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Tuesday, 26 March, 2002, 11:00 GMT
Wessex helicopters to retire
wessex helicopter
The Wessex has reached the end of its working life
The Royal Air Force is set to announce the retirement of its Wessex helicopters, which have been in service since the 1950s.

The helicopters are veterans of the Falklands War, and have also been an integral part of life in Northern Ireland since 1964.

They have played a major role in the work of the security forces in Northern Ireland, as well as conducting mountain and maritime search and rescue operations.

South Antrim assembly member Norman Boyd, in whose constituency the helicopters have been based, said many people owed their lives to them.

The RAF insists the helicopters - renowned for their reliability - are maintained to the highest standards but have reached the end of their working lives.

AH64 Apache helicopters
The MoD has ordered 67 of the 27m Apaches

Helicopter support to the security forces will now be supplied by different aircraft.

Search and rescue operations will be conducted by RAF Sea King helicopters, based at Prestwick, Scotland and RAF Valley in Anglesey, north Wales.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence has said it is tackling a problem that could see the Army's latest and most expensive attack helicopters brought down by their own anti-tank missiles.

Engineers have found that debris from the Hellfire rockets is being blown back into tail rotor on the left-hand side of the Longbow Apache WAH-64D tankbuster.

The fault was identified in the US where pilots have been ordered to launch missiles only from the right-hand side of the aircraft and only in emergency situations.

An MoD spokeswoman said: "The short-term solution, where missiles are fired only from the right-hand side, will enable us to start our training in July.


It is hoped by the time the helicopters come on-line with the British Army in August 2004 the problem will have been resolved

MoD

"Only about six live missiles will be fired each year for training purposes.

"Most of the training will be done on simulators.

"And it is hoped by the time the helicopters come on-line with the British Army in August 2004 the problem will have been resolved."

The MoD has ordered 67 of the 27m Apaches.

They are being built by Westland Helicopters at Yeovil, Somerset, under licence from the US manufacturers Boeing.

But delivery to the Army Air Corps base at Wattisham near Ipswich, Suffolk, has been delayed by more than a year after technical problems with the 1bn simulator on which pilots will train.

The 200-mph Rolls Royce-powered Apache has night-vision sensors, thermal imaging and radar enabling it to attack tanks from a range of more than four miles.

See also:

20 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
Debris falls from crash helicopter
19 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
Council calls for end to military flights
18 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
Investigation into helicopter crash
17 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
RAF inquiry into helicopter crash
16 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
RAF helicopter crash lands
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