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PICTURE: Enhanced Merlin takes to the air

The first upgraded AgustaWestland Merlin Mk2 helicopter has made its initial flight two months ahead of schedule, say the airframer and Lockheed Martin UK - Integrated Systems.

The 35min flight from AgustaWestland's Yeovil plant in southwest England went as planned, say the companies. Initial flight tests will focus on testing the new avionics, aircraft management systems, cockpit displays, communications and navigational systems.

© AgustaWestland

Under the 2006 £750 million ($1.13 billion) Merlin Capability Sustainment Programme (MCSP) the two companies are upgrading 30 AW101 Merlin Mk1s for the UK Royal Navy. The MCSP is designed to improve mission capabilities through the inclusion of an open system architecture, enhancements to the mission system processing capability, plus improvements to the helicopter's radar and sonar as well as new large-area touch-screen flat panel displays.

Four trials aircraft will be used to put the new systems through their paces. The bulk of test flying will take place at Yeovil, with the aircraft due to be transferred to Qinetiq at Boscombe Down in late 2011 for further mission system evaluation and release to service trials.

Full-rate conversion will start at Yeovil in early 2012 with the Mk2 entering service in 2013 and achieving full operational capability the following year.

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