Our new 190mph life-saver helicopter

A Sikorsky S-92 helicopter on exercises above Whitby. Picture: Ceri Oakes
A Sikorsky S-92 helicopter on exercises above Whitby. Picture: Ceri Oakes

New search and rescue helicopters set to serve the Whitby coast will be able to reach people in danger from the sea faster than their predecessors.

Next month, red and white Sikorsky S-92s which can boast a speed of 190mph, will replace the yellow RAF Sea Kings, as the choppers covering North Yorkshire.

When the changes were initially announced, it was feared that response times to the Whitby area may increase.

This was due to the Sikorskys being based at Humberside Airport, which is more than 20 miles further away from the town than RAF Leconfield, the current home of the Sea Kings.

A spokesperson for HM Coastguard told the Whitby Gazette: “The new helicopters can fly approximately 40 knots faster than the Sea Kings, which will reduce average response times.

“Based on modelling of historic data we have available, the average response time for any incident in the UK will be up to 20 per cent faster under the new arrangements.”

The Sikorsky S-92, which costs around £21m to produce, has a top speed of 190mph, a cruise speed of 174mph and a maximum range of more than 600 miles.

By comparison, the Sea King can only travel at around 140mph and cover a range of approximately 287 miles.

A statement released last year by The Bristow Group – the private company taking over the running of the UK’s search and rescue operations on behalf of HM Coastguard – said that given their aircraft will be faster than the Sea King fleet, it anticipates a reduction in average response times to incidents across the UK.

The distinctive yellow Sea Kings, which have been a familiar sight over Whitby and the surrounding area since 1964, will will cease to operate on April 1.

A spokesman for the RAF said the current Sea King helicopters had come to the end of their service and would either be sold privately or scrapped.

The Sea Kings will however be missed by Whitby’s RNLI crew, according to second coxswain Howard Fields, who warned that just because the S-92s can fly faster doesn’t mean that response times will necessarily decrease.

“As a lifeboat crew we’ve worked with the Sea Kings for such a long time now that we’re used to them and we’ll really miss them,” he said.

“The new Sikorskys may be faster in the air but I don’t think you can guarantee that response times will be any quicker.

“It all depends on where the chopper is operating when it gets the call-out. It could be further south than its Humberside base.

“That is the nature of the beast though, and it is important to remember that search and rescue choppers are still the best resource we have when it comes to saving lives at sea.”

Whitby’s lifeboat crew undertook their first ever training exercise with a Sikorsky chopper over the course of the weekend, just off the Staithes coast.

With the seas too rough outside Whitby harbour, the all weather lifeboat headed north to carry out the manouvres which took two and a half hours to complete.

Set to be based at Humberside Airport, along with 10 other locations across the UK, The Bristow Group will fly the S-92s and Agusta Westland 189 helicopters after securing a 10-year contract worth £1.6 billion from the Department for Transport in March 2013.

As a result of the changeover, a total of 31 people will lose their jobs at RAF Leconfield.

But the staff may be able to transfer their skills into jobs in the wind turbine industry or undertake work for private helicopter companies, it’s claimed.

Neil Cotterill, of Augustawestland, which employs 31 civilian staff at the base, said: “The good news for our workforce is that their skills are in heavy demand. We’ve made very effort to get people prepared for what’s going to happen.”

RAF personnel who work with the helicopters will be transferred to other areas of service.