The UK Royal Air Force’s AgustaWestland EH101 Merlin HC3 transport helicopters have completed their first year of operations in Iraq without incident, while two of the aircraft have recently completed a successful Joint Personnel Recovery (JPR) demonstration in the UK.

Concluding on 16 March, the three-day exercise Pegasus Hunter assessed the HC3’s suitability for use as a rescue vehicle to deliver a ground extraction force and recover downed aircrew under simulated combat conditions. “28 Sqn demonstrated a viable JPR capability by day and night and this result will now be progressed,” says the UK Ministry of Defence. Based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, 28 Sqn currently has four crews trained to undertake JPR tasks, with a plan to increase this total to nine.

Lockheed Martin is offering a US101 development of the Merlin to meet the US Air Force’s 141-aircraft CSAR-X combat search-and- rescue helicopter requirement, a selection for which is due from August. Boeing’s HH-47 Chinook and Sikorsky’s HH-92 are also in the contest (Flight International, 28 February–6 March).

28 Sqn’s first Merlins arrived in Basra in Iraq in February 2005 and the type has since amassed over 4,000 flying hours and delivered serviceability rates of between 80-85%, the RAF says. Five aircraft are in theatre, with a further two to follow to allow for rotation.

The RAF hopes to receive clearances this year to operate the Merlin at an increased maximum take-off weight of 15,600kg (34,400lb) and to fly it above 15,000ft (4,570m). It is also assessing enhancements, including chaff dispensers, miniguns and in-flight refuelling.


Source: Flight International