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UK to complete Merlin helicopter fleet expansion

The UK Royal Air Force will receive its last of six AgustaWestland EH101 Merlin HC3A transport helicopters in late September. The former Danish-operated aircraft will join 22 Merlin HC3s already in squadron service.

Military sources suggest the new aircraft will be used to support training activities in the UK until after the Ministry of Defence reduces troop numbers in Iraq next year.

Five Merlins from the RAF's 28 Sqn are now operating in the country. The newly acquired model features a high degree of commonality with the HC3 fleet, but has an increased maximum take-off weight, improved cockpit displays and BERP IV main rotor blades.

 
© Craig Hoyle/Flight International

The new HC3As could make their frontline debut in support of NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan from mid- to late-2009, potentially performing duties including casualty evacuation missions now flown using the RAF's larger Boeing CH-47 Chinook HC2/2A transport helicopters.

In addition to agreeing to sell six of its new EH101 tactical transports to the UK last year, the Royal Danish Air Force has also assigned several of its pilots and rear crew members to support the RAF's Merlin force.

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