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Westland Helicopters

Westland Helicopters is a defunct British aerospace company. It survives in name as a subsidiary of GKN[?] named Westland Agusta[?].

The company was founded in 1935 when Petters Limited split its aircraft manufacturing from its aeroengine concerns as Westland Aircraft Limited, based in Yeovil, Somerset. During WW II the company produced a number of undistinguished military aircraft including the Lysander, the Whirlwind and the Welkin. For many years it owned the main London heliport at Battersea.

Post-war the company began to build helicopters under a licensing agreement with Sikorsky. From the mid-1950s the company came to increasingly concentrate on helicopters eventually to the exclusion of other types. The chairmanship of Eric Mensforth from 1953-1968 marked the start of the transition which was aided by the government when in 1959-61 they forced the acquition of the helicopter divisions of Bristol, Fairey and Saunders-Roe by Westland.

The first Westland marked helicopter was the Wyvern (1946) and the company produced a series of craft for military use, either under license the Sikorsky license (Dragonfly, Whirlwind, Wessex, Sea King), or Bell (Sioux) or their own design (Wasp, Scout, Lynx, Merlin). Despite good support from the British establishment the company gradually fell into unprofitability, Sikorsky approached with a bail-out deal in 1985 that split the government cabinet and led to heated debates and even a resignation in Janaury 1986 over the fate of Britain's sole helicopter manufacturer. The split was over whether to push the company into a European deal or accept the US company's offer. Recently examples of the Boeing Apache attack helicopter have also been built by Westlands although, beset by problems, some technical ones arising from specific UK requirements, these have yet to become operational with the Army Air Corps[?]. Some of the company's Whirlwind and Wessex helicopters served the Royal Flight[?], latterly being part of 32 Squadron RAF.

GKN bought into Westland in 1988, initially acquiring a stake owned by Hanson they soon acquired the shares owned by Fiat which gave them absolute control. In 1994 Westland became a wholly-owned subsidiary of GKN. It was merged with Finmeccanica's Agusta[?] helicopter division in 1999.

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