Wildcat trials on RFA Mounts Bay
About to ‘slide’ across the flight deck of RFA Mounts Bay, this is the Navy’s next-generation helicopter going through a crucial workout off the South Coast.
Fleet Air Arm aircrew have been flying by day and night – latter courtesy of night vision kit – on to and off the deck of the amphibious support ship as they take another important step down the road to introducing the Wildcat to front-line service.
The helicopter will replace the long-serving Lynx as the air power of the Royal Navy’s destroyers, some of her frigates (which also operate the Merlin), and whichever warship or Royal Fleet Auxiliary requires an aircraft for its global mission.
Wildcat has already carried out trials at sea on RFA Argus (its first deck landing) and HMS Iron Duke (first time on a Royal Navy frigate) as test pilots, specialist engineers and technicians noted the helicopter’s flight characteristics to help them set the limits so it can be safely operated at sea by the Fleet Air Arm.
The helicopter’s now in the hands of the squadron charged with bringing into front-line service, 700W (W for Wildcat), who embarked on Mounts Bay to hone deck landing skills.
The squadron is specially formed to introduce new aircraft into the Fleet Air Arm (most recently the Merlin).
Although Wildcat looks very similar to a Lynx the two are different beasts. The new aircraft has more powerful engines – giving the pilot around one third more power than its predecessor – and new avionics.
And on the fighting side, there’s a glass cockpit with four large colour displays, replacing dials and screens of old.
As for firepower as well as Sting Ray torpedoes, and a .5in M3M machine-gun mounted by the side door, there’ll be the new light and heavy versions of the Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon – the next-generation missile for use against targets at sea and on land.
Learning how use to the weaponry lies in the future. For now, 700W has been concentrating on the basics of flying Wildcat at sea and the lessons it learns will help the Fleet Air Arm devise the training courses for the Wildcat aircrew of tomorrow.
“As a maritime attack helicopter, going to sea is what the aircraft was designed for,” explained Lt Cdr Rob Taylor, 700W’s Commanding Officer.
“Flying to a moving deck is one of the most demanding evolutions any aircrew can conduct and it is vital the team is fully-trained in this task to support further tactical development activity on the squadron. Wildcat performed beyond expectations, building on the noteworthy lineage of the Lynx helicopter which has been operating from the flight decks of RN warships for over 30 years – and will continue to do, for some years to come.
This recent activity will provide a springboard for further radar and sensor trials before, in 2014, the training of the next generation of pilots and observers who will take the Royal Navy’s newest maritime attack helicopter to sea, is due to commence.”
The Fleet Air Arm is buying 28 Wildcats, with the Army Air Corps acquiring 34. All 62 of the new helicopters will be based at RNAS Yeovilton, with the naval variant, the HMA2 (Helicopter Maritime Attack Mk2) due to be declared operational in early 2015.
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