Saunders-Roe W.14 "Skeeter"


After a development period spanning some ten years, production examples of the Saro Skeeter finally began their career in 1957, with the British Army Air Corps and Royal Air Force. This attractive little 2-seater had originated as a Cierva design, the W.14 Skeeter 1, whose prototype (G-AJCJ) flew for the first time on 8 October 1948 powered by a 106hp Jameson FF-1 engine. A second machine, the Skeeter 2 G-ALUF, was flown just over a year later, in which the most important of several design changes were the employment of a 145hp Gipsy Major 10 engine, increased rotor diameter and a slightly longer tailboom of circular instead of triangular cross-section. Two further-modified Skeeter 3's were begun by Cierva, also with Gipsy Major 10's; these were completed by Saro, for evaluation by the Ministry of Supply, after the latter company had acquired Cierva in January 1951. Later they were given 180hp Blackburn Bombardier 702 engines and redesignated Skeeter 3B's; one similar machine was completed as the Skeeter 4.

Saro's two Skeeter 5 prototypes, built as a private venture, also had Bombardier engines, and were the first machines of the series to be really free of the ground resonance problems which had beset the earlier prototypes. These were followed by three government-sponsored Skeeter 6 prototypes with 183hp Gipsy Major 30's, and in 1956 the Skeeter 5's also changed to this brand of engine, being refitted with 200hp Gipsy Major 201's.

After pre-service trials with the Skeeter 6 prototypes, initial production orders were given for two basically similar versions with the Gipsy Major 200 engine. These were the Skeeter 6A, ordered for the Army Air Corps as the AOP Mk.10, and the Skeeter 6B as the T Mk.11 for the RAF. Follow-on orders were placed later for the Skeeter 7A (AOP Mk.12) and 7B (T Mk.13), which differed chiefly in having 215hp Gipsy Major 215 engines. The Skeeter 7 was also the subject of a small export order, the Federal German Army and Navy ordering eleven and four as Mk.50 and Mk.51 respectively. Final variant was the Skeeter 8, basically an adaptation of the 7 for commercial operation. Three were built for C. of A. tests, but no civil orders ensued and Skeeter production came to an end in 1960 (by which time Saunders-Roe had become part of the Westland group) after a total of seventy-seven aircraft had been built.

Of the fifty or so Skeeters supplied to the British services, the AOP 12's served mostly at the Army Air Corps Training School, while the RAF T13's were allocated to the Central Flying School and to No.651 Squadron. Ten of the German Skeeters were handed over in July 1961 to the Forca Aerea Portuguesa, with whom they were still in service in 1968. Dual controls are fitted as standard in all Skeeters. During their early life various Skeeter prototypes were used to flight-test a supercharged Gipsy Major engine, a Blackburn Turmo shaft turbine, and a Napier rocket-powered tip-drive system. With only a single crewman aboard, the Skeeter could be flown in a casualty evacuation role with a stretcher pannier supported on each side of the cabin.

K.Munson "Helicopters And Other Rotorcraft Since 1907", 1968

Saunders-Roe W.14

After a long development period, the little Saro Skeeter was first used in 1958 by the British Army Air Corps. The prototype of this attractive two-seater, which was derived from a project by the Cierva company, made its first flight on 8 October 1948, with a 106hp Jameson FF-1 engine; this was followed a year later by a second model (Skeeter 2) which had the more powerful 145hp Gipsy Major and a larger rotor. The two prototypes were submitted to the Ministry of Supply for evaluation after Saro (Saunders-Roe) took over Cierva in January 1951.

The Skeeter had a small, steel tube fuselage structure with a semi-monocoque tail boom section. The three-blade main rotor had metal spars with wooden ribs and a fabric skin, and the two-blade tail rotor was entirely of wood. All the aircraft had tricycle landing gear, although some tests were done with skids. Refitted with a 180hp Blackburn Bombadier engine, the helicopter was redesignated Skeeter 3, while a Royal Navy version was called Skeeter 4. The prototype of the Skeeter 5, built as a private venture, finally succeeded in eliminating the ground resonance problems found on the early models and was followed by the Skeeter 6 (of which three were built) with 183hp Gipsy Major 200 engines. At this point, the British Army ordered a trial batch of four Skeeters (one of which had dual controls), followed by another 64 production models designated AOP Mk.12 (Air Observation Post). Delivery of these aircraft was completed in autumn 1960 and some of them were used as trainers. The final Skeeter 8 version was offered for private use, but no orders from civil operators were forthcoming.

The Skeeter also had some success on the export market: the German Army and Navy received six and four respectively, which were transferred to the Portuguese Air Force in 1961 but never flown. One Skeeter was also used as a test-bed for the Turmo turbine.

G.Apostolo "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Helicopters", 1984

With the post-World War II lack of interest in flying-boats, Saunders-Roe sought to diversify within the aircraft industry and in January 1951 acquired the Cierva company to gain a foothold in rotary-wing aircraft. Cierva had flown on 8 October 1948 the prototype of an experimental two-seat helicopter which it designated Cierva W.14 Skeeter I, and Saro continued development of this design. Three prototypes of the Saro Skeeter 6, powered by the 149kW Gipsy Major 200, were evaluated by the British Army Air Corps, leading first to an order for four more evaluation aircraft delivered as three Skeeter AOP.Mk 10s and one Skeeter T.Mk 11 dual-control trainer. The Army Air Corps acquired 64 production AOP.Mk 12 Skeeter helicopters which differed by having a 160kW Gipsy Major engine, and a small number of similarly-powered Skeeter T.Mk 13 aircraft were used by the RAF to train army helicopter instructors. In addition, under the designations Skeeter Mk 50 and Skeeter Mk 51 the Federal German army and navy acquired six and four helicopters respectively. These helicopters had a main rotor of 9.75m diameter and could attain a maximum speed of 267km/h. A civil variant was planned as the Skeeter Series 8, but only a single example was built and no civil orders were received. When production ended, in 1960, the Saunders-Roe rotary-wing activities had been acquired by the Westland group.

D.Donald "The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft", 1997

Technical data for Skeeter AOP Mk.12

Engine: 1 x D.H. Gipsy Major rated at 160kW, main rotor diameter: 9.76m, length with rotors turning: 8.66m, fuselage length: 8.10m, height: 2.29m, take-off weight: 1040kg, empty weight: 780kg, max speed: 167km/h, hovering ceiling, IGE: 1680m, service ceiling: 3900m, range: 340km

Saunders-Roe Skeeter Mk 6 ambulance (equipped with Napier NRE.19 boost system, rocket-fuel tank above hub).