Westland Aircraft

Westland Aircraft

Infobox Defunct Company
company_name = Westland Aircraft Westland Helicopters Limited
fate = Merged with Agusta
successor = AgustaWestland
foundation = 1915 as Westland Works
1935 as Westland Aircraft as separation from Petters Ltd
1958 renamed to Westland Helicopters
defunct = 2000
location = flagicon|GBR Yeovil, Somerset, United Kingdom
industry = Aerospace
key_people =
products = Fixed and rotary wing aircraft
num_employees =
parent =
subsid =

Westland Aircraft was a British aircraft manufacturer located in Yeovil in Somerset. Formed as a separate company by separation from Petters Ltd just before the start of the Second World War Westland had been building aircraft from 1915. During the war the company produced a number of generally unsuccessful designs, but their Lysander would serve as an important liaison aircraft with the Royal Air Force. After the war the company focussed on helicopters and was eventually merged with several other British firms to create Westland Helicopters in 1961. In 2000 it merged with Agusta to become AgustaWestland.


In 1915 the Westland Aircraft Works was founded as a division of Petters Limited in response to government orders for the construction under licence of initially 12 Short Type 184 seaplanes, followed by 20 Short Type 166 aircraft. Orders for other aircraft followed during the First World War, including the Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter, the de Havilland designed Airco DH.4, Airco DH.9 and Airco DH.9A and the Vickers Vimy. As a result of the experience gained in manufacturing aircraft under licence, Westland began to design and build its own aircraft, starting with the Westland N-1B in 1917, which was followed in 1918 by the Wagtail and the Weasel.

Following the end of war, Westland produced the Limousine and Woodpigeon light aircraft for the civilian market, but most successful was the Wapiti close support aircraft. In 1935 Petters split its aircraft manufacturing from its aircraft engine concerns to form Westland Aircraft Limited, based in Yeovil, Somerset.

World War Two

The Whirlwind was the UK's first cannon-armed fighter and faster than many other British aircraft at the time but was troubled by the inability of Rolls-Royce to produce the engines. During World War II the company produced a number of undistinguished military aircraft including the Lysander, and the Welkin.

The Welkin was a twin-engine high altitude design to intercept attempts by high-flying German bombers to attack Britain. When the threat never appeared production was limited.

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, indeed Westlands built more Spitfires than any other manufacturer. Westland would then go on to be the major designers of the Supermarine Seafire, a navalised conversion of the Spitfire.

Post War Success

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. [He would later leave EE and join Folland to desing the Gnat]

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. Wesltand developed an improved version the Widgeon which was not a great success. Success with the Dragonfly was repeated with the Sikorsky S-55 which became the Whirlwind, and a re-engined Sikorsky S-58 in both turboshaft and turbine engine powered designs as the Wessex.

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.

Westland inherited the Saro Skeeter helicopter, a development of the Skeeter (the P531) and the Fairey Rotodyne compound helicopter (gyrodyne) design. They continued to develop the latter sidelining their own Westland Westminster large transport design.

The company continued to produce other aircraft under licence from Sikorsky (Sea King) and Bell (Sioux). They also produced their own designs the Westland Scout and its naval variant the Westland Wasp from the P.531 which found favour with the Army Air Corps and Fleet Air Arm respectively.

In the late 1960s the company started a collaboration with Aerospatiale to design three new helicopters, the Aérospatiale Puma, Aérospatiale Gazelle and Westland Lynx, with the later being primarily a Westland design.

In 1970 Westland bought out its partners in the British Hovercraft Corporation

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


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 led 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. Eventually, the link with Sikorsky was accepted. [ [http://www.whl.co.uk/history_overview3.cfm Westland Helicopters - history ] ]

Recently examples of the Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopter have also been built by Westland as the WAH-64, entering full operational service in 2005. Some of the company's Whirlwind and Wessex helicopters served the Queen's Flight (later merged into No. 32 Squadron).

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.

The former Westland site at the now-disused airfield in Weston-super-Mare houses The Helicopter Museum featuring a number of examples of Westland aircraft. Pride of place is given to an immaculate Westland Wessex HCC Mk.4, formerly of the Queen's Flight.


Fixed-wing aircraft

* Westland N.1B
* Westland Wagtail
* Westland Weasel
* Westland Limousine
* Westland Walrus
* Westland Dreadnought
* Westland Woodpidgeon
* Westland Widgeon
* Westland Yeovil
* Westland Wizard
* Westland Westbury
* Westland Wapiti
* Westland Witch
* Westland-Hill Pterodactyl
* Westland Interceptor
* Westland IV and Wessex
* Westland C.O.W. Gun Fighter
* Westland Wallace
* Westland PV-3 (Houston-Westland)
* Westland PV-6 (Houston-Wallace)
* Westland PV-7
* Westland F.7/30
* Westland Lysander
* Westland Whirlwind
* Westland Welkin
* Westland Wyvern


* Westland Dragonfly
* Westland Whirlwind
* Westland Widgeon
* Westland Wessex
* Westland Westminster (1958) - prototype stage only
* Westland Scout
* Westland Wasp
* Westland Sioux
* Westland Sea King
* Westland Puma
* Westland Gazelle
* Westland Lynx
* Westland 30
* AgustaWestland AW101 Merlin
* Westland Apache


* James, Derek N. "Westland: A History". Gloucestershire UK: Tempus Publishing Ltd, 2002. ISBN 0-7524-2772-5.
* Mondey, David. "Westland (Planemakers 2)". London: Jane's Publishing Company, 1982. ISBN 0-7106-0134-4.
* James, Derek N. 'Westland Aircraft since 1915'. London: Putnam, 1991. ISBN 0-85177-847-X

External links

* [http://www.whl.co.uk/ Westland (company web site)]
* [http://www.bartiesworld.co.uk/hovercraft/saunders.htm The hovercraft of the Westlands Aircraft Group (including Saunders-Roe and British Hovercraft Corporation)]
* Westland at Helis.com : [http://www.helis.com/timeline/westland.php timeline] and [http://www.helis.com/database/go/westland.php database section]

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