The Westland Wessex was a British-built turbine-powered development of the Sikorsky H-34. It was developed and produced under licence by Westland Helicopters. One of the main changes from Sikorsky’s H-34 was the replacement of the piston-engine powerplant with a turboshaft engine. Early models were powered by a single Napier Gazelle engine, while later builds used a pair of de Havilland Gnome engines.
The initial production version was for the Royal Navy but in the early 1960s the RAF required a powerful general-purpose helicopter capable of troop-carrying, air ambulance and ground attack roles. Westland responded with the Wessex HC2 which first entered RAF service with No.18 Squadron, based at RAF Odiham, Hampshire, in January 1964.
Four years later Westland Helicopters received an order for two Wessex aircraft to equip The Queen’s Flight. These were designated HCC4. The aircraft were built to HC2 standard but with the main cabin having a VIP interior finish, furnishings and sound proofing plus an external folding step below the cabin door.
Additional Decca navigation equipment was installed on the flight deck. The first flight took place on 17 March 1969. The first official flight was on 1 July 1969 in support of the Investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle, Wales. The helicopters in their distinctive red/dark blue paint scheme operated for many years from RAF Benson.
From 31 March 1995 they moved to RAF Northolt and became part of No.32 (The Royal) Squadron.
The Wessex HCC4 was retired in 1998 and No.32 (The Royal) Squadron gave up the task of providing helicopters for the Royal Family. The Royal Household awarded a ten year contract to Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and Hanson Helicopters to provide the Queen with an S76 and civilian crew.