Merlin maiden flight

Just in time for the Corps’ 352nd birthday, the Royal Marines new flying steed has taken to the skies for the first time. The Merlin Mk4 – much better adapted to operations at sea than the Mk3 it is replacing – will be the mainstay of Commando Helicopter Force for the next decade and beyond.

The Leonardo Merlin Mk4 helicopter, modified as an assault transport for Britain’s Royal Marines, made its maiden flight last week. A total of 25 Merlin Mk3s will be modified to this new standard, and all should be delivered by late 2020 (RN photo)
The Leonardo Merlin Mk4 helicopter, modified as an assault transport for Britain’s Royal Marines, made its maiden flight last week. A total of 25 Merlin Mk3s will be modified to this new standard, and all should be delivered by late 2020 (RN photo)

You’ve never seen a Merlin like this before. This is the Royal Marines’ flying steed of tomorrow, the fourth incarnation of a battle-proven helicopter – and the one best suited to both commando operations and flying at sea.

The very first Merlin Mk4 took to Somerset skies earlier this week after technicians and engineers at Leonardo – previously Agusta-Westland – in Yeovil completed turning a battlefield Merlin Mk3 into a battlefield Merlin Mk4.

The difference? Well, for a start it’s maritime grey not battlefield green (although it’s easily distinguishable from its submarine-hunting Merlin Mk2 sisters by the lack of a radar dome under the cockpit).

Less obvious to the eye is a folding main rotor head and folding tail which make it much more suited to operating from Royal Navy (RN) carriers and assault ships at sea.

In addition, inside the crew of four have access to a vastly-improved avionics suite.

The first Merlin Mk4 is likely to be ready for front-line operations by late 2017, with the entire fleet of 25 converted by the end of 2020.

At present the two troop-carrying squadrons of Commando Helicopter Force (CHF), based at Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) Yeovilton – 845 and 846 NAS – operate the Merlin Mk3 and Merlin Mk3i (the latter has undergone enhancements and improvements which plug the gap between Nos.3 and 4).

Watching the Merlin Mk4’s maiden flight was Colonel Lenny Brown, the Royal Marine in charge of CHF – who can’t wait for his men and women to get their hands on the upgraded helicopter.

«What a fantastic achievement for Leonardo, the Merlin project team and all those involved at Commando Helicopter Force», he said.

«This is truly a leap forward in CHF’s capability to support 3 Commando Brigade at the speed and range required on the modern battlefield, whether operating embarked in Royal Navy warships or on land».

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