The Polish Navy welcomed the delivery of its initial AW101 Merlin multi-role maritime helicopter on August 7, just over two years after the first of four examples for Poland completed its maiden flight at Leonardo Helicopters’ facility in Yeovil, Somerset, on July 19, 2021.
The aircraft – c/n 50288, which was still wearing the provisional UK registration ZR288, but will likely receive the operational serial 6204 in Polish Navy service – departed Leonardo Helicopters’ facility in Yeovil on its delivery flight to Poland and made an hour-long fuel stop at Rotterdam The Hague Airport in the Netherlands, before continuing its journey to Poland. The attractive multi-tone grey camouflage applied to the Polish Navy AW101 is quite unlike any liveries sported by other Merlin operators and, while the operational serial was taped over during the delivery flight, the aircraft’s operational markings – including the Polish military’s checkerboard roundel and the anchor symbols worn by Polish Navy aircraft – were not.
While Poland initially planned to acquire eight AW101s to enable its Navy to replace its ageing fleet of Russian-made Mi-14PL and Mi-14PL/R Haze-A multi-role maritime helicopters – which are currently operated by 44 Baza Lotnictwa Morskiego (44 BLM; 44 Naval Aviation Base) at Darlowo Air Base in northern Poland – this number was halved to four in 2018. An order contract for these four initial helicopters (worth €380m) was inked with Leonardo in April 2019. It is expected that all four AW101s will be delivered to the Polish Navy by the end of 2023. When operational, the AW101 will perform a variety of different roles for the Polish Navy, ranging from combat search-and-rescue (CSAR) missions to anti-submarine/surface warfare (ASW/ASuW) operations.