The Royal Marines upgraded battlewagon made its debut at sea, spending four weeks aboard aviation training ship RFA Argus to help write the operating manual for the crews who will fly it for the next couple of decades.
Two Fleet Air Arm squadrons – 845 and 846 – have recently switched from Sea Kings to the green Merlin Mk3, transferred from the RAF.
But to truly support the green berets on amphibious operations around the globe, the Merlins have to be converted into Mk4s which feature folding tail sections and rotor heads – making them ideally suited to flying from Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels.
The Mk4 – painted grey, not green – briefly debuted at CHF’s home of Yeovilton just ahead of air day.
But it will be February before the first models are handed over to the squadrons while test pilots conduct extensive trials and assessments.
Among the first parameters to lay down are the Safe Helicopter Operating Limits for using the Mk4 – gathering data on wind speed, sea state, roll, pitch and other factors which determine the boundaries for landing the Merlin and taking off again.
One aircraft plus a project team joined Argus off the South Coast, carrying out 200 deck landings before returning to Leonardo’s works at Yeovil.
“The month on Argus was an intense working period; the logistics involved were incredible and throughout this trials period the Argus team has been extremely cooperative and accommodating,” said Scott Ewens, project manager for Leonardo.
“The data gathered by the project team will mean that the Mk4 is ready for its release for service in February 2018.”