Royal Navy Sea King
The first flight of the Westland Sea King, a Mk. 1, took place on 7 May 1969, with the first production aircraft entering Royal Navy service that same year. The basic ASW Sea King has been upgraded numerous times, becoming the HAS. Mk 2, 5 and 6, the latter of which has been replaced by probably the most advanced ASW helicopter currently in the world, the Westland Merlin.
Other versions of the Sea King have also been produced. The HC.Mk 4 variant is still in service and remains an important asset for amphibious assaults. It is capable of transporting 28 fully equipped troops with a range of 400 miles (640 km). Some Mk. 5s of the ASW Sea King were adapted for Search and Rescue or SAR.
One of the most vital variants of the Sea King is the ASaC (Airborne Surveillance and Area Control), formally known as Airborne Early Warning (AEW). The AEW capability had been lost when the Fairey Gannet was withdrawn after the last of the RN's Fleet carriers, HMS Ark Royal, was decommissioned in 1978. During the Falklands War a number of warships were lost, with casualties, due to the lack of an indigenous AEW presence - the RAF Shackleton AEW.2 proposed fleet cover was too unresponsive and at too great a distance to be practical. The first of this Sea King variant came into operational service in 1985, being deployed by No. 849 Squadron FAA. The current ASaC Sea King is the Mk. 7, which is deployed on the RN's aircraft carriers.
A dedicated Search and Rescue version (Sea King HAR3) was developed for the Royal Air Force, and the first of 15 entered service from September 1977 to replace the Westland Whirlind HAR10. In 1992 six further aircraft were ordered to replace the last remaining Westland Wessex helicopters in the Search and Rescue role. The six (Sea King HAR3A) had updated systems and digital engine control.
The Sea King is one of the few helicopters that the monarchy of Great Britain is allowed to travel in due to its twin engine design, if one of the engines fail the helicopter can still land safely.
Picture added on 07 November 2006