Decoding helicopters

[Updated below, 26th March] There are so many helicopters in the air over Argyll’s Kintyre peninsula and the Isle of Arran these days, spotting isolated snowbound households in remote areas, identifying damage to the electricity network infrastructure, airlifting the unwell to hospital on the mainland – and taking photographs to feed the media.

It has become important to many of us to know precisely what we are looking at over our heads, so that we can guess what might be going on and can describe the aircraft accurately.

Paul Keegan, the aviation specialist from Total Logistics Concepts services at Oban Airport, has come to the rescue with the following information:

  • Yellow is the Helimed;
  • Black with Yellow top is Police 51;
  • Wine is PDG – the SSE contractors from Cumbernauld and Inverness;
  • Grey with a red/orange day glow nose is SAR – if from Prestwick (HMS Gannet) and is a Navy Sea King.
  • Yellow all over is SAR – if from Lossiemouth and is an RAF Sea King
  • Red and white is SAR – if Coastguard from Stornoway and is a Sikorsky S92.
  • other colours are the Jet Rangers brought in from England – they are ALL out.

The Coastguard Sikorsky is reputedly the best one to come looking for you but their area of responsibility means they’re not usually tasked for Kintyre, so we’re unlikely to see them in our skies.

Mountain rescue teams are generally flown by one of the SAR services noted above and don’t have their own helicopter.

Update 26th March – privatisation of UK SAR service

It was announced this morning that the UK Government has privatised the Search and Rescue [SAR] Service with a contract to the well established Bristow helicopter firm, long familiar in waters off Aberdeen.

This means that all of the SAR helicopter liveries noted above  – and the ageing MoD Sea King helicopters – will be replaced by the new livery of a private sector service.

The ten year contract is for 22 helicopters operating from 10 locations around the UK, with:

  • 10 Sikorsky S-92s based, two per site, at Stornoway and Sumburgh, and at new bases at Newquay, Caernarfon and Humberside airports.
  • and 10  Agusta Westland AW189s will operate, two per site, from Lee-on-the-Solent and a new hangar at Prestwick airport, and new bases which will be established at St Athan, Inverness and Manston airports.

Prestwick will have a new hangar for its two AW189s.

The existing MoD Sea King SAR crews are expected to form the basis of the crews of the incoming service but how this will be done is not yet clear.

Mountain Rescue teams are anxious that new crews and a new company might neither be aware of the collaborative rescue routines long established  between themselves and the MoD SAR teams; and wondering aloud if the same ‘operate in all conditions’ philosophy will still apply under a private operator.

The transfer of the MoD’s experienced crews to the new service will go a long way to providing reassurance to the pubic and to other services like Mountain Rescue and the Coastguard Service..

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3 Responses to Decoding helicopters

    • db – Ah if it were only true…we are getting some but we are a bit too far north. Prestwick is the main JET fuelling winner.

      jean k – the red EC 135 is operated by Bond Air Services on behalf of the Northern Lighhouse Board (NLB) and only flies NLB people on lighthouse servicing.

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