1. Westland Wessex HU.5
  2. RN Search and Rescue
  3. HMD Daedalus and Summers Long Past
  4. Italeri 1/48 Scale Wessex HU5
  5. Gallery
  6. References and Sources

Westland Wessex HU.5

The Westland Wessex HU5 helicopter played a significant role in the development of Royal Navy helicopter capabilities and had extensive operational use during its service.

The Westland Wessex HU5 helicopter played a significant role in the development of Royal Navy helicopter capabilities and had extensive operational use during its service. Its development can be traced back to the late 1950s when the British military sought a versatile and capable helicopter for multiple roles, including anti-submarine warfare (ASW), search and rescue (SAR), and troop transport.

The Westland Whirlwind was designed and developed during the 1950s and was primarily used by the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force (RAF) for various roles, including anti-submarine warfare, search and rescue, troop transport, and general utility purposes. It featured a compact and sturdy design, with a four-bladed main rotor and a tail rotor configuration. The helicopter was powered by two Rolls-Royce Peregrine turboshaft engines, which provided ample power for its operations. It could carry up to eight fully armed troops or stretchers for medical evacuations. The Whirlwind saw active service during various conflicts, including the Suez Crisis and the Malayan Emergency. It proved to be a reliable and effective platform, particularly in the anti-submarine role, where it played a vital role in protecting naval vessels.

The HU5 variant was specifically designed for the Royal Navy’s needs. It was based on the earlier Westland Whirlwind helicopter and featured several improvements. Westland Helicopters received the contract to develop the Wessex in 1956, and the first prototype flew in 1958. The HU5 incorporated modifications for naval operations, including folding rotor blades and tail, an extended nose for radar, and a strengthened airframe to withstand the maritime environment. It had a crew of three to four and could carry up to ten passengers or a range of equipment.

Entering service with the Royal Navy in 1961, the HU5 quickly became the primary helicopter for a variety of roles, including search and rescue, troop transport, and utility duties.

The Wessex HU5 played a crucial role in the Royal Navy’s search and rescue operations. Equipped with advanced radar and navigational systems, it had the ability to operate in adverse weather conditions and perform long-range rescue missions over the sea.

An RNAS Lee on Solent Wessex HU.5

SAR Wessex helicopters were operated by various squadrons, including 771 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) and 772 NAS. These squadrons were stationed at RNAS Lee-on-Solent, RNAS Culdrose, and other bases, providing coverage for different coastal areas and offshore platforms.

The Wessex HU5’s capabilities in SAR operations were highly regarded, and it performed numerous successful rescues, often in challenging conditions. Its versatility, endurance, and payload capacity made it well-suited for these life-saving missions.

Troop carrying was another of the critical roles performed by the Wessex HU.5

In addition to its SAR function it also served as a troop transport helicopter, capable of carrying up to ten fully equipped troops. It was utilized for transporting personnel, equipment, and supplies to and from naval vessels, shore bases, and operational areas.

One of the most famous photographs of a Wessex HU5 rescuing survivors of the Sir Galahad after it was bombed by the Argentine Air Force during the Falklands Conflict

Finally, the Wessex HU5 was employed for utility roles, including logistics support, casualty evacuation, and the transportation of VIPs. Its spacious cabin and ability to operate from ships’ flight decks or small landing zones made it a valuable asset in various operational scenarios.

The Wessex HU5 remained in service with the Royal Navy until the late 1990s when it was gradually phased out and replaced by more modern helicopter models, such as the AgustaWestland Merlin.

Despite its retirement, the Wessex HU5 left a lasting legacy in the Royal Navy’s helicopter operations. It played a vital role in search and rescue, troop transport, and utility duties, earning a reputation for its reliability, versatility, and ability to operate in challenging maritime environments.

Today, the Wessex HU5 is remembered as a significant helicopter in the Royal Navy’s history, contributing to the development and advancement of the organization’s helicopter capabilities and its ability to perform critical missions at sea.

RN Search and Rescue

The Royal Navy’s involvement in search and rescue (SAR) operations can be traced back to the early 20th century. During World War II, Royal Navy aircrews conducted numerous rescues at sea, primarily using fixed-wing aircraft. However, it wasn’t until the post-war years that dedicated helicopter squadrons for SAR purposes were formed.

In 1953, the Fleet Air Arm established its first SAR helicopter unit, 705 Naval Air Squadron (NAS). Equipped with the Sikorsky S-55 Whirlwind, 705 NAS was based at RNAS Gosport and was primarily responsible for rescue operations in the English Channel and the British Isles.

During the late 1950s and 1960s, the Royal Navy recognized the potential of helicopters for maritime SAR operations and expanded its capabilities accordingly. In 1955, 771 NAS was formed and operated the Westland Dragonfly helicopter. This squadron was initially based at RNAS Lee-on-Solent and later relocated to RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall.

In 1957, 772 NAS was established at RNAS Portland with the primary task of supporting the Royal Navy’s submarine forces. However, it also had a secondary role in providing SAR cover for the Portland area using Westland Whirlwind helicopters.

