The photo directly below is of the Seaking HAR 5 helicopter XV651 of No 771 Squadron based at RNAS Culdrose, Cornwall. IMO probably the most famous or well-known squadron of Seaking helicopters in the Royal Navy and possibly the World, but I would agree that the Seakings involved in picking up the Apollo 11 astronauts may have the same claim. Anyway definitely in my part of the world they were well known. Although the squadron has a long history, they operated these Seakings from October 1987 through to March 2016 and thus through the period that I served at sea and saw them in operation.
The photo was taken by me onboard the RFA Argus on the 14th July 2007. The aircraft was not just “visiting” nor was it there for aircraft training purposes – but was embarked for a very specific role which very few apart from those directly involved knew about. It is indeed quite rare to embark a SAR helicopter for any length of time, and in this case about two weeks if memory serves me correctly. The aircraft XV651 had landed and was shut down and MRBs folded on number 3 spot (the one right aft on the port side ie on the main “runway” of the deck). The Telebrief is fitted and as can be seen in the photo the No 4 blade walker is just about to let go of the blade as it is just about in the folded position. He has a tip sock in his hand. When the MRB fold switch is selected the rotor blades rotate very slowly until the “king” blade/ No1 blade is in position over the fuselage. It then locks in position and the other four blades fold. Ie only FOUR blades actually fold. Most often the blades when folded have the two outer blades fitted with tip socks and lashings to prevent them from blowing around in the wind and either being damaged or damaging the aircraft.
So to the reason for the photo – in the very near future there will be a release of some models of the Seaking helicopter – but not one but indeed seven different versions. Thus modellers will be able to choose which version(s) they wish to possibly enhance their ship model, and in the case of the 771 squadron add a bit of colour as well. The photo obviously indicates that they did land on ships despite being a shore-based Search & Rescue (SAR) squadron. The photo also shows the aircraft with blades folded, and just recently packs of models of folded blades have been made available – in white metal as castings. The folded blades may make your model a little more authentic as helicopters (and aircraft) when on deck of the ships are often in the folded state. So the photos might help with modelling.
The next two photos show the same helicopter as it is moved prior to being struck down into No 2 Hangar via No 2 Lift. In the first view the aircraft is being pushed by the flight deck tractor and is just about in position on the lift. Note that the tail has yet to be folded but the tip socks have been fitted to the two side blades.
In the next photo the aircraft is in position fore and aft on No 2 Lift with four nylons fitted, the tail has been folded and the MRBs are all fitted with tip socks and lashed. The tractor and towing bar are disconnected. The view also shows a bit of detail about the flight deck markings.
It is not often you see a photo of the RFA Argus with the lift in any other position than at flight deck level – I could not find one on the Internet. So in the final view the aircraft is being struck down on No 2 Lift. Note also in this view the gust lock is fitted to the tail rotor hub. This view might be of help to those who wish to model their ships with lifts lowered.
There is another reason for the series of photos, but particularly the first one. With reference to the reason the aircraft was embarked and indeed the reason why I took the photo which incidentally was not the first day it was onboard, is to illustrate that not everything is what it seems, and perhaps one does not see everything in the photo. Although not intended to be a quiz, how many of you noticed the “extra baggage” or the “plaything” on the aircraft. I doubt you will find another photo of a 771 Squadron Seaking as a RESCUE helicopter with a “fish” attached.
40 years ago there was a significant deployment of RN and RFA ships. The photos of the Seaking in the role it was on at the time of the photos are directly connected.
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