The Petters brothers began a small engineering company in the early
1900s. They saw World War 1 (WWI) coming and offered the company services to
the UK Government. It declined, but the Admiralty took up their offer and a long maritime tradition was born. By 1915, they were producing Short
184 seaplanes from a field near Yeovil and by 1916 a proper factory was
being built. At the end of WWI, around 1100 aircraft of 10 types had been
The inter-war years saw Westland produce the fixed wing Woodpigeon,
Widgeon, Wapiti and Wallace. Always innovative, the Pterodactyl tailess
aircraft appeared and the first rotary wing designs, by Cierva, were built
in 1936. The famous Lysander and Whirlwind were already in production
before World War 2 (WWII) broke out.
During WWII, Westland also produced Spitfires and Seafires to assist
Vickers-Supermarine, which had become a priority target for the Luftwaffe
KG missions. It also produced the Wrekin high-altitude, pressured
Helicopter work had started as early as 1948, re-working and improving
the Sikorsky S-51 design to produce the Dragonfly for the Royal Navy and
the Royal Air Force, entering service in 1953. This same year saw the last
fixed wing design (the Wyvern) and Westland had produced about 6000
aircraft before it decided to concentrate on excellence in rotary wing airframes.
A similar improvement approach produced the Whirlwind (from the S-55)
and the Wessex (from the S-58), which was also re-engineered for gas
Major rationalisation of the UK aircraft industry occurred during the
1960s. Westland acquired Bristol Helicopters, Fairey Aviation and
Saunders-Roe to transform itself into Westland Helicopters with plants
at Yeovil, Weston-super-Mare, Eastleigh and Hayes.
Collaboration with Sikorsky (a major shareholder) continued with the
Sea King and new arrangements were made with Aerospatiale for the Puma,
Gazelle and Lynx and their derivatives.
The mid 1980s were a very difficult period. By the late 1980s an acrimonious political row, figure-headed by Michael Hesletine and Leon
Brittain led Westland to adopt a more European focus and began collaboration with Agusta on the EH101 (to become the Merlin). By 1994, United Technologies (Sikorsky's parent company) sold its stock in
Westland and this was snapped up by GKN as part of its take-over. GKN-Westland was born in 1995. The injection of capital helped secure the UK Apache production for the British Army.
In July 2000, GKN and Finnemeccanica (of Italy) concluded a joint venture
agreement and AgustaWestland came into being in 2001.
The tradition of rotary wing excellence and supporting the Royal Navy continues.