picking up an Aussie Sabre pilot who'd ejected over light ulu-and we trecked in from a nearby paddy to get him....Also remember fixing a hydraulic snag with the help of aboriginals, who operated the test rig from the deck, while I was bleeding the system from the top--all done by sign language.!These guys looked primitive , but they were intelligent enough to figure out what I was trying to explain!...Happy days!

Damian Waters, e-mail, 15.01.2013reply

Hi, my grandfather Major Roy Victor Waters served in the British Army Air Corp. He flew the Whirlwind in the Suez crisis of the HMS Theseus. Looking for anyone who knew or served with him.

Bob Cowell, e-mail, 13.01.2013reply

I was on attachment at RAF Tengah in the early seventies from RAAF Butterworth. On 06Jul72 We had an inflight fire on RAAF Mirage A3-98. Pilot F /O John Kindler ejected safely, aircraft crashed 30nm n /w of RAF Tengah near Johore Bahru. One of 103 SQNS Whirlwinds HAR10's rescued pilot and brought him safely back to Tengah . I can always remember the squeaking of the wheels as the whirlwind taxied up to our 3Sqn flt line as F /O Kindler happily
jumped from the aircraft still with the ejection seat handle in his hand. The Whirlwinds from 103 sqn also transported us to the crash site over several more days after. Is there any way of finding out those Whirlwind HAR10 serial numbers that 103SQN had on strengh at Tengah at that time. Regards Bob Cowell.

aaron dengate, e-mail, 10.09.2013reply

i know that whirlwinds were based at raf manston betwwen 1961-1974 and xj763 g-bkha attnded the airshow here in 1986

Jeff Morris, e-mail, 13.02.2013reply

Recognize a couple of names there; I too was a crewman on 103 /110 Squadron based at Labuan from May 1964 to May 1965 and spent a fair bit of time at Bario (Y10). Start of a long flying career!

Pete Bogué, e-mail, 08.08.2010reply

I flew Whirwind 2 /4s at 'B' Flight No 228 SAR Squadron, RAF Leconfield in the early sixties. We re-equipped with the Mk 10 Turbine-powered aircraft (mostly re-built 2 /4s). The cabin door was on the right-hand side and the jet exhaust on the right. I later flew on No 103 Squadron based at Seletar, Singapore. However, we spent most of our time in either Malaya or Borneo during the Indonesian Confrontation. The 'brochure' says the aircraft can carry ten soldiers or six stretchers, but that was nonsense on operations and we usually managed five or six fully equipped soldiers. Ghurkas weighed more than the others! The WW 10 was nice to fly, very manoeuvrable and the automatic throttle control took the sweat out of chopper flying (no need to do the 'one-armed paper hanger' act of the earlier piston-engined Whirlwinds. I would not have missed Search and Rescue, or Borneo and Malaya for anything. It was fun, fun, fun all the way! So, I'm 79 and some now and the last time I flew it was in a Tiger Moth!!

Pete Bogue, e-mail, 08.08.2010reply

Just noticed 'howler' in my previous post. Just to be sure, the door was on the right and the jet exhaust on the left! The later Wessex had twin Gnomes and thus an exhaust on both sides. The view to the right from the pilots seat was often hazy due to the exhaust heat! The Gnome was capable of giving about 1050 shaft horse power, but was de-rated in the WW10 to around 850 because the main rotor gearbox and drive train could not absorb more power. A bit more range, a tad more speed and the old Whirlybird would have taken some beating as a battlefield chopper.

Keith Cannon, e-mail, 22.09.2010reply

Just noticed the posts from Pete Bogué.I was a Jnr Tech based at Labuan from Nov 63 to Nov 64, and managed to get a job as a crewman on 103 Squadron Whirlwind 10s. He may well not remember me from that far back, however I did fly with him on XR 478 and XR 479 from the 7th to 29th October 1964. I well remember sitting in the door with my feet dangling out either high above the rain forest or way below the tree tops. The WW10 was an exciting aircraft to fly in and did not give me many problems when it came to servicing them in the field. The year I spent flying on the WW10 was without doubt the best fun that I have ever had. Given the chance I would do exactly the same tomorrow - even though I am now a bit long in the tooth!!

Chari Bogué, e-mail, 26.08.2020 Keith Cannon

Dear Keith,
Thank you for sharing your memories of Peter Bogué, my father-in-law, here. We miss him very much.

Chari Bogué


Jamie MacAlister, e-mail, 12.10.2010reply

I am presently a Lecturer / Instructor with Air Service Training (Engineering) at Perth Airport, Scone in Scotland. I thought you may like to know we have a Whirlwind HAS Mk 9 in the hangar (she is used extensively to teach young Helicopter engineers) amongst other types. XL 875 is her Royal Navy Service number.

Terry Jones, e-mail, 20.02.2011reply

Just seen Peter Bogué's post. I well remember flying with him as crewman on 103 Sqn at Seletar and from Kuching. Good to know that he is still alive. I have memories of my time on helicopters.

Chari Bogué, e-mail, 26.08.2020 Terry Jones

Dear Terry,

I just saw your comment in response to Peter Bogué's text. Peter was my father-in-law and it's great to know about other pilots who got to know him and fly with him. He passed away in April this year and we miss him terribly. I hope you get to read this message.
Best wishes for you and your family.
Chari Bogué


Bill Fletcher, e-mail, 07.03.2011reply

When I arrived at Seletar at the end of 1962 103 sqdn consisted of 1 Flt /Sgt, 1Ch /Tech and 2 corporals including me. We built the ground equipment then assisted in building the aircraft from boxesIwas on the party which took the aiorcraft to Borneo on HMS Albion. Happy days!

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