Inside the helicopter manufacturer trying to make the UK's next military chopper

  • Watch Ben McGrail's report

Thousands of jobs in Yeovil will be secured for years to come if the town’s famous helicopter-maker wins a major Government contract.

The Ministry of Defence wants to replace four current aircraft with one new one - and the Somerset-based Leonardo hopes its state-of-the-art AW149 helicopter will be chosen.

If it is, it would mean a new production line established in the town.

While the company is called Leonardo now, many in and around Yeovil simply know it as Westlands, a famous name in helicopter-making for more than a hundred years. Its base in the town is on Lysander Road, which is named after a second world war helicopter.

But that history never means the future is secure, so when big contracts come up - like the one to build the UK’s next medium-sized military helicopter - there are many fingers crossed the company will be successful.

Yeovil has a long history of manufacturing helicopters in the town Credit: ITV News West Country

Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters UK Nick Whitney said: "The security of the site is always going to be predicated on us winning orders.

"Our belief is that, should the Ministry of Defence select the 149, with the Ministry of Defence becoming a reference customer for the product the export opportunities open up. Other export customers will want to operate the same aircraft."

Picking up this contract would impact the next generation of engineers like apprentice Kayley Manns, who could end up working on the aircraft.

She said: "I grew up in the area so I’ve always seen the helicopters flying around.

"So to now be able to build them up and send them on to flight - there is a sense of pride in it when you see them flying around to say ‘I helped put that in the sky’."

Apprentice Hayley Manns could end up working on the aircraft if the company is successful in its bid Credit: ITV News West Country

Tom Grant, from Cheddar, is leading the marketing of the helicopter.

He said: "If the MoD were to select the 149 that would mean thousands of jobs in the south west.

"The importance isn’t lost on everyone, I think it’s quite a significant campaign.

"It’s really exciting to help be a part of that."

The Ministry of Defence should decide later this year which aircraft it wants Credit: ITV News West Country

Leonardo employs more than 3,000 people in and around Yeovil and spends tens of millions of pounds a year with local suppliers.

The Government wants its next medium-sized military helicopter available in four years. If it ends up being the AW149, this part of Somerset will have secure jobs for many years to come.

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