The UK Royal Navy (RN) has received into service the first AgustaWestland AW101 helicopter to be upgraded to the Commando Merlin HC4/4A standard.
The milestone, which was marked on 24 May by a visit to the RN’s Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) at Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Yeovilton by the minister for defence procurement Guto Bebb, saw the handover of the first of 25 Merlin Commandos.
Delivery of this first helicopter marks the commencement of the final stage of the Merlin Life Sustainment Programme (MLSP). Leonardo Helicopters has undertaken this GBP388 million (USD519 million) programme to convert the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) former fleet of Merlin HC3/HC3A helicopters for shipborne operations. This work has included fitting folding main rotors and tail-boom, as well as upgraded avionics and other enhancements.
With the first Commando Merlin having made its maiden flight on 24 October 2016, RNAS Yeovilton is due to receive the first four helicopters by mid-June ahead of embarkation aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth (R 08) in September. ‘A’ Flight, 845 Naval Air Squadron (NAS), operating three Commando Merlins, will take part in flying trials on the aircraft carrier working alongside RN Merlin HM2s from 820 NAS and two US Marine Corps Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.
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