When a helicopter ditches into the sea it frequently flips upside down and sinks rapidly. Flotation bags and canisters are therefore fitted to help keep it upright and afloat for as long as possible to give the crew the maximum opportunity to escape the aircraft. The Wessex helicopter had a pair of flotation canisters that could be attached to the main wheels. These canisters were attached to metal poles that passed through the centre of each wheel hub. The package included a gas generator, ignition system and an actuator which fired the system if it was submerged in salt water. The large flotation bags were spherical in shape and bright orange to help rescuers locate the downed helicopter. To protect these flotation bags, thin metal covers were fitted over each mainwheel float:
These covers were usually painted the same colour as the helicopter and today we are looking at an example from a green military Wessex:
This is a large, thin metal cover painted in the standard RAF green paint of the Wessex helicopter. These covers were blown off the wheels by the expansion of the floats, so this cover has a set of warning labels to let anyone in the area know that it can come off at speed:
According to the seller I purchased this from, it landed in his garden in Yeovil many years back. This certainly makes sense as the manufacturer of the Wessex, Westlands, is based in Yeovil so the helicopters criss cross the town on a regular basis undertaking test flights.
The interior of the cover is left in bare metal and this has now started to lightly rust as it has been stored in a shed for a number of years:
This is a rather large and very interesting piece to add to the collection and I rather wish I had the space to display it on a wall as it would make quite a talking point, unfortunately for the moment it is packed away, but one day perhaps it can be on show.