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Check out random rotors and cool choppers at England’s Helicopter Museum

A Soviet Hind, a famous Lynx, a tip-jet Djinn, and more at the fascinating Helicopter Museum in southwest England.

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Geoffrey Morrison

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Helicopter Museum

In Somerset, on the southwest coast of England, is the aptly named Helicopter Museum, with dozens of rare and unique helicopters and rotorcraft on display. 

To read more about the museum and this tour, check out Hello, helos: Top choppers spin up at the Helicopter Museum.
 

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Heli-scooter

After a surprisingly decent Victoria Sponge in the cafe, I started to make my way around the museum. This little one caught my eye, adorably called a Skeeter. With a 200-horsepower engine, it had a top speed of around 109 mph/175 kph. Only a few survive, including one at the equally quirky North East Land Sea and Air Museum.

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Early English

The Bristol Sycamore is the first all-British helicopter, designed and built. This was one of the first built, in 1951, and was used for many years as a company sales demonstrator. 

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Good visibility

Certainly not a lot of gauges compared to modern aircraft, but the view it is great. The rotor blades were made of plywood, but then, some of the greatest aircraft in history used plywood

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30

A Westland 30, which is a transport helicopter based on the smaller Lynx. This is actually the only 300 series built.

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Cockpit

There weren't many of the 30 built. The 300 series had a different rotor design and different engine options compared to the original 30. 

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Take a seat

The 300 series could carry up to 22 people. 

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Squeezed in

Though the museum's hangars aren't huge, they have a ton of aircraft. Conveniently, most helicopters are the size of cars or large trucks, and can fold or have their rotors removed for storage.

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World record holder

This is the Westland Lynx that, in 1986, broke the world speed record for helicopters: 249.09 mph/400.87 kph. It was modified with a stronger engine, gearbox and more.

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Proto-Lynx

This is the only intact WG-13, which would be developed further into the Lynx. 

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Fit for a queen

A big and bulky Westland Wessex, but not just any Wessex. 

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Flying in style

This Wessex was part of the Queen's Flight and the first helicopter to carry the Queen herself.  

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Gyroplane

This oddball is an Air & Space 18A gyroplane, also known as an autogyro. The engine powers the pusher prop, the rotor is unpowered but generates lift as long as there's forward motion. 

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Whirlwind and Wasp

The Westland Whirlwind on the left served in the Royal Navy for 14 years, then sat for 20, and was privately restored to flying condition. The smaller Wasp was a turbine-powered development of the Skeeter you saw earlier.

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Gyro-boat

Can you imagine going up in one of these? It's a Bensen B-8 autogyro meant to be towed behind a boat. At about 15 mph/24 kph it would lift off.

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Long winded

A Westland Whirlwind, which was a licence-built Sikorsky S-55. This one had an extremely long life. Built in 1955 as a Series 1, it received a new engine and other updates to bring it in line with the current Series 3 in 1965. It continued its service as a training helicopter and for charter services until 1993. 

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Dragonorski

The Westland Dragonfly was a licence-built British version of the Sikorsky S-51, a very early production helicopter. How early? They entered service right after WWII. This example was the 50th Dragonfly built and served the Royal Navy in various roles until 1967.

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Proto-Wessex

Another big Wessex. This example was a preproduction model, used for "tropical testing" in Libya and Malta. There's a cool air museum in Malta that's worth a look, too

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Release the hounds

A Mi-4 Hound transport helicopter. This example was in service with the Czech Air Force and became the first Russian helicopter in a British museum. 

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Early 30

You saw the only 300-series Westland 30 before. Well, here's the first 30, the prototype for the Series 100.

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Spacious, but no

The 30 wasn't a successful aircraft, having neither the speed nor the range of its competition. Pan Am bought a few, hence the model. 

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Hind

Nearly 50 years on, the Mi-24 Hind is still one mean-looking gunship. 

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Tandem

Pilot and weapons system officer sit in overpressurized and highly armored tandem cockpits. 

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Flying tank

The pilot sits behind and above the gunner. A modified Hind held the speed record for helicopters from 1978 until the Lynx you saw earlier beat it in 1986. That's even more impressive given how huge and heavy this attack and transport helicopter is.

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WSO

The weapons officer had a lot going on. My favorite aspect though is the tiny fan. No A/C, apparently, and I can't imagine how hot it got in here with a completely glass canopy. 

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Mean machine

Armament varies, but a Gatling or autocannon would be mounted up front, and gun pods, rocket pods, bombs, and more could be mounted on the wing hardpoints.

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Multi-role

There is no direct NATO counterpart to the Hind, being an attack helicopter first and foremost, but also able to carry passengers. Helicopters like the Sikorsky UH-60 and its variants can certainly mount significant armament, but weren't designed as attack helicopters per se (they're classified as either utility or assault helicopters). And our attack helicopters can't carry troops. Though the Blackhawk (no space) would have.

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Multi-use

The Hind could deliver troops or pick up wounded. There is even a command post variant. There could also be door-mounted guns.

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Hindquarters

This example served in the East German Army until reunification, then the German Air Force. The Hind is still in production and is flown by dozens of countries all over the world.

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Only Grasshopper

This oddity is the dual-engined, coaxial-rotored Cierva CR Twin, also known as the Grasshopper. This is one of three prototypes, and the only one surviving. It never went into production. Each rotor is powered by a 210hp flat-6 engine.

