Mid-January 2017 Airbus Defence and Space delivered to NASA a propulsion test module for the Orion programme. The Propulsion Qualification Test Model (PQM) will be used to check that the Orion European Service Module (ESM) spacecraft’s propulsion subsystem functions correctly.
On behalf of the European Space Agency, Airbus Defence and Space is prime contractor for the ESM, a key element of NASA’s next generation Orion spacecraft.
Although the PQM will never see space, this is an important step in the development of the Orion programme. Complex systems for human spaceflight must first be tested and qualified on Earth before being used as flight hardware in space. The engineers want to determine how the system behaves in different environments, to ensure that it functions properly.
The test module is travelling via Bremerhaven and Houston/USA to its final destination at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility (WSTF) near Las Cruces in New Mexico/USA. Arrival is expected mid-February. The tests will take place later in the year at WSTF for the qualification of Orion ESM’s propulsion subsystem.
A fleet of 20 AH-64 Apache aircraft from the 1st Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment, 1st Armored Division in Fort Bliss, Texas landed at the Corpus Christi Army Depot (CCAD) last week to prepare for their February deployment to Europe.
The 1-501st, also known as the Iron Dragon Battalion, will deploy this February for a nine-month rotation in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. «We’re moving aircraft to Corpus Christi to put them on a ship to deploy to Europe», said Lieutenant Colonel Chris Crotzer, 1-501st commander.
«Supporting units like this sends a clear message to the rest of the Army that CCAD is willing to aid whenever we can to support the Warfighter and the overall mission», said Major Nathan Patrick, the depot commander’s executive officer.
Major Patrick handles military-aviation-related matters at the Depot, including coordination with other military entities. He worked out the details of the 1-501st arrival and parking plan along the sea wall, even including a maintenance bay for their use, to ensure the 1-501st a smooth and effortless transition to the Port of Corpus Christi.
Though CCAD was ready and set to assist the deployment, this depot is not a normal pit stop for active battalions. Through the Army Working Capital Fund, CCAD operates as an industrial facility specializing in helicopter maintenance, repair and overhaul under the US Aviation and Missile Command. The Depot is renowned for its helicopter reset and modernization capabilities, prolonging the life-cycle of some of Army’s most-trusted rotary wing aircraft.
«It will take several days to load the aircraft on the ship across town at the Port of Corpus Christi», said CW3 David Staruch, of the 1-501st. «We can only load a few Apaches at a time and have to remove the rotor blades and prep them for travel. There’s no heliport. It’s just a big massive ship».
The original plan was for the 1-501st to ferry aircraft to the Port of Corpus Christi over the course of three days. The Port of Corpus Christi is one of the few ports in the Gulf of Mexico that can sustain a boat large enough to carry 20 helicopters safely across the Atlantic.
As luck, would have it, high winds delayed the 1-501st move to the Port by a day, but it did little to slow down the Iron Dragon Battalion. Even with the loss of a day, the 1-501st was able to load all aircraft within the original three-day timeframe.
Through the cooperative efforts of Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Chief of Naval Air Training and CCAD, the 1-501st and their helicopters safely assembled at CCAD and continued to the port safely, demonstrating the synergy it takes to put global readiness and regional responsiveness in action.
«It’s real easy working with the folks at CCAD. And the Navy and flight test folks have been fantastic. They’ve been helping us every day», said Lieutenant Colonel Crotzer.
According to Fort Bliss’s January tenth press release, approximately 400 Soldiers and 24 AH-64 Apache helicopters from the 1-501st will augment the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, out of Fort Drum, New York, which is the first aviation brigade to support OAR under the Regionally Aligned Force concept.
These Soldiers will support aviation operations throughout Europe to improve interoperability and strengthen relationships with Allies and partner nations. «We’ll get great training with the forces and get them comfortable working with us», said Lieutenant Colonel Crotzer.
