Stewart Penney/BOSCOMBE DOWN

The first production standard Westland Sea King AEW7 airborne early warning and control helicopter is due to be handed over to the UK Royal Navy next month for ground and air trials.

Lt Cdr Stan Hargreaves, Sea King AEW7 trials officer at the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, Boscombe Down, says 54-60 sorties are planned from RAF St Mawgan in Cornwall, chosen because it is near the sea. Initial trials will be ground-based radio environment tests before flying starts in the third quarter.

Flight testing on the production helicopter follows trials at Boscombe Down using a surplus Sea King equipped with the new radar and man-machine interface (MMI). Hargreaves says around 50h have been flown in the aircraft since last October and it is planned to fly a further 70h on the machine.

As with the in-service Sea King AEW2A, the AEW7 uses a Thales Defence Searchwater radar, although the new sensor has a 30-40% range improvement as well as a pulse-Doppler mode in addition to the pulse envelope and maritime surveillance capabilities of the earlier system.

Pulse Doppler gives the helicopter improved lookdown and overland capabilities. Together these improve operational performance and better suit the system for the littoral environment, says Hargreaves. It is also possible to interleave the radar modes to suit the operational environment.

The AEW7 upgrade introduces the Link 16 datalink to the Sea King, improving its interoperability with other airborne control assets such as UK Royal Air Force and NATO Boeing E-3 Sentrys, and improving the link between the helicopter and fighters.

Source: Flight International