Left: Painting of Sikorsky S55 G-ANUK touching down at Waterloo Air Terminal in 1955. Right: “Harold” as modelled for the TV Series..

The Sikorsky S55 helicopter from 1949 was one of the first commercially viable helicopters manufactured under licence in the UK by Westland, based out of Yeovil, who named it "Whirlwind". Westland produced several model variants of the S55, of which the "HAR" series likely inspired Harold's moniker. Fanciful memoranda from the British Department of Transport in the 1950s suggested that helicopters might one day render railways obsolete, and Percy's race with Harold may have been in part to rebuff this. The chopper got into many air forces around the world including the RAF, RN and USAF, but the example seen in the photo below is in the civilian colours of the now-defunct British European Airways (BEA). In 1955, BEA ran a short-lived (10 months) air shuttle service with two S-55s ferrying up to five passengers each between the London Airport (now Heathrow) and Waterloo Air Terminal right next to the railway station. The BEA S55s were equipped with pontoons for emergency landings on the Thames, which closely resemble those of the early RWS C.R. Dalby illustrations of Harold. It's worth noting that the wheels are still mounted separately on the BEA aircraft - a feature which Dalby simplified by incorporating them into the floats. To be fair, the American-built S-55 variant H-19 “Chickasaw” rescue helicopter metallic floats had integrated wheels (see Revell model kit cover further down this page). The S55 is an unmistakable design, with the pilot's cabin on an upper deck with passenger space underneath in the solid, bulbous body and nose.

Harold the Helicopter inspiration?

The photo above was taken from a 1955 British Pathé newsreel which can be viewed on YouTube where you can see "Harold" in flight:

The December 23, 1950 Illustrated London News carried a series of adverts for the debutante S-55 as the "latest type of all-purpose helicopter" than can be used as a passenger-freight carrier, an air ambulance, and as a troop-carrier. The advert also touted the S-55s powerful hoist for heavy lifting at sea and airlift rescues in mountainous areas. The picture below showing the S-55's innards was taken from said advert.

Cutaway view of S-55


This S-55 was aquired by the Thai Police Air Arm in 1954 and retired in 1966. Photo © Martin Clutterbuck 2009.

Correspondent Dave Moulton found this example on the US Coastguard webpages of an S-55 with floats - Hello there Harold!

U.S. Navy S-55

BELOW: TRLOTTTE co-editor Jim Gratton had the good fortune of having two "Harolds" (variant S-55B) on site in Ontario during a government aerial spray program back in 1985. The aircraft were fitted with aerial spray booms which offered added application advantages over conventional fixed-wing aircraft..

S-55 Northern Ontario 1985

S-55 Northern Ontario 1985

Harold appeared in "Percy the Small Engine" (1956).

Miscellany

Early editions of Percy the Small Engine included a songsheet tune for Percy's "race" with Harold - lyrics written by the Rev. Awdry and put to music by an E. Trundle. Later editions only included the lyrics. Below is the songsheet for the musically inclined, contributed to TRLOTTTE with thanks by visitor Callum Walker. Callum found it included in The Rev. W. Awdry's Railway Stories - Six Stories in One (7-12) Yellow Book (listed in our Library page).

Sheet music found in early editions of Percy the Small Engine


Secondhand model feature

Airfix, maker of mostly 1/72 scale polystyrene aircraft kits, once made one of the Westland Whirlwind. Add floats, red stripe and a face...
Airfix model of S-55
Revell S-55 H-19 Rescue Helicopter kit
Revell H-19 S-55 Helicopter with wheeled floats.

Making Harold

I bought the Airfix kit a while back, but I finally resolved to make good on my own suggestion. Of course it was not quite as straightfoward as it looked. Firstly I had to choose a reference picture and stick with it; this had to be the first picture when Percy meets Harold. This has the floats in a "trapezoid" side elevation rather than the "parallelograms" in the picture when he is in the air. Dalby isn't kind to the humans in Harold, because the cockpit windscreen is way too small and people in the hold are denied any kind of windows, although some prototype S-55s were indeed windowless. All the seating, controls, and pilots are painted black, because none of the interior can be seen in the original. Struts, wheels and rotor were also black, while everything else was white, spray-painted before assembly, with the hold windows in.

After it was mostly assembled, it was time to bid farewell to the Airfix instructions and have the reference picture open at the workspace on my phone. The red lines are HMRS "Pressfix" locomotive lining. I could see there was a level horizontal line from the tailplane to under the cockpit windows. At the front, I essayed the curve to go essentially parallel to the point of departure, as you can't see them on the front view picture, but after the front bulge, turned in slightly towards the centre. I was gratified to see that the TV model makers had interpreted this curve in a similar way. The name, perhaps in olden days done by Letraset, was a computer-generated sticker cut out and stuck on, with good luck the same scarlet red as the stripe. The main rotor goes around freely, while the tail rotor can be positioned if not freely rotated.

Then to the floats: cylindrical cross-section balsa wood, cut and shaped, made gaps for rear struts, then sanded and spray-painted. I'd hoped my Harold could actually float, as balsa is naturally bouyant, but the helicopter body with nose counterweight turned out to be just a mite too heavy.

Slots were carved out for the wheels, which were pushed in and superglued in situ. The bottom front strut is a cut down wooden toothpick, after deliberation a dummy top front strut was abandoned as too much risk to ruin the model. No landing gear frame as in the TV model and the real US Coastguard helicopter equipped with floats, which you'll also notice has a very prominent front strut right up to the window.

All struts and floats were glued simultaneously with poly cement at the back and superglue at the front. Then carefully shaped so the floats were parallel to the body, parallel to each other and down as far as they could go for the body to clear the ground, left to dry sitting on two balsa cylinders lashed together, and so eventually the floats were quite rigid. After a final retouching Harold was finished. It was decided no face would be added, to follow the style of the Rev Wilbert Awdry's own models of his characters, and give Testbedford Junction a civilian helicopter to use!

Just have to add another comment seeing JG's excellent discovery of the BEA shuttle above. It's obvious to me that this machine is Dalby's original model, because I had puzzled mightily over the utility of the floats and their weird shape, so a mere emergency precaution makes sense. The BEA livery is also similar to Harold's stripe, but Dalby had to fit a face in there somewhere. Just one more observation about wheels v. floats, again I'd puzzled over how the prototype nose wheels were much more inboard than the floats, although the back wheels quite fit into them, so now I have the answer..


Collector's Corner

New new Ertl logo take-along model of Harold
Classic classic ertl logo model of Harold
Bachmann Bachmann logo model of Harold (42441)
New ERTL Take Along Harold
classic ERTL Harold
Bachmann Harold

Bulgy <----

---->Bulstrode