The AH-64 Apache is the Army’s attack aviation asset used for close combat attack. «We train with the Apache all the time and with our ground units to gain proficiency», said Staruch. «We feel ready for the task at hand».
The battalion trained hard for the past year at the National Training Center and through other standard exercises. «Now we are going to Europe to train with the Allied Nations to do the same with them», he said.
This training deployment will not only enhance US and European relations, it will add readiness to the US Army aviation’s attack reconnaissance battalion.
The Attack Reconnaissance Battalion self-deploys to any contingency area to conduct operations. On order, it will conduct military operations that will engage and destroy an enemy or peacefully perform missions that ensure regional stability in the area of operations.
The nine-month deployment to Europe is a first for this battalion who are relying on this training to gain the familiarity with some of the field conditions they may face when they are called to support their next mission.
«We exist to support the Warfighter», Staruch said of the battalion. They provide cover for ground combatants – the guys on the ground – to achieve their mission.
«We’re looking forward to this exceptional opportunity to work with US Army Europe, our Allies and partners», said Lieutenant Colonel Crotzer.
Lockheed Martin is helping NASA begin the hunt for dark energy, a mysterious force powering the universe’s accelerating expansion. An instrument assembly the company is developing, if selected by NASA for production, will be the core of the primary scientific instrument aboard the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), whose mission aims to uncover hundreds of millions more galaxies and reveal the physics that shapes them.
Scientists and engineers recently began work developing the Wide-Field Optical-Mechanical Assembly (WOMA) for WFIRST, NASA’s newest astrophysics telescope program. WOMA comprises the major portion of scientific components on one of two instruments on the telescope. NASA chose Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Center (ATC) in Palo Alto to advance from an earlier study into the formulation phase. WOMA uses similar approaches to the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam), which the ATC built as the primary optical instrument for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.
«Lockheed Martin scientists achieved groundbreaking results with NIRCam’s precision and sensitivity», said Jeff Vanden Beukel, WOMA program manager at Lockheed Martin. «There’s no time to lose as we support a fast-paced schedule, and our experience with NIRCam’s precision optics positions our WOMA design to be capable, producible and on budget».
Scientists and engineers are collaborating to design optical systems, mechanisms, structure, electronics and thermal control components. Similar to NIRCam, the Wide-Field Instrument on WFIRST will be a powerful optical payload. However, WFIRST will have a massive focal plane array, 200 times larger than NIRCam, to capture what some liken to panoramic images of the star field.
In addition to dark energy research, WOMA will also use microlensing to complete the census of known exoplanets. Microlensing takes advantage of brief distortions in space to reveal new planets around distant stars, and WFIRST’s wide field of view will allow scientists to monitor 200 million stars every 15 minutes for more than a year. When NASA launches WFIRST, it will work in concert with other observatories to jointly research new places and forces in our universe.
NASA plans to select a winning design next year for production, and WFIRST is expected to launch in the mid-2020s.
The U.S. Navy accepted its 50th P-8A Poseidon (P-8A) aircraft at the Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, Florida on January 5, 2017. The Navy’s Poseidon is replacing the legacy P-3 Orion and will improve an operator’s ability to efficiently conduct anti-submarine warfare; anti-surface warfare; and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. The P-8A program of record calls for a total requirement for 117 of the 737-based anti-submarine warfare jets.
«I’d like to formally thank the team, including PMA-290, Boeing and our entire P-8A industry team, as we deliver the 50th P-8A Poseidon early and under budget», said Captain Tony Rossi, the Navy’s program manager for Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft. «This milestone demonstrates outstanding work ethic, professionalism and dedication to the fleet».
«The P-8A is special», added Rossi. «This is the first time a Navy combat aircraft was built from the ground up on a commercial production line. We’ve leveraged commercial expertise and experience, and a highly reliable airframe, the 737, which has reduced production time and overall production costs». Since the initial contract award, the program has reduced P-8 costs by more than 30 percent and has saved the U.S. Navy more than $2.1 Billion.
