Flight test activities with the Royal Navy's upgraded AgustaWestland AW101 Merlin HM2 multi-mission helicopter have passed an initial 10-sortie campaign performed from the deck of the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious.
Conducted from 3 September using test aircraft ZH826, the work focused on proving the HM2's new-generation navigation systems, says Lockheed Martin, prime contractor for the £850 million ($1.37 billion) Merlin Capability Sustainment Programme (MCSP) activity.
"Over the following two-week period, the ship sailed between Plymouth and the edge of the Atlantic, during which time the planned 10 flight sorties were made," Lockheed says. Covering a variety of flight profiles, these included testing the navigation system under GPS-denied conditions, it adds. The flights were planned using a Lockheed-supplied ground preparation facility embarked aboard the vessel.
A total of 30 RN Merlins will be modernised under the MCSP effort, with a previous schedule calling for the first production example to be returned to the fleet in the fourth quarter of this year. The type should achieve a mid-2013 in-service date, with full operational capability due to be declared in late 2014.
Other elements of the upgrade include the integration of new displays in the cockpit and for the rear mission operators, with the work expected to sustain the Merlin as a frontline asset until around 2029.