AgustaWestland has delivered the first of seven upgraded AW101 Merlin HC Mk3 helicopters to the British Royal Navy as part of Phase 1 of the Merlin Life Sustainment Programme (MLSP).
Under the £330 million MLSP design and manufacture contract, awarded to AgustaWestland in January 2014, 25 AW101 Merlin HC Mk3/3A aircraft will be converted to Merlin HC Mk4/4A configuration in two phases as a replacement for the Sea King HC Mk4 in the amphibious support role.
The seven Merlin HC Mk3 aircraft being upgraded under MLSP Phase 1 will provide an interim capability while the Mk4 aircraft are converted, and in turn will be converted to Mk4 standard.
The first AW101 Merlin HC Mk3 aircraft arrived at AgustaWestland’s Yeovil facility on 23rdOctober 2014 and underwent a number of modifications, including the introduction of a folding main rotor head, naval lashing rings, revised twin wheel main undercarriage for ship operations, fast roping capability and various communications upgrades including the introduction of an I-band transponder.
The upgraded Merlin HC Mk3 first flew on 8th April 2015 and completed flight trials at the end of August. Following formal release to Service in September the aircraft has now been delivered and will be followed by six further aircraft to provide an Initial Operating Capability (IOC) in Spring 2016, when the final Sea King HC Mk4 aircraft will be withdrawn from service.
Under MLSP Phase 2, all 25 AW101 Merlin HC Mk4/Mk4A aircraft being delivered between 2017 and 2020 will be fully optimised for ship operations and include automatic main rotor blade folding and tail fold systems. The aircraft will also be fitted with a similar cockpit to the Royal Navy’s Merlin HM Mk.2 aircraft, Conversion of the first Merlin HC Mk3 to Mk4 standard has already started with the arrival of the first aircraft at AgustaWestland’s Yeovil facility in August 2015.