«Together, we and our industry partners are transforming today’s maritime patrol and reconnaissance force for the evolving threats and diverse mission requirements», he said. «This replacement for the P-3C builds on lessons-learned, while enhancing those capabilities with unique features, such as an electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor turret and increased acoustic processing capability with 64 passive sonobuoys, 32 multistatic sonobuoys and concurrent passive and active processing».
The fleet’s transformation from the legacy P-3C to the P-8A is expected to be completed by Fiscal Year 2019.
As of April 2016, all six active and one fleet replacement squadron at NAS Jacksonville have completed their fleet transition training from the P-3C to the P-8A and the first west coast P-8A squadron, VP-4, has relocated its home port from Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii to NAS Whidbey Island, Washington. All squadrons will complete transition training by Fiscal Year 2019.
123.6 feet/37.64 m
42.1 feet/12.83 m
129.5 feet/39.47 m
2 × CFM56-7B engines
27,000 lbs/12,237 kgf/120 kN thrust
490 knots/564 mph/908 km/h
1,200 NM/1,381 miles/2,222 km with 4 hours on station
Northrop Grumman has successfully completed the first flight of an E-2D Advanced Hawkeye equipped with Aerial Refueling (AR). Under a 2013 Engineering, Manufacturing, and Development (EMD) contract award, Northrop Grumman designed, developed, manufactured, and tested several sub-system upgrades necessary to accommodate an aerial refueling capability.
«The Northrop Grumman aerial refueling team continues to put outstanding effort into bringing this much-needed capability to the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and our warfighters who rely on it», said Captain Keith Hash, program manager, E-2/C-2 Airborne Tactical Data System Program Office (PMA-231).
The aerial refueling capability will allow the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye to provide longer on-station times at greater ranges, extending its mission time to better support the warfighter.
The upgrades installed to support aerial refueling include probe and associated piping, electrical and lighting upgrades, and long endurance seats that will enhance field of view in the cockpit and reduce fatigue over longer missions.
«First flight is an exciting day in the journey from concept to an aerial refueling equipped E-2D», said Jane Bishop, vice president, E-2/C-2 programs, Northrop Grumman. «This takes the E-2D to another level, which will bring more combat persistence to the U.S. and our allies».
The aerial refueling program will modify three aircraft for testing planned through 2018. Production cut-in and retrofit plans are scheduled to begin in 2018.
E-2D Advanced Hawkeye
The E-2D Advanced Hawkeye is a game changer in how the Navy will conduct battle management command and control. By serving as the «digital quarterback» to sweep ahead of strike, manage the mission, and keep our net-centric carrier battle groups out of harms way, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye is the key to advancing the mission, no matter what it may be. The E-2D gives the warfighter expanded battlespace awareness, especially in the area of information operations delivering battle management, theater air and missile defense, and multiple sensor fusion capabilities in an airborne system.
Hardware with system characteristics that provides:
Substantial target processing capacity (>3,000 reports per second)
Three highly automated and common operator stations
High-capacity, flat-panel color high-resolution displays
Extensive video type selection (radar and identification friend/foe)
HF/VHF/UHF and satellite communications systems
Extensive data link capabilities
Inertial navigational system and global positioning system navigation and in-flight alignment
8 December 2016, the NH90 Sea Lion naval multi-role helicopter took off on its on-schedule maiden flight at Airbus Helicopters in Donauwörth. Wolfgang Schoder, CEO of Airbus Helicopters Deutschland; Ralph Herzog, Director in the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support (BAAINBw) and Vice Admiral Andreas Krause, Chief of the German Navy welcomed this important milestone in the programme.
«We are proud to be delivering this state-of-the-art naval helicopter to the German Armed Forces on time», said Wolfgang Schoder. «This new generation of NH90 naval helicopters, the Sea Lion, has benefited from experience gathered by other countries who have been using it». The NH90 has an increased number of sensors and improved navigation and communications equipment, which means that this military helicopter will also be able to operate in civil air space. The military friend/foe identification has also been updated to the latest standards.
