In the early 1960s both the Royal Marines, then largely based aboard commando carriers, and the British Army required a vehicle that could be carried by air. They had taken delivery of the Westland Wessex helicopter, which could carry a 2,500 lb (1,134 kg) load slung beneath.
The smallest Land Rover available at the time was a Series IIA 88 inch (2235 mm) wheelbase, which was too heavy. Land Rover began work on a lightweight version to fit the specifications in 1965. A new modification to the basic Series IIA was devised by making many body components easily detachable and removing many non-essential items. The result was the Land Rover Half-Ton, known widely as the Lightweight or Airportable. In practice, to reduce weight sufficiently for the helicopters of the day to lift them in combat conditions, the tilt (roof) and sticks, the upper parts of the body, the doors and windscreen were removed, to be refitted later. The most significant change, however, was a reduction in width by 4 inch (100 mm), by redesigning the standard Series IIA axles and fitting shorter half-shafts, which meant it would fit on a standard pallet.
Complete, the Lightweight IIA weighed 2,650 lb (1,202 kg), over the specified weight. The term Lightweight appears misleading as a standard 88 Land Rover weighed 1,318 kg (2,906 lb), but the higher total weight was due to the various frame reinforcement required for military usage. However, with the removable body panels taken-off it was below the limit. Since improvements to the helicopters meant more lift was available, the MoD accepted it for use. The main applications were actually to be shipped by cargo aircraft or stacked on train wagons, with helicopter transport a rare occurrence.
The first production models were completed on 11 November 1968, and production continued until 1984.
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