Words and photos by Dave Barry
An enormous ex-RAF helicopter which plucked people from the sea off Scarborough is being turned into a café.
The Sea King chopper - 20 metres long - is languishing in a former breakers yard just out of town.
After the RAF decommissioned it in 2015, it was bought by a private helicopter company which stripped it for spares and sent the fusillage to an MoD auction in Grantham in January last year.
Scarborough businessman Ben Stonehouse happened to be in the area at the time, organising a drive-in cinema in Peterborough, 36 miles down the A1.
“It was a fluke that I came across it”, says Ben. “I wasn't looking for it”.
The yellow hulk was valued at between £20,000 and £30,000 but Ben got it for much less after submitting what turned out to be the highest bid.
It was in a much worse state than it is now. Ben says he has spent about £30,000 on parts, including rotor blades, landing gear, a gearbox, panels and windows. Some of the blades will be turned into bench seats.
His dream is to transform the shell into a café and find both a seafront location and a sympathetic ear in the town hall.
“Anywhere with a coastal view, overlooking one of the bays, would be good”, says Ben, who is planning to spend the whole of July getting the old Sea King ship-shape, so to speak.
He says it will seat 12 inside, although the capacious interior looks as if it could easily accommodate more. People sitting outside will be served from the hatch. The kitchen will be in the tail end.
Ideally, he envisages the helicopter sitting on a platform similar to those used on oilrigs, beyond the reach of anyone inclined to climb over it when it’s closed.
Ben, who is from Scarborough, has always been interested in helicopters and is training to be a commercial helicopter pilot at Helicentre Aviation near Leicester.
He describes his Sea King café plan as “a very personal project”. In its former life, the helicopter, identified by its unique RAF code XZ598, was based at RAF Leconfield and used to rescue people at sea, in conjunction with the RNLI - which Ben has just joined, as a trainee crew member.
Ben is funding his project through his day job. His firm, Moonlight Cinema, runs two permanent drive-in cinema sites in Castleford and Kent, and about 80 individual pop-up cinemas around the country.
* Photo with thanks to Ben’s RNLI colleagues Frank Wright and Rob Gaunt.