The Somerset town with a long history in aerospace has marked its proud heritage and bright future with official boundary signage and tributes to the “Home of British Helicopters.”
Yeovil’s eight-decade record of exporting helicopters from the UK has seen aircraft made in Britain flying with customers in Asia-Pacific, Europe, North Africa, and North America.
Yeovil, home to Britain’s only onshore helicopter manufacturer, is celebrating its official recognition by the town and local councils as the “Home of British Helicopters”. The status reflects Yeovil’s storied history of aviation firsts and the huge value helicopter design and manufacture contributes to the local, regional, and national economies. To mark the new status, official signage identifying Yeovil as the Home of British Helicopters now greets people arriving in town via road and rail. The sobriquet is also already appearing around town, at Yeovil College, in the Quedam shopping centre, and at Huish Park, home of Yeovil Town F.C.
To celebrate the occasion, Leonardo held a commemorative event at its helicopter production line, attended by multiple generations of Leonardo employees, including from our top-rated apprentice and graduate schemes. Leonardo was joined by local politicians, community partners, and representatives from the Ministry of Defence. Many of those attending seized the opportunity to take photos with its G-LYNX, the helicopter that set the world speed record in 1986, and the AW149, Leonardo’s latest-generation contender for the UK’s New Medium Helicopter competition.
Emma Rawlings, chief executive of Somerset Chamber of Commerce, who spoke at the event, said: “Leonardo’s presence in the region has far-reaching benefits, from the direct employment opportunities it provides to the indirect economic stimulus created through its supply chain. The local community has the enviable status of having such a unique business here in Yeovil. I think that we are all very proud when we watch a film and see a helicopter designed and manufactured from Yeovil featuring within it, like the recent Jurassic World movie. However, for me, it was at the 2012 Olympics when the late HM Queen Elizabeth II, parachuted into the stadium with James Bond from a Leonardo helicopter, it was one of those moments, when you are so incredibly proud to be British and more importantly from Somerset.”
Other guest speakers included Mark Bolton, CEO and principal of Yeovil College, who reflected on how helicopter manufacturing is central to the fabric of the town, and how Leonardo is investing to ensure a bright future for the site’s 3,000 employees and local young people looking to embark on an exciting career in aerospace.
Clive Higgins, chair and CEO, Leonardo UK, added: “As a former apprentice at Leonardo and Yeovil College, I recognise the significance the company currently plays and will continue to do so in our local Somerset community. We hope that Yeovil’s official recognition as the Home of British Helicopters will help to attract even more young people from across the UK to work in an interesting, varied, and exciting workplace here in the heart of the South West.”
For 108 years, Yeovil has played a fundamental role in the defence of the nation. During the Great War, the town built around 1,100 aircraft, including seaplanes and bombers. Today, the same ground hosts a cutting-edge Leonardo factory that designs, manufactures, and supports helicopters for the British Army, Royal Navy and their allies, although many nods to the history of the site survive, such as its WWII-era test pilot’s office. Its latest-generation helicopters include the AW101 Merlin and AW159 Wildcat, both support the UK’s HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carrier.
Leonardo in Yeovil has exported helicopters all over the world for more than eight decades. Customers range from Norway and Canada to Japan and South Korea. The site has 34 customers across 26 countries and supports over 500 aircraft around the globe. This would not be possible without continuous investment in specialist skills and facilities on-site as well as the company’s extensive cross-UK supply chain.
Underpinning all of this success are the highly-skilled people that work at Leonardo in Yeovil and at partner sites from Wattisham Airfield and RNAS Culdrose to RNAS Yeovilton. With more than 3,000 employees on-site, Leonardo is engaging through Yeovil College and STEM outreach programmes across the region to inspire and attract the next generation of British helicopter apprentices, engineers, and businesspeople into the domain. With an eye towards the next 100 years, Leonardo understands that maintaining and expanding its skills base, cutting-edge research and specialist facilities will be critical to maintaining the UK’s ability to compete in international competitions and enabling the UK to join global helicopter development partnerships.
Adam Clarke, managing director, Leonardo Helicopters UK, said: “Yeovil means a lot to Leonardo, and Leonardo means a lot to Yeovil. I know this shared pride has deep roots throughout our site and the town. As we look to attract the talent of the future to embark on our latest- and future-generation projects to shape the future of UK Aerospace, we at Leonardo recognise that our success is symbiotic with that of our community. We are committed to continuously building on the foundations laid by our heritage to sustain a successful business for decades to come.”