Westland Wasp-First Generation Anti-Submarine Helicopter

By Willie Bodenstein

The increasing development of the submarine after WWII resulted in a weapon with increased range and speed. Countering this threat led to the development of early detection systems and the development of a standoff weapons system able to countermand this treat. That weapons system was the Wasp, a small first-generation, gas-turbine powered, shipboard anti-submarine helicopter.

Based on the earlier piston-engine Saunders-Roe Skeeter the Wasp fulfilled the requirement of the Royal Navy for a manned torpedo carrying helicopter whose sole purposes was to destroy submarines. Equipped with no Sonar of its own and small enough to land on the deck of a frigate and carrying a useful load of two homing torpedoes the Wasp was in the perfect stand-off weapon.

Photos Duxford Museum @ Desmoh

When introduced in 1963 Wasp had some revolutionary features. Wasp's ability to engage "negative pitch" from the rotor-blades enabled the aircraft to "adhere" to the deck until the lashings were attached whilst its unique 4-wheeled castering undercarriage allowed it to be manoeuvred on small, pitching flightdecks. The main rotor blades were fully foldable allowing for storage in small hangars and an external which was fitted above the main starboard door. The Wasp carried a crew of two (Pilot & Missile Aimer/Air crew man) plus three passengers or one stretcher for medical evacuation.

In 1964 after an extensive period of trial that had started in 1963 Wasp entered service with 829 Naval Air Squadron. The Wasp served in the small ship and training role until 1981.

Photo @ Dyvroeth. During the Falksland War Wasp, paired with the Wessex HAS.3 submarine hunter, proofed its worth as a submarine killer. On 25 April 1982 the Argentinian submarine ARA Santa Fe was spotted by a Wessex helicopter from HMS Antrim. Three Wasps armed with AS.12 anti-ship missiles were launched and the Santa Fe was damaged so badly that its crew abandoned it and surrendered. The Santa Fe was the first casualty of the sea war during the Falklands conflict.

The introduction of the Lynx was the nail in the coffin for the Wasp. However, Wasps continue in UK serve in lesser numbers until 1988 when the last one was withdrawn. New Zeeland, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa all ordered some of the 133 built. The Royal Malaysian Navy received its first Wasps in 1988 almost 25 years after the first entered service. It was phased out ten years later in 1998 when replaced by the Eurocopter Fennec. The Royal New Zealand Navy received the first four of an eventual nineteen Kiwi in 1966 serving until 1998 when they were replaced by the Sikorsky SH-2G Seasprites.

The Royal Netherlands Navy received 12 Wasp helicopters between November 1966 and June 1967, operated from Van Speijk class frigates as AH-12A's and flown in the ASW role. The last of the Dutch Wasps were eventually withdrawn from service in 1981 when they were replaced by the Westland Lynx. The Indonesian received ten surplus refurbished Dutch aircraft. Operated by 400 Squadron from ex-Dutch Navy Van Speijk class frigates these Wasps were grounded in 1998. The Brazilian Navy took delivery of three new build helicopters in April 1966 and a further seven ex-Royal Navy helicopters in 1977.

The South African Navy ordered a total of 18 Wasp. However, because of the sanctions then in place only 16 were delivered. A ex Bahrain airframe found its way to South Africa and was used as an instructional airframe. Allocated to 22 Flight the unit subsequently became 22 Squadron, Maritime Command in 1976. The Wasps were operated from the navy's President Class frigates and flown from AFB Ysterplaat. Wasps were withdrawn in 1990 and eventually replaced by the Westland Lynx.

A small number of Wasps are still used by some military and technical colleges for maintenance and engineering training whilst a large number has found their way into museums. In South Africa one is on display at the Air Force Museum at AFB Zwartkop and another at the museum's branch in Port Elizabeth. Some airworthy examples still exist and one, G-BYCX a former South African WASP Mk 1B is based at Bembridge, Isle of Wight whilst G-BZPP a Wasp HAS.1 (was RN serial number XT793) is privately owned in Surrey and flies in Royal Navy markings as XT793. G-KAXT a former Royal Navy (XT787) and Royal New Zealand Navy (NZ3905) Wasp HAS.1 is flown from North Weald Airfield and flown in Royal Navy markings as XT787 and G-CBUI a Wasp HAS.1 (was RN serial number XT420) is privately owned also in Surrey and flies in Royal Navy markings as XT420. Wasp 426 flew at airshows in South Africa in 2006 and 2007 but was sadly abandoned her fate unknown.

Classic Aircraft

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