RAF Seletar June 1962 to March 1969
By Ian Old
In 1947 the Ministry of Supply issued Specification E4/47 for a twin-engined and twin-rotor helicopter. The Bristol Aeroplane Company responded with its Type 173. Ground trials began in 1951 and problems with ground resonance were found, meaning that its first flight was not until 1952. Interest in the basic design was shown by the Royal Navy (Type 191, for anti-submarine warfare and rescue duties), Royal Air Force (Type 192, heavy lift and troop transport) and the Royal Canadian Navy (Type 193, anti-submarine warfare and rescue). The Navy’s interest led to the nose being higher off the ground to allow the carriage of torpedoes under the forward fuselage. This meant that the main cabin door was approximately six feet above the ground, making it less than ideal for the loading and unloading of freight and passengers. Following the 1957 Defence Review, the RN withdrew its interest and the RCN did likewise. The first flight of the prototype for the RAF was made on 5 July 1958. Deliveries to the RAF began in 1961. Following trials the tail planes went through two changes of profile before settling on the twin-angle anhedral version.
The three squadrons to operate the type all formed up at Odiham. 66 Sqn. was the first squadron, in September 1961. Next was 72 Sqn. which was reformed on 15 November of the same year. It remained at Odiham until August 1964 when it became the first recipient of the Wessex HC.2. 26 Sqn. was the final squadron on the type. It was reformed at Odiham in June 1962, moving to Khormaksar, Aden in 1963, where it was disbanded on 30 November 1965. This meant that the only operational user was now 66 Sqn., which had changed base to Seletar in June 1962.
The production standard machines had all-metal, 4 bladed rotors. The final standard also controls and instruments which allowed night operations and a true single engine-out flight, if one of the 1,465hp Napier Gazelle engines failed. Eighteen passengers could be carried or twelve stretchers and two seating wounded plus one medical attendant. 6,000lb (2,700kg) of internal freight could be carried. An external freight hook was fitted, allowing a 5,250lb (2,380kg) load to be carried. Maximum take off weight was 19,000 lb. Fuselage length was 54 feet, 4 inches. It could cruise at 138 mph, had a maximum range of 400 nautical miles and a service ceiling of 12,000 feet.
In the Far East, 66 Sqn. was busy operating in the Borneo Confrontation up to July 1966 and its helicopters operated from several locations during the campaign. It earned the nickname “Flying Longhouse” from native tribemen in the area. Impending retirement played its part in premature withdrawals from service, with five machines not flying after 1968. On 20 March 1969, now down to only eight airworthy examples, 66 Sqn. was disbanded and the Belvederes flew no more. 66 Sqn. has not been reformed since.
The total order for the RAF comprised 26 airframes and it is believed that seventeen saw service with 66 Sqn. in the Far East.
Individual airframe details:
Later issued to 66 Sqn., at Seletar and was coded ‘A’ circa 1966. 66 Sqn. disbanded on 18 March 1969, although not XG448 was not Struck off charge (SOC) until 3 July 1969. Donated to the Singaporean ADC for use as an instructional airframe in March 1969, being allocated the serial SAFTECH-4. It remained in use until 1977. Parts from it were used in the restoration of XG452 at the IHM, Weston-super-Mare.
To 66 Sqn., based at Seletar and was coded ‘B’ circa 1966, replacing XG456. Struck off charge 21 March 1969, following 66 Sqn.’s disbandment and was scrapped in June 1969.
To 66 Sqn., Seletar, and coded ‘C’ circa 1966. During August 1967 it flew uncoded, before being recoded as ‘E’. Struck off charge 13 November 1967 and scrapped 1 February 1968.
To 66 Sqn., based at Seletar after service in Aden and was coded ‘D’ circa 1966. It was damaged by a fire on engine start at Seletar on 18 March 1969. The damage was not repaired due to the type’s impending retirement, two days later. Struck off charge and scrapped. There is a photograph on the Air Britian Picture Library (abpic) website of XG453 being stripped after the fire. (see www.abpic.co.uk/photo/1011235/)
Shipped to FEAF. Arrived in Singapore in March 1969, it being Struck Off Charge (SOC) on 19 March 1969, the day before 66 Sqn. was disbanded and it was scrapped.
In June 1962, the unit moved to Seletar. Coded ‘A’ whilst in white/natural scheme. Later recoded ‘B’ circa 1966. Struck off charge on 1 August 1968 and scrapped.
On 26 November 1963 was allocated to Far East Air Force (FEAF) and joined 66 Sqn., at Seletar, on 7 December 1963 and was coded as ‘G’ circa 1966. Struck off charge (SOC) on 14 May 1968, and was scrapped on site.
