The UK Ministry of Defence has signed a £300 million ($479 million) contract to upgrade at least 28 of its Eurocopter Puma HC1 transport helicopters with more powerful engines and improved cockpit systems.

Eurocopter UK will act as prime contractor for the effort, which will deliver its first aircraft to the Royal Air Force within two years and have half of the improved fleet in use by the end of 2012. The last modernised aircraft will be handed over by December 2014, the company says.

The improved HC2-standard aircraft will be equipped with new cockpit avionics and communications equipment, plus replacement flight control systems under a £220 million deal. To extend operations of the type by 10 years, the work will also add new defensive aids system equipment and a digital autopilot, says Eurocopter.

The aircraft will also receive Turbomeca Makila 1A1 engines that produce 35% more power than the Puma's Turmo engines, and deliver a 25% improvement in fuel efficiency, the MoD says.

 Puma HC1 - Crown Copyright
© Crown Copyright
Modifications to the Puma HC1 will stretch the type's service life by 10 years

The engine upgrade accounts for around £45 million of the modernisation programme, and will play a key role in enabling the support helicopter to participate in operations in Afghanistan, it adds.

"The upgrades amount to a significant capability enhancement for the aircraft," says minister for defence equipment and support Quentin Davies. The MoD's 18 September contract also includes an option to modify a further two of the aircraft, 30 of which are based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire. Deliveries of the HC1 started in 1971.

Other companies involved in the HC2 effort include Chelton, Qinetiq, Rockwell Collins, Selex Sensors and Airborne Systems, Smiths and Thales UK.

RAF operations of the Boeing CH-47 Chinook HC2/2A are also to receive a major boost from around 2014-15, following the signature of a £408 million deal. This will equip the service's current 38 aircraft - plus eight Chinook HC3s to enter use from late this year - with a standard improved cockpit configuration and more powerful Honeywell T55-714 engines.

Source: Flight International