For the BAAINBw in Koblenz, the Sea Lion is also a special project: «We need to keep to a tight schedule if we are to replace the Sea King in time. This requires all those participating in the project to coordinate quickly and efficiently to achieve this», explained Ralph Herzog. «By using an existing NH90 model as the basis for the Sea Lion and adding the required additional functionalities to it, we have been able to significantly reduce the delivery process. This model is also configured not only to be an adequate replacement for the Sea King but is designed so that it can be adapted to future roles».
«The Navy is looking forward, as the first customer, to be receiving the NH90 Sea Lion on time by the end of 2019», said Vice Admiral Andreas Krause. «We are now expecting a successful test phase». Meanwhile, the Navy is preparing intensively for the acceptance of the helicopters with technical and flight personnel already training. Further measures have commenced at their future home, the Nordholz naval air base. Infrastructural changes and new buildings are necessary.
Deliveries of NH90 Sea Lions to the Navy will start at the end of 2019. When deployed, it will take on a range of roles including search and rescue (SAR) missions, maritime reconnaissance, special forces missions as well as personnel and materiel transportation tasks. The German Armed Forces have ordered 18 of these helicopters altogether, with the last due to go into service in 2022. The second NH90 Sea Lion awaiting qualification testing is currently at the final assembly stage and series production at Donauwörth will commence in the summer of 2017.
In addition to its land-based use in SAR missions, the NH90 Sea Lion is also intended to operate on Type 702 (Berlin class) combat support ships. Thanks to its multi-role capability and future proofing, the Sea Lion will not merely replace the Bundeswehr’s Sea King Mk41 fleet but significantly enhance the Navy’s operational capabilities. The electronic fly-by-wire flight controls of the NH90 Sea Lion reduce the crew’s workload. Other benefits of this control system are its high precision and ease of use, which particularly come to the fore in over-water hovering, even in poor weather conditions.
The NH90 Sea Lion shell is manufactured from advanced, high-strength composite materials. This offers optimum protection for the crew thanks to its excellent crash behaviour.
Five nations are already using the naval NH90 NFH (NATO Frigate Helicopter). They have already completed more than 30,000 flying hours with the 69 helicopters delivered so far: in humanitarian and SAR and military missions on land and on board naval vessels. The German NH90 Sea Lion programme has greatly benefited from the experience gained from these operations. Altogether 129 NH90 NFH helicopters have been ordered; the total for all NH90 models comes to 515. The whole NH90 fleet comprising 296 helicopters delivered so far has already completed over 120,000 flying hours.
Overall dimensions (rotors turning)
64.18 feet/19.56 m
53.48 feet/16.30 m
17.42 feet/5.31 m
Maximum Gross Weight
23,369 lbs/10,600 kg
Alternate Gross Weight
24,250 lbs/11,000 kg
14,109 lbs/6,400 kg
9,260 lbs/4,200 kg
8,818 lbs/4,000 kg
Single or dual Rescue Hoist
595 lbs/270 kg
Rescue Hoist on ground
880 lbs/400 kg
7-Cell Internal System
4,486 lbs/2,035 kg
Internal Auxiliary Fuel Tanks (each)
882 lbs/400 kg
External Auxiliary Fuel Tanks (each)
644 lbs/292 kg or 1,102 lbs/500 kg
6.56 feet/2.00 m
15.75 feet/4.80 m
5.18 feet/1.58 m
536.78 feet³/15.20 m³
Sliding doors opening
5.25 × 4.92 feet/1.60 × 1.50 m
Rear ramp opening
5.84 × 5.18 feet/1.78 × 1.58 m
NH90 General Performance (Basic Aircraft)
Maximum Cruise Speed*
162 knots/186 mph/300 km/h
Economical Cruise Speed*
140 knots/161 mph/260 km/h
Maximum Rate Of Climb*
2,200 feet/min/11.2 m/sec
One Engine Inoperative (OEI) Rate Of Climb 2 min Rating*
850 feet/min/4.3 m/sec
OEI Rate Of Climb Continuous Rating at 6,560 feet/2,000 m*
Australia’s first P-8A arrived in the capital city of Canberra November 16, carrying Australia’s Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, The Honourable Christopher Pyne, Minister for Defence Industry, The Honourable Peter Dutton, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and other senior government leaders.
