In October 2021, Historic Helicopters flew two former Belgian Air Force Westland Sea King Mk48s from Koksijde Air Base to their Somerset base to join an incredible fleet of airworthy aircraft. One of these aircraft, RS02, was the star of a Nightshoot organised by Threshold.Aero in early March alongside another recent addition to the Historic Helicopters fleet, Westland Lynx AH7 XZ616.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
The distinctive Westland Sea King Mk48s of the Belgian Air Force were perhaps just as iconic to the Belgian public as their RAF and Royal Navy counterparts were to the British population. After entering service in 1976 with 40 Squadron, they took part in numerous rescue missions in the North Sea and overland. Perhaps the most high-profile missions were those in response to the ‘MS Herald of Free Enterprise’ disaster in March 1987. They were even television stars in the Belgian drama series ‘Windkracht 10’ which ran from 1997-1998.
Throughout their service, most of the Belgian Sea Kings wore a distinctive green and sand camouflage scheme. These unusual colours originate from a cancelled order by the Egyptian Air Force. The airframes were already built and repurposed for the Belgian requirement but retained the camouflage.
By the time of their retirement, the small Belgian Sea King fleet has amassed over 58,000 flying hours. Three of the aircraft are preserved in Belgium; RS01 in the Brussels Air Museum, RS03 at Koksijde and RS05 at an Aviation Technical College in Oostende. In 2020, Historic Helicopters managed to acquire the final two airframes, RS02 and RS04. Over the course of 2020 and 2021 they were returned to airworthy condition and put on to the Belgian civilian register so they could be flown to Historic Helicopters’ base at Chard in Somerset in October 2021.
As with any restoration project, there is immense amount of paperwork than has to be done as well as the physical maintenance. Sadly, for the Nightshoot the essential paperwork was yet to be signed off by the Civil Aviation Authority but Historic Helicopters were still able to power up RS02 and switch on the aircraft’s lighting for some photography against the sunset.
Joining RS02 was another of Historic Helicopters’ newest projects, Westland Lynx AH7 XZ616. The aircraft has recently conducted its first post-restoration flights. The Army Air Corps retired their last Lynx AH7 in July 2015 as it transitioned to Wildcat AH1. XZ616 is now on the UK civilian register as G-LNKX receiving its full permit to fly in early January 2022. The Lynx provided a fitting finale to the Nightshoot with quite a lengthy ground run (once a battery fault had been solved) allowing the assembled photography to capture a number of different angles.
It was a very enjoyable if slightly chilly evening at Chard. The staff at Historic Helicopters and Threshold.Aero did an outstanding job to present the aircraft in the best possible way and we look forward to seeing both the Sea Kings and Lynx out and about in the summer.