The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) has for the first time loaded an Airbus Helicopters Puma HC2 onto the Airbus Defence and Space A400M Atlas transport aircraft during trials announced on 20 April.
The fitment trial saw the partially deconstructed Puma helicopter eased into the cargo hold of the airlifter at the home of the UK fixed-wing transport fleet at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.
With 22 aircraft set to be delivered to the RAF by the end of 2018 (14 have so far been handed over), the A400M is set to become the backbone of the UK's strategic airlift fleet. While the service will continue to operate eight of the much larger Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, it will be the numerically superior A400M that will be tasked for the lion's share of the military's heavy haulage.
Having been in service in its Westland-Aerospatiale HC1-guise since 1971, the Puma could have been retired by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) rather than upgraded to the HC2 standard, with its roles being taken on by the larger and more powerful Chinook and Merlin platforms. However, its ability to be airlifted by the A400M without the need to be broken down to quite the same extent as its larger stablemates was one of the key factors in keeping it in service.
Images tweeted by the RAF of the fitment trial show the Puma to be largely intact, missing only its main and tail rotors, rotor head, main gearbox, and undercarriage sponsons. This ability to be more easily loaded onto the A400M applies also to being prepared for flight at the other end of the journey, and will translate into a far quicker turnaround for deployments where time is a factor.
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