Model: Sycamore HR.14
Operating Life: 1956 ~ 1971
UAS Location: Compound
Served with: RAF
Maximum Speed: 132mph
Engine: 1 x Alvis Leonides piston engine, 550hp (410kW)
Length & Height: 18.62m x 4.23m
Rotor Diameter: 14.8m
Range: 330 miles
The Bristol Sycamore was one of the first production helicopters to be developed after the Second World War.
Each Sycamore was manufactured with all of the necessary fixed fittings to enable it to be quickly adapted for any of six major roles: search and rescue, air ambulance, passenger transport, freight transport, aerial crane and dual instruction.
The Sycamore seated up to five occupants, depending on the model; it was usually fitted with three folding canvas seats as well as a single rotating seat besides the pilot. In addition to the passenger cabin, it had a separate luggage compartment.
The Sycamore was powered by a single Alvis Leonides piston engine of 550hp (410 kW). The engine was mounted below and to the rear of the main rotor on a flexible mounting to reduce vibrations transmitted to the helicopter structure.
It was isolated in a fireproof enclosure which was fitted with fire detection and extinguishing equipment to meet certification requirements. Air was drawn through a forward-facing grill to cool the gearbox before passing through the engine cowling and leaving the fuselage.
In order to maintain the rotor speed at its required setting fuel to the engine had to be automatically varied as the rotor pitch setting commanded by the pilot changed the load on the engine; fine adjustment of engine power was achieved by twisting the pitch lever.
The helicopter had a relatively high rotor speed for the 1950s era, which was claimed to give a smoother ride and be safer in the event of engine failure.
The HR.14 variants were in reality its Mk4 and was the main production model with 154 built.
1956 — Built by Bristol Aircraft Co. at Filton, Somerset to contract No.11899. Constructors number 13414. One of 80 HR.14s delivered to the RAF, serial batch XJ895 -8, 915 - 919.
21 Dec 1956 — Awaiting collection.
11 Jan 1957 — No.20 Maintenance Unit, RAF Aston Down , Glos. (Aircraft Storage Unit).
15 May 1957 — To No.275 Squadron, Fighter Command at RAF Thornaby, Yorks. In 1953 this became the RAF’s first helicopter search and rescue squadron in Great Britain, with detachments at Leuchars, North Coates, Horsham St.Faith and Chivenor with a full complement of 15 Sycamores in six Flights by the end of the year.
From Jul 1957 the Flights were at Leuchars, Acklington, Leconfield, Chivenor, Coltishall and Aldergrove. Typical duties included rescuing civilian bathers and covering military aircraft in difficulty.
9 Oct 1957 — Squadron moved to RAF Leconfield, Yorks, still providing SAR cover for the North East coast.
May 1958 — Coastal Command assumed responsibility for all Search and Rescue Flights.
21 Apr 1959 — No.20 MU, RAF Aston Down.
31 Jul 1959 — Loaned to A&AEE, Boscombe Down, Wilts.
1959 — Transferred to Far East Air Force, Malaya. Sycamores in Malaya had been involved in a number of crashes which occurred as a result of tail or main rotor blade problems; a batch of new blades had to be test flown in Malaya by the crew of which one was Mr. Collins as shown in his logbook held at the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford.
19 Sep 1959 — Blade trials - five short flights in Kuala Lumpur area, Malaya.
29 Sep 1959 — 5½ hour return flight, Kuala Lumpur - Changi - Kuala Kumpur.
5 Oct 1959 — Blade tests at Kuala Lumpur.
12 ~ 14 Oct 1959 — Vibration schedule tests at Kuala Lumpur. Regular pilot at this time was F/L Peckowski. Blade tests satisfactorily completed.
15 Oct 1959 — HQ Far East Air Force, serving with the Kuala Lumpur Station Flight.
Oct 1959 — The Collins logbook records flights by XJ918 from Kuala Lumpur to the RAAF base at Butterworth and several other destinations averaging 2 hours duration.
Nov 1959 — Further flights in the Kuala Lumpur — Butterworth — Changi area including a further vibration test
Dec 1959 — Operations continued, including cross country flights and flights to Butterworth. F/L Geddes was another regular pilot at this time.
History of our Bristol Sycamore HR.14 XJ918
Image: MARK J. CAIRNS
Image: MARK J. CAIRNS
History of the Bristol Sycamore helicopter
17 Mar 1960 — RAF Seletar Station Flight, Singapore.
Mar 1960 — Fitting of modified rotor blades permitted the progressive resumption of Sycamore operations in Malaya between Mar and Jul 1960.
10 Jun 1960 — 110 Squadron, Butterworth, Malaya operating jungle patrols, mainly in the rugged country in the north of Malaya close to the Thai border.
Initially during the last months of the Malayan Emergency, (Operation Firedog ) which officially ended Aug 1960 along with the Commonwealth response, although sporadic Malay communist terrorist attacks continued.
Other duties included aero medical flights, troop lifts – including Australians and New Zealanders – plus communications flights to jungle forts, known as 'Fort Express'.
Dec 1962 — From this date until Sep 1963 , from a strength of 13 helicopters, three 110 Squadron Sycamores operated in the Sultanate of Brunei campaign in Borneo (400 miles east of Singapore) and to deter any aggressive moves against the Malaysian Federation, including incursions, by Indonesia during the ‘confrontation’ period from April 1963.
The Brunei revolt of Dec 1962 was mopped up within four months, and was almost immediately followed by the Indonesian Confrontation from April 1963 which lasted until August 1966.
17 Jan 1964 — RAF Seletar, Singapore became the 110 Squadron base.
Oct 1964 — 110 Squadron re-equipped with Whirlwinds, resulting in the withdrawal of the Sycamore from front-line service.
XJ918 was retained as the personal transport of the AOC, Far East Air Force with maintenance by 110 Squadron, along with XL821 which on 30 May 1967 became the last Sycamore to fly with the Far East Air Force.
20 May 1965 — 389 MU, Seletar.
8 Jun 1965 — Shipped to UK.
20 Jul 1965 — 15 MU, RAF Wroughton, Wiltshire
5 Feb 1968 — 5 MU, RAF Kemble, Gloscester
11 Apr 1968 — Metropolitan Communications Squadron, RAF Northolt, with five Sycamores being operated by the unit by mid-1968.
13 Feb 69 — To the newly formed 32 Squadron, Air Support Command (Renamed from MCS), continuing in the communications role at Northolt.
3 Aug 1971 — Photographed hangared at Northolt - Photo Air Pictorial Sep 71 p.328. Carried a blue/white colour scheme and VIP transport fit.
20 Dec 1971 — To No 2 School of Technical Training, RAF Cosford, Salop as a training and show airframe.
The last four Sycamores – XG504, XG544, XJ918 and XL829 – were officially retired from regular RAF service that month and replaced by Westland Whirlwind HAR.10s as certain critical components reached their fatigue life.
However, a temporary shortage of spare Whirlwinds meant that No.32 Squadron actually continued to operate two Sycamores – the last in the RAF – until 11 August 1972 when XG544 was finally retired.
Dec 1971 — Allotted instructional serial 8190M.
Circa 1983 — Transferred to the Aerospace Museum at RAFM Cosford.
Dec 2022 — Relocated to the Ulster Aviation Society after being gifted by the RAF.
Bulk of XJ918 History research text kindly provided by Andy Simpson.