Another important development came in 1961 when 771 NAS became the first SAR unit to be equipped with the Whirlwind HAR.4 helicopter, which offered improved capabilities for rescue operations.

During the 1970s, the Royal Navy saw a significant shift in its SAR helicopter capabilities. The Westland Wessex HU.5 helicopter became the primary aircraft for SAR duties. This twin-engine helicopter provided increased range, endurance, and the ability to operate in adverse weather conditions.

In 1974, 771 NAS transitioned from the Whirlwind to the Wessex HU.5, followed by 772 NAS in 1977. These squadrons, along with 848 NAS, which was formed in 1981, formed the backbone of the Royal Navy’s SAR helicopter fleet during this period.

The Wessex HU.5 remained in service until the late 1990s and became synonymous with Royal Navy SAR operations. It was renowned for its versatility and reliability, and its distinctive yellow and black paint scheme became an iconic symbol of maritime rescue.

In the 1990s, the Royal Navy introduced the AgustaWestland Sea King Mk5 helicopter as its main SAR platform. This advanced aircraft provided significant improvements in range, speed, and payload capacity compared to its predecessor.

Several helicopter squadrons transitioned to the Sea King, including 771 NAS, 772 NAS, and 820 NAS. These squadrons continued to provide SAR coverage for the United Kingdom, including offshore oil and gas platforms, maritime incidents, and mountain rescues in challenging terrains.

In recent years, the organization of SAR services in the United Kingdom underwent significant changes. In 2015, the responsibility for civilian search and rescue was transferred to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), which now utilizes civilian operators for SAR operations.

As a result, the Royal Navy’s dedicated SAR helicopter squadrons were disbanded. However, the Royal Navy continues to maintain helicopter squadrons for other operational purposes, such as anti-submarine warfare and troop transport. These squadrons, equipped with modern helicopters like the Leonardo AW159 Wildcat, contribute to maritime operations and can still provide support in search and rescue missions when required

HMD Daedalus and Summers Long Past

Growing up in Fareham, Hampshire I spent most of my summers at the local beaches at Lee on Solent or Hill Head.  Occasionally my friends and I would venture further east to the slightly posher Stokes Bay.  The late 1970s into the first half of the 80s are filled with memories of bicycle rides to the beach with mates, hanging out for a the kind of dumb good times teenage boys can create at will.  In later summers the bicycles were replaced with motorcycles; mopeds to start with (most of my friends on Yamaha FZ50 “Fizzies,” me on a Suzuki AP50) and then later, on real motorcycles.  

In somewhat better condition than mine ever was, the classic Suzuki AP50 was the moped of choice for any 16 year old wanting to circumvent the restricted performance imposed by the UK government on later model 50cc motorcycles in the early 1980s. Mine was a red one, and with its performance enhanced by various illegal adjustments and replacement components it once managed to reach 60mph / 100kmph. I bought mine for £150 in 1982 and sold it for about the same amount a year and a half later. A pristine model these days fetches something like £4,000!

Those days at the beach were often enhanced by the sight, hopefully near enough to shore to really get a good view, of a Lee-on-Solent based HMS Daedalus Royal Navy Wessex in its striking red and blue paint rushing out to rescue some hapless yachtsman or women, but I suppose more commonly on some sort of exercise.  Teenage shenanigans would be placed on pause in order to watch them fly overhead.  When we were at Lee in particular, we often saw them fly low over the esplanade as they sped out over the usually calm waters of the Solent.  It’s an indelible memory of teenage years.

The esplanade and beach at Lee on Solent looking to the west; Southampton Water is visible in the distance with the old Fawley Power Station on its western shore. HMS Daedalus as it was then is out of frame to the right. Hillhead, our other beach of choice is visible in the distance where the beach curves around to the left.

HMS Daedalus was first established in 1917 by the Royal Navy to train its sea plane pilots but it soon passed to the RAF in 1918. In 1924 it became part of the Fleet Air Arm but it was not until 1931 that it got its first runway. During the Second World War Daedalus was used as a staging air base where units were formed, came to rest, or train.

Daedalus played its part on D-Day. At 0441 hours on June 6 1944, the first aircraft to take part in Operation Overlord from Lee-on-Solent took off towards the Normandy beachhead and total of 435 sorties were carried out between dawn and dusk. Interestingly, this was the highest number achieved by any UK airfield on D-Day.

Post war, its main purpose was to provide Search and Rescue services to the surrounding area until 1996 when the service was privatised.

4 SAR Flight Wessex airborne at once for a flypast of the Lee Tower. Westland Wesex HU.5, 781 Squadron, Lee-On-Solent SAR Flight. 1980. Source – Wikipedia

One of the highlights of the late 70s and early 80s were the airshows and open days at Daedalus (though I cannot find record of when the final display was held, it may have been in the 1970s). I have vivid memories of the Red Arrows coming in very low from the Solent at the start of their display. Legend has it a Blackburn Buccaneer once broke the sound barrier during its display, breaking windows all across the surrounding area. I do remember one year that the Buccaneer display was easily the loudest thing I’d ever heard…

When air shows were Air Shows… Daedalus Air Shows, indeed all 70s air shows were much different to this today. As is clear in the photo above, there was access to the aircraft for one thing. I remember sitting in the cockpit of one of those fighters – a Hunter I think. The aircraft flew lower and louder. The photo above is from a Daedalus Air Day some time in the 1970s.

