|Quoting timz (Thread starter):|
Presumably they didn't hope whatever route they chose would be a money-making operation, but why did they consider that particular route helicopter-worthy?
BEA established its Helicopter Experimental Unit in July 1947. The reason it was established is all in the name. Initially equipped with three Sikorsky S-51s and two Bell 47Bs, its role was to investigate whether helicopters had any practical commercial use.
The S-51s and 47Bs were too small and expensive to operate to carry fare paying passengers profitably. So experimenting with scheduled passenger services was abandoned in 1956 by when the aircraft had operated over five different UK domestic routes. The plan was apparently to await the development of larger helicopters that could be operated profitasbly. In the interim BEA Helicopter Experimental Unit continued to fly. It operated charters, sometimes carrying mail and found whatever other charter work might be available.
This continued until May 1964. At that time the Unit took delivery of the first of two Sikorsky S61Ns and was renamed BEA Helicopters. They were put to work flying scheduled passenger and freight between Penzance in Cornwall (on the southwest tip of England) and St Mary's on the Isles of Scilly (that are located in the Atlantic about 30 miles to the southwest):
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Photo © Alex Christie
In terms of freight one of the most important commodities they carried were cut daffodils. Because the Isles of Scilly sit in the Gulf Stream they have a very mild climate and the flowers were ready to be picked for sale in late January or early February.
This route had previously been operated by a fleet of three rather old DH
89A Dragon Rapides like this one:
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Photo © Steve Williams
Within a few months of theeir delivery BEA Helicopters based an S-61N at Beccles near Lowestoft in southeast England to support North Sea exploration for gas. Later bases were also established further north at ABZ
(1967) and at LSI
(Sumburgh) (1971) in the Shetland Isles to the north of Scotland to support oil exploration.
By the time BEA and BOAC were operationally merged in September 1973, BEA Helicopters had a fleet of six S-61Ns including the two original frames as well as a Bell 212 and an Augusta Bell Jet Ranger. The Jet Ranger was based at LGW
for charter work.
North Sea oil and gas was the main stimulus for the growing fleet of S61Ns that reached 23 by 1978.
In 1981 the first of six Boeing-Vertol BV-234 Chinooks was delivered to what was now BA
Helicopters. They were based at ABZ
to serve the North Sea oil industry.
In September 1986 BA
sold their helicopter operations to a new operator, British International Helicopters. Amongst other frames originally delivered to BEA Helicopters they still operate today S61Ns G-ATBJ and G-ATFM that were originally deliveredto BEA back in 1965.