Beyond its current development of the Future Lynx design for the British Army and UK Royal Navy, AgustaWestland is also engaged in two key projects to boost the UK's battlefield helicopter capabilities, with efforts linked to the EH101 Merlin and Sea King.

Six EH101s acquired from Denmark earlier this year are being readied for operations from March 2008 with the Royal Air Force's 78 Sqn, which was assigned the now-Merlin HC3As (pictured below) at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire on 3 October. Two of the aircraft have been at the base since July to support crew conversion work, with the remainder in preparation at AgustaWestland's Yeovil site in Somerset.

Merlin HC3A 
© Crown Copyright

The aircraft are receiving UK defensive aids equipment and armoured protection, and being configured to carry up to 24 troops, says Carol Dicks, the company's Merlin HC3A project manager.

They will join the 22 Merlin HC3 transports now flown by the RAF's 28 Sqn, but will receive BERP IV main rotor blades, which will increase their speed, range and lift performance. While the HC3A's operational role has yet to be confirmed, the type could be deployed to Afghanistan swiftly after its introduction to frontline duty.

"The mission system has been frozen, ensuring our delivery in the timescale committed to," says Dicks. The aircraft have already been incorporated into the UK's Integrated Merlin Operational Support programme, she adds.

The Royal Danish Air Force will receive six replacement aircraft from 2009 as part of the UK's £175 million ($357 million) HC3A deal, with build work to start early next year.

Assessment phase work on a project to extend the lives of 35 Royal Navy Sea King HC4 amphibious support helicopters until 2017 is also nearing completion, with the work to also potentially benefit the service's Sea King 7 airborne surveillance and control aircraft. Planned enhancements include a five-bladed tail rotor and new Carson main rotor blades.

 Sea King HC4
© Paul Dopson/

"We are on track to deliver a proposal by the end of this year," says Austin Chick from AgustaWestland's military helicopter business development unit. A main gate decision on the initiative is expected around mid-2008.


Source: Flight International