Looking back at the summers of our youth often conjures memories that while they aren’t usually objectively linked, nevertheless combine to a collective remembrance of a personal time long since passed. Mine include the Royal Navy’s SAR Wessexes which makes the history in this piece a little bit more personal than most.

Italeri 1/48 Scale Wessex HU5

This is my second build of this generally excellent kit. The first, built last year in part to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Falklands Conflict, was a pleasurable experience.

During that build, my wife noticed one of the kit schemes is a fetching blue/red Royal Navy Search And Rescue airframe and she asked if I would build that for her. How could I refuse? especially as the scheme brings back some happy memories from my early years growing up in the South of England. I approached this one in the same way as the last, though I hoped experience would make this a smoother ride, particularly with the PE I was again using.


There was vey little I did differently on this Wessex than on the previous one mentioned above in the intro. I won’t therefore bore you with a rehash of that except to say that experience made for a slightly easier assembly and I took the time to use a bit more – but not all – of the Eduard PE set. I will mention that I assembled and painted the interior of the cabin without any of the scratch build I did last time, and I think I made a better job of the cockpit this time.

Couple of things to call out; I thinned and refined the tail mounted antenna housing somewhat, it looks much better for it when compared to reference photos. The windscreen didn’t fit as well this time so I made it perfect on one side and then filled the other side with a small shaped piece of plastic card and Tamiya putty.

Click on any of the images below to scroll through the gallery.


I once again used my acrylic paints and mixed to the required shades. But, for a simple paint scheme this one gave me fits. The gallery shows the progression quite well; the first iteration of the red/orange colour was too red and the the first iteration of the blue was too dark. After remixing the red/orange I was happy how it looked so I remarked and then painted a lightened blue which I also liked. I sealed it all up with a light clear gloss in preparation for the painted markings.

Click on any of the images below to scroll through the gallery.


Images sourced through a Google search, photo credit or removal upon owner’s request.

The photos above are of Lee on Solent based SAR Wessexes, two of which are of the subject airframe and I used these, particularly the uppermost one as my references. The markings tallied quite well with the kit call-outs but I did note that there were much fewer stencils visible than were shown on the instructions. I went with what I could see.

I painted the markings on the rear fuselage spine as well as the “LS” on the tail and the Squadron aircraft number and its serial number. The serial number came out particularly well and is likely the best mask I’ve managed to make in that size range. I also needed to paint the yellow warning sign around the exhaust as the kit decal is inexplicably red only and wouldn’t have worked for this airframe. Not providing a yellow one as well as the red one is a little lazy on Italeri’s part I feel.

Click on any of the images below to scroll through the gallery.

Once the painted markings were complete I added the decals. I used the it decals for he stencils and also the “Royal Navy Rescue”, the latter I could have painted but chose to use decals for their crispness. In contrast to how they went on the Falklands Wessex, the hashed yellow markings around the windows looked fine with decal only and no touch up our repair was required.

Weathering and Finish

I completed the kit rotors out of the box and painted following references for colour and wear. I tried a little different method of capturing the bluish hue of the main rotor head by using a base of medium grey top coated with clear blue. The picture doesn’t show it well, but I think it worked quite well. The rotor blades, front and back were all paint with a significant amount of masking required but I think they look much better than had I used the kit decals.

I painted the exhausts with chrome first, then clear blue, orange and red and completed it with a goop wash and semi-gloss finish.

I noted that on all the reference images the airframes appear to be quite clean and well cared for. There is very little grime, staining – exhaust or otherwise, and the finish is a semi-gloss. I followed suit with practically no weathering aside from a little accenting with a wash and a little texturing on the red/orange painted sections of the airframe.

I applied my usual finish process of a flat coat made from a 1:1:1mix of Windex, Future and Clear Flat before bring the fish up to the sheen I was looking for with misted coats of thinned Future/Klear.

Click on any of the images below to scroll through the gallery.

The Italeri Wessex kits are really a lot of fun to build. They fit, they look good, and they’re substantial when finished. I really like them! I’ve now got two on the shelf and with the amount of subjects I could still do I suspect there will be more. I’m taken by the idea of an RAF winter camouflaged version as the next one.

References and Sources

Introduction and summary of references.

If you are interested in following the build as it unfolded, as well as the research that led to the choice of markings, the full build diary is logged in the Britmodeller Aircraft WIP Section.

Copyright ©2023

This article, its text, and photos of the model is my original work and is protected by copyright in its entirety, except where noted.  All research sources are listed in the References and Sources section above, including photos from official sources. All other images and quoted content were sourced from the internet and are used here under protection of fair-use.  Any copyrighted content will be happily removed and/or credited forthwith upon request by its rightful owner.

2 thoughts

  1. I loved the line “When air shows were Air Shows… “ so very true. Today they tend to be so far away you can barely see them! It’s a lovely model with some fabulous memories to go with it.


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