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Initially designed to hunt submarines, the Sea King rapidly found itself being utilised for a variety of roles including airborne early warning on-board the Royal Navy's aircraft carriers. A licence-built version of the Sikorsky S-61, the Sea King was eventually ordered by ten different nations and is still in service with 6 nations worldwide. The type found its niche as a SAR helicopter and was operated by both the RAF and the Royal Navy in the role for forty years and was the helicopter flown by His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge whilst he served in the RAF on operational rescue missions.
The SAR Sea King was eventually retired from RAF service in 2016 with the Royal Navy also retiring their final examples in 2018 when the Government completed the privatisation of the UK SAR force, now operated under contract by Bristow Helicopters. The RAF however have continued to maintain part of the SAR role following privatisation and remain responsible for SAR operations at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus with the Griffin HAR.2 operated by 84 Squadron.
Visitors to previous Air Tattoo's may remember the yellow Sea Kings providing emergency cover for the flying display each day. The example on display this year, XZ597 first flew in June 1978 and holds the distinction of being one of the few RAF Sea Kings to be painted dark grey as opposed to their normal bright yellow for deploying to the Falkland Islands immediately following the conflict in 1982. Photo Credit: Andrew Evans