The world's fastest helicopter is being set out to pasture. The British Army has announced that its last five Westland Lynx helicopters will be formally retired on January 31 after 40 years of active service. Once the backbone of Army and the Royal Navy, the Lynx is being replaced by the more advanced Wildcat, and the remaining twin-engine rotorcraft with 657 Squadron are on a tour of southern England before their final decommissioning.

The Lynx was introduced into service in 1978 as a multi-purpose military helicopter. It was originally developed for the British Army and Royal Navy as a replacement for the earlier Westland Scout and Wasp helicopters. From the start, it was ahead of its time as the first aerobatic helicopter capable of executing loops and rolls. Though originally intended as a battlefield utility helicopter, it soon gained a formidable reputation as an anti-armor tank buster as well as a search-and-rescue, reconnaissance, aerobatic display, and anti-submarine platform.

With over 450 built, the twin-engined jet turbine helicopter was made in several variants, including a Navy version with foldable rotors, a tricycle undercarriage, and a deck restraint system to allow it to operate from destroyers and frigates. It saw service in all climates from Southeast Asia to Northern Ireland to Antarctica and has participated in every major British military operation of the past four decades.

But its greatest claim to fame came on August 11, 1986 when a specially modified Lynx with a set of advanced experimental rotors was flown by Trevor Egginton to set an absolute speed record of 400.87 km/h (216.45 knots, 249.09 mph). That mark still stands as the official Fédération Aéronautique Internationale record, though helicopters like the Eurocopter X3 and Sikorsky X2 have unofficially hit higher speeds in more recent years.

The AugustaWestland Wildcat that replaces the Lynx has a more advanced avionics, a heavier payload rating and can operate at higher altitudes. Though the new helicopter is based on the Lynx, only five percent of components are interchangeable between the two aircraft.

This month's retirement tour follows on the Lynx leaving Royal Navy service last year and will culminate in a V-formation flypast down the River Thames over Central London. Though the Lynx will now be a museum piece in Britain, it is still in production and serves with several other armed forces around the world, including Brazil, Oman, South Africa, and Thailand.

Source: British Army