Westland Aircraft

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(Redirected from Westland Helicopters)

Westland Aircraft was a British aircraft manufacturer located in Yeovil in Somerset, formed just before the start of World War II. During the war the company produced a number of generally unsuccessful designs, but their Lysander would serve as an important liaison aircraft with the RAF. After the war the company focussed on helicopters and was eventually merged with several other British firms to create Westland Helicopters in 1961. It survives in name as a subsidiary of Finmeccanica S.p.A., named AgustaWestland.

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Privately owned ex-military Westland Wasp HAS.1.


The company was founded in 1935 when Petters Limited split its aircraft manufacturing from its aircraft engine concerns to form Westland Aircraft Limited, based in Yeovil, Somerset. During World War II the company produced a number of undistinguished military aircraft including the Lysander, the Whirlwind and the Welkin. For much of the war their factories were used to build Supermarine Spitfires, after the Supermarine factory in Southampton was bombed out of action during the Battle of Britain. Westland would then go on to be the major designers of the Supermarine Seafire, a navalized conversion of the Spitfire.

Post-war the company decided to get out of fixed-wing aircraft and concentrate solely on helicopters under a licensing agreement with Sikorsky. This upset W.E.W. Petter, the chief designer, who left to form a new aircraft division at English Electric that would go on to be very successful.

Production started with the Sikorsky S-51, which became the Dragonfly, flying for the first time in 1948, and entering service with the Royal Navy and RAF in 1953. Success with the Dragonfly was repeated with the Sikorsky S-55 which became the Whirlwind, and a re-engined Sikorsky S-58 using a turboshaft engine to become the Wessex. Other craft included those produced under license from Sikorsky (Sea King), or Bell (Sioux) as well as some of their own design (Wasp, Scout, Merlin).

The chairmanship of Eric Mensforth from 1953-1968 marked the start of the transition which was aided by the government when in 1959-1961 they forced the merger of the 20 or so aviation firms into three groups, British Aircraft Corporation and Hawker Siddeley Group took over fixed-wing designs, while the helicopter divisions of Bristol, Fairey and Saunders-Roe (with their hovercraft)were merged with Westland to form Westland Helicopters in 1961. In the late 1960s they started a collaboration with Aerospatiale to design three new helicopters, the Puma, Gazelle and Lynx, with the later being primarily a Westland design.

For many years Westland owned the main London heliport at Battersea.

Privately owned ex-military Westland Scout AH.1 (XV134)
Privately owned ex-military Westland Scout AH.1 (XV134)

Despite good support from the British establishment the company gradually fell into unprofitability, Sikorsky approached with a bail-out deal in 1985 that split the cabinet and lead to the resignation of Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine in January 1986 over the fate of Britain's sole helicopter manufacturer. The split, which became known as the Westland affair was over whether to push the company into a European deal or accept the US company's offer.

Recently examples of the Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopter have also been built by Westland as the WAH-64 although, beset by problems, some technical ones arising from specific UK requirements, these have yet to become operational with the Army Air Corps. Some of the company's Whirlwind and Wessex helicopters served the Royal Flight, latterly being part of No.32 Squadron RAF.

GKN plc bought into Westland in 1988, initially acquiring a stake owned by Hanson plc they soon acquired the shares owned by Fiat which gave them absolute control. In 1994 Westland became a wholly-owned subsidiary of GKN. It was merged with Finmeccanica's Agusta helicopter division in 1999. In 2004, Finmeccanica S.p.A. acquired GKN's share in the joint venture.

Fixed-wing Designs


Westland Wapiti
Westland Wallace
Westland-Hill Pterodactyl
Westland Wizard


Westland Lysander
Westland Whirlwind
Westland Welkin

(post war)

Westland Wyvern

Helicopter designs

Westland Dragonfly
Westland Whirlwind
Westland Wessex
Westland Sea King
Westland Sioux
Westland Wasp
Westland Scout
Westland Merlin

(with Aérospatiale)

Westland Lynx
Westland 30
Aérospatiale Puma
Aérospatiale Gazelle

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