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Transfer of MERLINS to the Royal Navy

Published: 25 Oct 2011

The Commando Helicopter Force at the Royal Naval Air Station at Yeovilton reports:

MERLINS to weave their magic for the Commando Helicopter Force.

It is full steam ahead for the engineers and aviators of the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) as they make preparations for the planned transfer of RAF Merlin Support Helicopters to replace its ageing Sea King Mk 4 helicopters, which are due to be withdrawn from service in 2016.

The CHF Merlin Mk 4 will be derived from Merlin Mk 3 airframes currently in service with Number 28 Sqn and 78 Sqn Royal Air Force at RAF Benson. A small number of Royal Navy aviators are already at RAF Benson and will be joined by 12 aviators and 35 aircraft engineers in the new year.

The planned modification programme for the RAF Merlin transition includes new cockpit and avionics systems, using open system architecture which will ‘future-proof’ the aircraft to keep step with, and enable embodiment of, evolving technologies over the next one to two decades.

This aircraft update will be conducted through a Merlin Life Sustainment Programme which will be necessary to address critical obsolescence issues that will start to affect the current Merlin Mk 3 fleet in the middle of this decade.

The new cockpit will be based on the same cockpit design that is being installed in the Merlin Mk 1 as part of its own Capability Sustainment Programme which is currently being undertaken with Agusta Westland and will deliver its successor - the Merlin Mk 2. In this way Defence will see improvements in the support and management of the Merlin Fleet by having common spares for the Merlin Mk 2 and Mk 4 fleets; this will also deliver efficiencies in training for both maintainers and aircrew.

As part of the Merlin Life Sustainment Programme, the aircraft will also be modified to adapt them for operations in the maritime environment. This will include fitting a powered folding main rotor head and tail pylon to enable stowage and maintenance of the aircraft in the hangar of the Landing Platform Helicopter HMS OCEAN - or the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier. The Merlin Mk 4 aircraft will also be fitted with maritime enablers such as a Radar Identification system, flotation gear, Telebrief and lashing points for flight deck operations at sea.

Commenting on the future Captain Matt Briers RN, CO CHF added, “Once the planned transfer of the Merlin Mk 4 to the Commando Helicopter Force is complete the aircraft will be a key enabler in the insertion and sustainment of a Commando Group ashore. This contingent capability will deliver high readiness, flexible, multi-role forces, whether for diplomatic, humanitarian or military tasks; a key capability identified in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review. There will be many challenges ahead, but the combination of CHF and the Merlin Mk 4 will offer a new direction and increased value for money for Defence”.

The image shows an RAF Merlin helicopter and in the back ground a Sea King helicopter of the Commando Helicopter Force and is Crown Copyright.

The Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) consists of 5 squadrons, 4 Naval Air Squadrons and a Combat Support Squadron, integrated under the command of an HQ and is established to operate helicopters afloat or ashore in support of the UK armed forces. It is a combined Royal Navy and Royal Marine force that flies Sea King and Lynx helicopters that specializes in amphibious warfare.

The pilots are special, as they combine commando combat and survival skills with edge-of-the-seat flying. They operate Sea King and Lynx helicopters in extreme climates and conditions and their ability to work in terrain ranging from arctic to tropical jungle is second to none. Operations in Borneo in the 1960s earned them the moniker ‘Junglies’ from the troops on the ground, which current and veteran Junglies covet to this day.

The Junglies are recruited from the cream of the Royal Navy’s aviators – they arrive having already mastered basic helicopter skills. But to become a Junglie they must excel. Around 10% of trainees will not make it through the course, either because they are not good enough, or because they cannot take the intense psychological pressure and physical challenges. Flying helicopters in the Armed Services is a dangerous way to earn a living. Add combat to the mix, and you can see why the Junglies are among Britain’s elite.


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