«The Poseidon is a cutting-edge surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft which will dominate the skies around our nation’s coastline», Prime Minister Turnbull said. «We just had a demonstration of some of the very impressive capabilities on board this morning. It is a potent and highly versatile aircraft».
This is the first of eight Australian P-8As under contract with Boeing as part of a cooperative program with the U.S. Navy begun in 2009 to collaborate on the aircraft’s development. Four additional Poseidon have been approved and funded by the Australian government. In addition to the U.S. Navy, the Indian Navy flies the P-8I variant and the United Kingdom has confirmed its purchase of nine of the P-8A variant.
The P-8A Poseidon is a long-range anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft capable of broad-area, maritime and littoral operations. A derivative of the Next-Generation 737-800, the P-8A combines superior performance and reliability with an advanced mission system that ensures maximum interoperability in the future battle space. The aircraft is militarized with maritime weapons, a modern open mission system architecture, and commercial-like support for affordability.
Tern, a joint program between DARPA and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR), seeks to greatly increase the effectiveness of forward-deployed small-deck ships such as destroyers and frigates by enabling them to serve as mobile launch and recovery sites for specially designed unmanned air systems (UASs). DARPA last year awarded Phase 3 of Tern to a team led by the Northrop Grumman Corporation to build a full-scale technology demonstration system. The program has since made significant advances on numerous fronts, including commencement of wing fabrication and completion of successful engine testing for its test vehicle, and DARPA has tasked Northrop Grumman with building a second test vehicle.
«DARPA has been thinking about building a second Tern test vehicle for well over a year», said Dan Patt, DARPA program manager. «Adding the second technology demonstrator enhances the robustness of the flight demonstration program and enables military partners to work with us on maturation, including testing different payloads and experimenting with different approaches to operational usage».
Tern envisions a new medium-altitude, long-endurance UAS that could operate from helicopter decks on smaller ships in rough seas or expeditionary settings while achieving efficient long-duration flight. To provide these and other previously unattainable capabilities, the Tern Phase 3 design is a tailsitting, flying-wing aircraft with a twin contra-rotating, nose-mounted propulsion system. The aircraft would lift off like a helicopter and then perform a transition maneuver to orient it for wing-borne flight for the duration of a mission. Upon mission completion, the aircraft would return to base, transition back to a vertical orientation, and land. The system is sized to fit securely inside a ship hangar for maintenance operations and storage.
Tern has accomplished the following technical milestones for its test vehicle in 2016:
Wing fabrication: Since Phase 3 work started at the beginning of 2016, Tern has finished fabricating major airframe components and anticipates final assembly in the first quarter of 2017. Once complete, the airframe will house propulsion, sensors, and other commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) systems to make up the full-scale technology demonstration vehicle.
Engine tests: In Phases 2 and 3, Tern has successfully tested numerous modifications to an existing General Electric engine to enable it to operate in both vertical and horizontal orientations. This type of engine was chosen because it is mature and powers multiple helicopter platforms currently in use.
Software integration: This summer, Tern opened its Software Integration Test Station (SITS), part of the System Integration Lab that supports software development for the program. The test station includes vehicle management system hardware and software, and uses high-fidelity simulation tools to enable rapid testing of aircraft control software in all phases of flight. The SITS is helping ensure the technology demonstration vehicle could fly safely in challenging conditions such as launch, recovery, and transition between horizontal and vertical flight.
