By David Taylor
Although the Royal Air Force had been conducting trials with various marks of the Sikorsky Hoverfly since the mid-forties, the units involved were considered to be no more than test and demonstration teams, with little thought being given to actual purchase, or the forming of a Squadron. The case could be made, therefore, that realistic helicopter operations for the Royal Air Force, actually began in the Far East in April 1950, during the Malayan Emergency. Prior to this, Army Air Corps AOP Austers provided the only close contact with troops on the ground. Indeed, throughout the emergency these aircraft also played a significant role in support of the helicopters. Although the RAF’s Whirlwind M4 – a Westland, licence-built version of the Royal Navy’s American built Sikorsky S55 – the Westland Dragonfly, and Bristol Sycamore all proved to be somewhat disappointing in performance – they were after all basically makeshift attempts to meet an urgent military requirement for a helicopter, preferably British-built – together they did cover the first ten years of helicopter service in Malaya. Not only were the first aircraft new to their pilots, the type being new to the service meant that operating procedures were being developed as they went about their business, in the field as it were. So there were accidents.
Westland’s licence-built version of the S55 – the Pratt & Whitney Wasp powered Mk 4 Whirlwind – was constructed from heavier gauge metal than the American original, thus, being 386 lbs heavier, it was not as successful as the Navy version. Although they did serve with limited distinction in Malaya, alongside the Alvis Leonides engined Sycamore – which had replaced the earlier Westland Dragonfly – the decision was made to replace the Whirlwind with the Sycamore. But, with the Sycamore suddenly being grounded
by blade failure, the Mk4 Whirlwind’s service life was to be extended by a year or so. They were eventually replaced in 1960 when the Sycamore was reintroduced, now with modified blades.
The stopgap aircraft had done well, but real success came with the turbine-powered Whirlwind Mk 10 development. Once this appeared on the scene in the mid sixties, all current helicopters became redundant, and Westland’s Whirlwind ruled the skies. For a while, at least. By the time 110 Squadron moved from RAAF Butterworth, down to Seletar, they were converting to the Whirlwind Mk10.