The Westland 30 is one of those aircraft that made it to production but probably shouldn’t have. On the outside the aircraft looked like a flying barn, short and squat, and that is probably how she received the unglamorous but fitting nickname “The Shed.”
In the late 1970s, Westland was trying to punch into the civilian market and thought there was a growing demand for a VIP, passenger, cargo, oil rig transport type of helicopter. With this in mind, they decided that they could bring such a machine to market faster and far cheaper by basing it on their successful military optimized Lynx design instead of starting with a “clean sheet.” The aircraft shared many components in common with the Lynx, including its drivetrain and rotor system, but its fuselage was an all new, and a far boxier design. The aircraft could seat up to 22 passengers in a high density configuration and it could also be fitted with a VIP interior, or setup as a medevac helicopter with plenty of room for multiple patients in stretchers. Additionally, the aircraft’s fat cabin dimensions allowed for outsized cargo, traditionally too large to fit into a medium helicopter’s interior, to be carried.
After a fairly abbreviated design, development and testing phase, the first production Westland 30-100, originally called the WG-30, was delivered in 1982. In all, about 40 of these helicopters were built, with the later “-200″ getting some minor, but relevant upgrades. The Westland 30 worked in scheduled passenger service around the globe in fairly limited numbers, yet this was still a limited accomplishment as this sector of the airline industry had historically proven to be almost impossible to make a profit from, so helicopter types put into service in this role were, and are limited.
The Westland 30 flew with operators in the US, Europe and India. She flew with Pan Am in New York, mainly between the 60th street heliport and JFK, and with Airspur Helicopters, which provided passenger service around Southern California. Overseas, the type flew with British Airways for limited use in the offshore oil platform logistics mission and for passenger service between Penzance and the Isles of Scilly. The largest operator of the Westland 30 was the Indian firm Pawan Hans. Close to two dozen of the helicopters were part of an aid package to India and were to be used for offshore oil exploration support duties.
Although the Westland 30 was deployed around the globe, albeit in limited numbers, the aircraft’s weaknesses and lack of a more thorough design and testing phase became clear. The type was heavy, noisy, and had problems with its Rolls Royce Gem 60 powerplants. Namely they were finicky and lacked power. Hot and high performance was unacceptable in anything resembling a challenging conditions, especially while carrying a payload suitable for the aircraft’s large internal volume. Its mission radius with a decent payload was just over 100 miles, which really hampered its relevancy for the majority of oil platform work. Additionally, the aircraft had issues with its auto-stabilization system and autopilot, and was maintenance intensive, and in effect, expensive to operate. Making matters worse, Westland’s product support was lacking, with spare parts becoming increasingly challenging to obtain as time went on. Also, there was some “bad news” surrounding the Westland 30, although in retrospect the aircraft was really not the only direct cause of this bad publicity.
The relatively small Westland 30 fleet was involved in some accidents. One crash happened in California and was due to a tail rotor failure. Although this crash was not fatal, it led to a nasty lawsuit and a grounding order from the FAA for a period of time. In India there were two crashes, as well as other minor mishaps, and fatalities were involved. Yet the Indian events were due more to human error than from the helicopter’s mechanical nature. None the less, the aircraft’s dismal performance, reliability, and bad publicity caught up with it within a decade of the type entering service, and the future of Westland’s “flying shed” was seriously in doubt.
In the end, things simply did not work out for the Westland 30 and many went back to the manufacturer for one reason or another. By the early 1990s all of the aircraft were pulled from service and left to rot in boneyards both in England and in Central Asia. On paper, the Westland 30 was a real loser, but I would argue that it is not because it was a terrible design concept or that there was not a market for its potential capabilities. Quite the contrary, it just needed more development and better components and subsystems. Westland knew this, and they came up with the Westland 30-300. This new variant was supposed to be powered by a more powerful, fuel-efficient and reliable GE-CT7 motors. It would have sported a state of the art (at the time) five bladed rotor system and a new lighter and stronger fuselage. Additionally, the Westland 30-300 was supposed to be upgraded with a much more mature and capable avionics suite. This penultimate version of the aircraft, said to have cost over $100M to develop and test, would have given the aircraft impressive performance and range. But this investment was not possible for a very cash strapped Westland, or an external investor, as the aircraft had already gained a bad wrap and even its few operators had zero interest in buying more of the type, no matter how much improvement was said to have been possible. Even the military just did not have an appetite for the aircraft by the mid to late 1980s. Simply put, although Westland may have finally had the right recipe for success for its model 30, it simply had no customer or any interested parties willing to risk the cash on what should have been the aircraft’s original configuration.
By the later half of the 1980′s, Omniflight Services, the firm that operated helicopters on behalf of Pan Am, was found to be lacking training, accounting and even airmanship discipline in their operation. From what I can tell, the FAA grounded their operation, which really was the last nail in the coffin for the helicopter’s passenger service on America’s eastern seaboard. It appears that towards the end of the 1980′s the manufacturer, Westland, requested that the FAA pull the aircraft’s type certificate (an incredibly rare occurrence) as they were no longer interested in supporting the handful of aircraft that were still flying in the US. This same request was made for the Civil Aeronautics Authority overseas, and with that the Westland 30′s fait was finally sealed. Just ten years and less than four dozen airframes produced and the once promising aircraft would fly its way into the ash heap of aviation obscurity.
Although the Westland 30 program is now considered an aviation blunder, in many ways it was actually ahead of its time, although a the same time it was also “behind” its own design goals. Westland’s push to rush the aircraft onto the market with dismal performance was the aircraft’s true detriment to its potential success. Many of the features seen on the Westland 30 are now common in commercial helicopters, namely its large square cabin. Look at the S-92 Superhawk, the EH-101 or even the AW130, all features a similar boxy cabin like the model 30.
If Westland had just taken its time, and waited for the right pairing of powerplants and avionics, while refining the -30′s general design for greater ease of maintenance and reliability, it may have been considered as an aircraft that changed the way we think about multi-engine helicopter design and implementation, instead of being the massive failure that it is perceived of being today.