Issued to 66 Sqn., at Seletar, and was coded ‘J’ circa 1966. Struck off charge 21 March 1969, after 66 Sqn. had been disbanded and scrapped on site.
Transferred to 66 Sqn., Seletar and coded ‘H’, circa 1966. Struck off charge 21 March 1969, after 66 Sqn. had been disbanded and was scrapped.
To 66 Sqn., Seletar. It superseded XG451 as ‘C’, in late 1967. Struck off charge on 21 March 1969, after 66 Sqn. had been disbanded, and was scrapped.
Transferred to 66 Sqn., Seletar and became ‘K’ circa 1966. Struck off charge 21 March 1969, after 66 Sqn.’s disbandment, and was scrapped.
Transferred to 66 Sqn., Seletar after service in Aden and was coded ‘L’ circa 1966. Struck off charge 13 May 1968 and scrapped.
To 66 Sqn., Seletar and coded ‘M’ circa 1966. Struck off charge 21 March 1969, following the disbanding of 66 Sqn. and was soon scrapped.
Transferred to 66 Sqn., Seletar and was coded ‘N’ circa 1966. Written off on 25 January 1968, details unknown. Struck off charge 21 March 1969, only after 66 Sqn. had disbanded, and was scrapped.
One of the first six machines to join 66 Sqn., in April 1962 and was soon coded ‘A’. It crashed on 4 May 1963 near Long Merarap after the yaw control cable failed in flight causing the aircraft to roll out of control. All nine occupants were killed: Flight Lieutenants A.P.J Dobson and D.R.E Viner (pilots), Corporal J.L. Williams (aircrewman) and passengers Corporal P. Murphy, 22nd SAS Regiment, British Army as were Majors R.H.D Norman MBE MC & H.A.I. Thompson MC and Captain J.P. Conington. Also Mr. M.H. Day, Foreign Office and Mr D. Reddish, The Borneo Company.
In April 1962, was one of six machines crated for transport by sea to Singapore. It joined 66 Sqn. on 8 June and was coded ‘B.’ On 14 May 1964 it was flown onto the carrier HMS Centaur for shipment to Aden, to join 26 Sqn. at Khormaksar, Aden. On 23 November 1965, one week before 26 Sqn. was disbanded, embarked onboard HMS Albion in Aden Harbour for return to Far East Air Force (FEAF), as one of the last four Belvederes with 26 Sqn. Sailed on 25 November and arrived off Seletar on 4 December, and it then rejoined 66 Sqn., coded ‘F’. Camouflaged during 1966 and recoded ‘O’ during 1967. On 27 October 1967, eleven of the twelve 66 Sqn. Belvederes then on strength flew in formation over Seletar (see video footage on YouTube), the largest Belvedere formation ever assembled. In February 1969 XG474, with most of the Squadron, was deployed in Malaysia for Exercise “CROWNING GLORY”.
On 20 March 1969, 66 Sqn. was disbanded at Seletar, being the first and last Belvedere unit. It was one of six Belvederes to fly during the disbandment parade and the last to touch down after lowering its underslung load of a 105mm howitzer onto the former flying boat slipway, where the six helicopter-delivered guns fired a salute. Scrapping of the other Belvederes began the next morning, and with the winding down of the Far East Air Force, Seletar closed as an RAF flying station a few days later.
It was towed to Seletar’s former flying boat slipway and shipped along the Johore Strait to the RN Dockyard at Sembawang, along Singapore’s northern coast. In early June 1969, it left Singapore onboard HMS Albion. It had amassed 1,675 flying hours, the airframe limit being 1,700 airframe hours. On 1 August it arrived at Portsmouth, going to the RAF Museum store at Henlow on 6/7 August. It was moved by road to Hendon on 25 March 1971 by 71 MU and has been displayed there ever since. Donated to the RAF Museum by the MoD on 3 August 1998.
Delivered to 66 Sqn. during 1962 and was coded ‘C’. Damaged beyond repair at Seletar when there was an explosion on engine start, 5 December 1963.
Delivered on 11 October 1962. Issued to 66 Sqn., at Seletar and was coded ‘F’ by December 1962. Was recoded ‘P’ during 1966. Struck off charge on 13 June 1968 and was scrapped.
It is believed that no unit markings were applied.
Known aircraft code/ serial number tie-ups for 66 Sqn.
A – XG473/XG456/XG448
B – XG474/XG456/XG449
C – XG475/XG451/XG460
D – XG453
E – XG451
F – XG476
G – XG457
H – XG459
J – XG458
K – XG464
L – XG466
M – XG467
N – XG468
O – XG474
P – XG476
MoD AHB. Air Britain. “Roundel” (BAR). “Aviation News”. RAF Museum.