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EH101

This big fella is a prototype EH101, a joint venture between Westland and Italy's Agusta for a "medium-lift" helicopter. It has three engines, but is able to list off even under full load with one engine disabled. 

This is configured as the civilian variant, but there are multiple military versions. EH101s are still in production and in use all over the world.

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Leicht und schnell

The German-built MBB Bo 105 is so bland-looking I almost skipped it. Turns out this was the first dual-engined helicopter of its size, and its light weight and high power let some variants do acrobatic maneuvers like loops and rolls. The BMW M3 of the helicopter world, if you will. 

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Classic 47

A Bell 47, the first helicopter to get a commercial certification, perhaps best known as the helicopter, in military H-13 guise, at the beginning of M*A*S*H. This one, and bear with me here, was built in the UK by Westland, under a license held by Agusta in Italy to produce the American helicopter design, and was given to the UN for use in Cyprus.

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Versatile Hoodlum

I've never seen a Kamov Ka-26 Hoodlum before, and I like it. With a twin-tail, coaxial rotors and those great engine pods, it's got a Thunderbirds vibe to it. You can see the interchangeable pod resting below where it would usually mount. This version carries a few passengers; there were also cargo pods, a chemical hopper for crop-dusting, or simply none to use the Ka-26 as a sky crane. 

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Hip HUP

The Piasecki HUP Retriever is a tandem-rotor design, but interestingly, it only has a single engine. If the name Piasecki doesn't sound familiar, they became Vertol, then Boeing-Vertol, and are responsible for the most iconic tandem-rotor helicopter, the Chinook.

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Eurocopter

A sleek Eurocopter Dauphin. This example was the first production model of the improved N variant, which came out in 1980. It was used to set speed records between London and Paris. Top speed was 189 mph/305 kph.

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Fenestron

This is called a Fenestron, also known as a fantail, one of the features that makes the Dauphin look so slick. Yes, those thin pieces are the blades. A fantail like this offers potential benefits like reduced noise and better performance. It's hard to tell, but the blades are unevenly spaced, to tweak the acoustics of the fan (for the better). Though somewhat common now, this was only the second helicopter to feature one.

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Oddball

The Sud-Ouest Djinn wasn't just an early helicopter, it was also the first mass-production tip-jet rotorcraft. A portion of the turbine's exhaust was routed up through the rotor and out the tips, spinning the blades. No tail rotor was needed since there was no rotational torque on the aircraft. 

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Tip-jet

The exhaust for the compressed air to spin the rotor. 

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Huey

The legendary Bell UH-1 Iroquois, aka the Huey. Over 30,000 were built. This example had a rather incredible life. It was delivered directly from the factory to Vietnam in 1967 and likely saw use during the Tet Offensive. It then saw service in Europe, and later in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War. 

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Pillow optional

Surprisingly good shape for such a hard life.

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Polish hop

A Polish-built Mil Mi-2 Hoplite. It's largely a modified Mi-1, with the updates being much more powerful and lighter turbine engines instead of the Mi-1's pistons.

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One more Whirlwind

OK, last Whirlwind of the tour. You know that big funny nose? That's actually where the engine is, not up near the rotor like most helicopters. In most Whirlwinds it's a radial of somewhere between 7- and 14-cylinders, but in this converted Mk 10 it's a 1050hp turboshaft. That's why its nose is so much bigger, but you were polite enough not to ask.

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So hip

A Soviet Mil Mi-8 Hip, the most-produced helicopter. Over 17,000 built and counting, and it's in use in over 80 countries. 

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VIP

This is a rare VIP model, built in 1972 for the Polish Air Force.

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Supersized

Probably the largest helicopter at the museum, the Super Frelon. It's got three 1,550hp turboshaft engines for its one rotor, which was designed by Sikorsky. The gearbox was developed by Fiat. It's predominantly a military helicopter, but this a prototype civilian variant that spent two seasons as a shuttle in the Greek islands for Olympic Air when it was owned by Aristotle Onassis. It wasn't profitable. 

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LOH

Light, simple and maneuverable, the Hughes OH-6 Cayuse, was designed in the early '60s, but is still being produced and used today. A Light Observation Helicopter, it was nicknamed Loach by its crews.

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Runner up does well

The Hughes OH-6 you just saw was designed for, and won, the US Army's LOH competition in the early '60s. Bell also entered the competition, and while its design didn't win, the company modified it for civilian use. That helicopter, the JetRanger, is one of the most successful civilian helicopters and one of the most recognizable. The Army even bought a modified version of this design to be the OH-58 Kiowa. This example was licence-built in Italy by Agusta and flew for over 30 years. 

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From Puma to Tiger

This is a Eurocopter Super Puma, modified by Bristow Helicopters for more passenger comfort and safety for use in its long-range oil platform transport business. Bristow called its version the Tiger, and with it the company pioneered the now-standard Health and usage monitoring systems (HUMS) on helicopters to keep track of mechanical wear and potential maintenance issues. 

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Resto

A little glimpse at the restoration work being done on several helicopters. 

That's the end of our tour. The Helicopter Museum is in the process of updating and expanding its facilities, so when you go it might look a bit different. 

For more info about this tour, and even more details about the museum and the helicopters in it, check out Hello helos: Top choppers spin up at the Helicopter Museum.

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