The world’s last flying ‘Bristol 171 Sycamore’ helicopter returned home to Weston-super-Mare this week when it flew to the Helicopter Museum; 60 years after it was built. The historic aircraft landed at the museum on Monday and will now be displayed in its Duke of Edinburgh Hangar until Weston Air Show on 24 & 25 June.
Sycamores were the first British helicopters to receive a certificate of airworthiness and were produced by the Bristol Aeroplane Company from 1955-59 at its Oldmixon factory on the former Weston Airfield where the museum is now based. Until this week a Sycamore had not flown in the UK for over 46 years and a large crowd visited the museum to be part of the homecoming.
Siegfried Schwarz - Chief Helicopter Pilot of the Flying Bulls Display Team and the only pilot qualified to fly a Sycamore - explained what it meant to bring the helicopter back to Great Britain and particularly Weston-super-Mare after so long: “It’s an incredible feeling,” said Schwarz, ”because it took us 10 years to get the helicopter airborne, get my licence and everything else and then finally we made it to Great Britain, and to the home of the Sycamore.”
Bristol 171 Sycamore OE-XSY/XG545 is the only remaining airworthy example in the world and made its first flight from the historic Weston Airfield on the 3 February 1958, before being delivered to the West German Navy in VIP configuration and later transferring to the German Air Force. After retirement the aircraft, now privately owned, was moved to Switzerland where it was repainted in RAF colours in 1988 and then eventually sold to the Flying Bulls display team based in Austria 18 years later. By this time the aircraft required an extensive overhaul and with technical assistance from the Helicopter Museum, including the supply of archived maintenance manuals, the Sycamore flew again in July 2013.
The Helicopter Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of helicopters including two other Bristol 1717 Sycamores, the Queen’s Royal Flight and world’s fastest helicopter.