It has been a world leader of helicopters, operating in challenging environments at sea, in the wastes of Antarctica and the heat of the Arabian Gulf. The Westland Lynx may lack a modern digital cockpit, it may be oily and battle-scarred, but those who have flown and maintained this most versatile of aircraft for more than four decades will mourn its passing.
In March 2017, the Lynx will finally reach the end of a remarkable 41 years of service with the U.K.’s Royal Navy. The maritime variant of the Lynx began life with four navalized WG-13 prototypes, the first of which flew from the Westland Helicopters factory in Yeovil, England, on March 21, 1971.
Among the Lynx’s key design features is a unique nose-wheel castering capability which allows it to turn into the wind while still on deck. The Lynx’s robust undercarriage and low center of gravity are essential when operating in rough seas, and a folding tail makes it compact at sea where space is at a premium.
The first real test for the Lynx was in 1982, when a number being were deployed to the South Atlantic during the Falklands War. Three of the aircraft never came home, as the ships on which they were being carried were sunk by Argentine Air Force.
The following year, Lynx were used alongside other British helicopters to evacuate British nationals from war-torn Beirut. They have seen action ever since — protecting British shipping interests in the Persian Gulf; in action against Iraqi fast patrol boats in the Gulf in 1991; supporting operations in Sierra Leone; in Northern Ireland; and protecting shipping from pirates off the coast of Somalia.
The Royal Navy’s “Lynx Pair” began performing in 2001, later becoming the famous helicopter display team the Black Cats. In 2012, Lynx helicopters of 815 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) were based on board HMS Ocean moored in the Thames as part of the London 2012 Olympic Games security operation.
In July 2014, 815 NAS became the final operator of the maritime Lynx with the decommissioning of 702 NAS. The final run-down of the 815 NAS fleet began in earnest in April 2016 with the introduction into the squadron of the new Leonardo Wildcat HMA.2. Half of the squadron’s 14 aircraft now are the new Wildcats.
Gus Carnie, commander of the Lynx Wildcat Maritime Force based at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset, said: “The Lynx continues in its various guises across the world, which just shows how popular it is. It is a really impressive piece of machinery that has kept us going this long and I would continue to fly it if I could.
“I fly the Wildcat now but I just got back into the Lynx and it feels like a glove. You know, we’ve worn it on our backs for the last 15 years in my case. It’s a real piece of history for British defence.”
815 NAS Commanding Officer Philip Richardson remarked: “There is definitely an emotional attachment to this aircraft and it is one that has served the Royal Navy for 40 years in an extremely impressive way.”
The last Lynx flight is now away on a nine-month deployment. They have been in the Arabian Gulf and now are in the South Atlantic. They return on March 10 for their final disembarkation.
Lt Max Cosby, who was the last observer to qualify on the Lynx, described it as a hugely emotional moment. “It’s a helicopter that my family have known for the last 40 years or so, with my grandfather and my father,” he said.