The UK’s Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) received its first Leonardo AW101 Commando Merlin during a ceremony at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset on May 24, 2018. Built at Leonardo’s facility in Yeovil, Commando Merlin HC4 ZJ129, coded N, was presented to the assembled audience by Guto Bebb, Minister for Defence Procurement.
The event marked a major milestone for Leonardo’s Merlin Life Sustainment Programme (MLSP) contract, which will see 25 former Merlin HC3/HC3A helicopters upgraded to HC4/HC4A standard in a contract valued at £388 million.
Leonardo will deliver ten of these fully marinised amphibious support helicopters to CHF by the end of 2018 under phase 2 of the MLSP.
Operational trials at Yeovilton are scheduled to commence soon, ahead of embarkation aboard the Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08). Three Commando Merlins will participate alongside Royal Navy Merlin HM2s and F-35B Lightning IIs during flight trials aboard the carrier, which are scheduled to commence during the third quarter of 2018.
Phase 1 saw seven Merlin HC3 interim aircraft delivered on schedule by March 2016. Phase 2 will see 25 Commando Merlin HC4/ HC4A delivered through to the end of the contract in 2020.
The aircraft is fully optimised for ship operations with features that include automatic main rotor blade and tail folding, uprated undercarriage and enhanced avionics and cockpit features developed for the Royal Navy’s Merlin HM2 antisubmarine helicopter. The aircraft has also received an upgraded selfprotection system. Ian Harding