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Westland Helicopters


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 built.

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 cockpit fighter.

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 turbine operations.
GKN Westland
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.
Contribution by Dave Taskis    

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