Troubles helicopter to have a new life ... as a tourist attraction at Crumlin Road Gaol

The Wessex helicopter is manoeuvred into position at Crumlin Road Gaol
The Wessex helicopter is manoeuvred into position at Crumlin Road Gaol

One of the last Wessex helicopters in Northern Ireland has made its final journey.

It is to go on permanent display at the Crumlin Road Gaol visitor attraction in Belfast.

The aircraft were once a common sight over the skies of the Province during the Troubles as the “workhorse” of the armed forces transporting troops and VIP visitors.

The helicopter had been based at RAF Aldergrove in Co Antrim from 1969 as part of the Support Helicopter Detachment, the “Ulster Flight”.

There had been 30 Wessex helicopters based in Northern Ireland, which were active until 2002 when they were retired from service.

XR 529 Echo was retained as a Gate Guardian for the station HQ at Aldergrove.

On Monday, it made what is expected to be its final journey to Crumlin Road Gaol museum to go on permanent display.

RAF Northern Ireland community relations officer, Wing Commander Tara Scott, described the Wessex helicopter as a “really great workhorse of an aircraft”, transporting troops and their kit across the Province.

She described the helicopter’s departure from Aldergrove as the “end of an era”.

“The Wessex has been associated with RAF Aldergrove, and now Flying Station Aldergrove, since 1962 as part of 72 Squadron, it’s been here as a Gate Guardian for over 16 years so it has really done a lot of service,” she said.

“We are sad to see it go, but also delighted to see it move to the Crumlin Road Gaol and be part of a new display for them, and be seen by the public, spruced up and returned to its former glory.

“We are looking forward to seeing it there when it is complete and on display.”

She added: “They were not only a common sight, but also a common noise, it served here for such a long time, I think it will be nice for the public to see it back again and able to learn a little bit more about what it did during the Troubles and its service in Northern Ireland.”

Crumlin Road Gaol closed as a prison in 1996.

It reopened as a tourist attraction in 2012 and welcomed the Queen as a visitor in 2014.

Phelim Devlin, director at Crumlin Road Gaol, described the arrival of the helicopter as “an important part in the next phase of development at the jail”.

“We are hoping for the tourism season starting in Easter to add a new range of tours,” he said.

“It is going to focus more on some of the recent Troubles. The Wessex is going to be an important part of that, it’s going to help tell of the role of the RAF and the British Army during that period.”

The helicopter will be on display beside the last remaining Army sangar on the site.