Additional tests are about to start. A 1/5th-scale version of the approved vehicle model is in testing in the 80’ × 120’ wind tunnel at the NASA Ames Research Center’s National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex (NFAC). Data collected during this test will be used to better characterize aircraft aerodynamic performance and validate aerodynamic models.
«We’re making substantial progress toward our scheduled flight tests, with much of the hardware already fabricated and software development and integration in full swing», said Brad Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, which oversees Tern. «As we keep pressing into uncharted territory – no one has flown a large unmanned tailsitter before – we remain excited about the future capabilities a successful Tern demonstration could enable: organic, persistent, long-range reconnaissance, targeting, and strike support from most Navy ships».
Tern is currently scheduled to start integrated propulsion system testing in the first part of 2017, move to ground-based testing in early 2018, and culminate in a series of at-sea flight tests in late 2018.
DARPA and the Navy have a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to share responsibility for the development and testing of the Tern demonstrator system. The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) has also expressed interest in Tern’s potential capabilities and is providing support to the program.
Five Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II aircraft landed on the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) on Friday, October 28. America will embark seven F-35Bs – two are scheduled to begin the third shipboard phase of Developmental Test (DT-III) and five are scheduled to conduct operational testing. America, the first ship of its class, is an aviation-centric platform that incorporates key design elements to accommodate the fifth-generation fighter.
The ship’s design features several aviation capabilities enhanced beyond previous amphibious assault ships which include an enlarged hangar deck, realignment and expansion of the aviation maintenance facilities, a significant increase in available stowage of parts and equipment, as well as increased aviation fuel capacity. America is capable of accommodating F-35Bs, MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, and a complement of Navy and Marine Corps helicopters.
The third test phase will evaluate F-35B Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL) operations in a high-sea state, shipboard landings, and night operations. The cadre of flight test pilots, engineers, maintainers, and support personnel from the F-35 Patuxent River Integrated Test Force (ITF) are assigned to Air Test & Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.
«It’s exciting to start the execution phase of our detachment with VMX-1 (Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1) on USS America», said Lieutenant Colonel Tom «Sally» Fields, F-35 Patuxent River ITF Government Flight Test director assigned to VX-23. «During the next three weeks, we will be completing critical flight test for both Developmental Test (DT) and Operational Test (OT). The F-35 Pax River ITF and VX-23 will be conducting DT work that will establish the boundaries of safe operation for the F-35B in the 3F configuration. VMX-1 will be conducting OT operations focused on preparing maintenance crews and pilots for the first deployment of the F-35B aboard USS Wasp (LHD-1), scheduled to start in just over a year».
The operational testing will also include simulating extensive maintenance aboard a ship, said Colonel George Rowell, commanding officer of VMX-1, based at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona. Rowell stated one of the VMX jets on board will be placed in the hangar bay, taken apart, and put together again, just to make sure everything goes well.
The maintenance work will include the replacement of a lift fan, the specialized equipment made by Rolls Royce and Pratt and Whitney that gives the F-35B variant its short take-off, “jump jet” capability, Rowell said. The Marine Corps variant of the F-35 Lightning II reached the fleet first, with the service declaring initial operational capability July 2015.
«The F-35 Lightning II is the most versatile, agile, and technologically-advanced aircraft in the skies today, enabling our Corps to be the nation’s force in readiness – regardless of the threat, and regardless of the location of the battle», said Lieutenant General Jon Davis, deputy commandant for aviation, Marine Corps. «As we modernize our fixed-wing aviation assets for the future, the continued development and fielding of the short take-off and vertical landing, the F-35B remains the centerpiece of this effort».
«The America class of amphibious assault ship design enables it to carry a larger and more diverse complement of aircraft, including the tiltrotor MV-22 Osprey, the new F-35 Lightning II, and a mix of cargo and assault helicopters», added Davis. «America is able to support a wide spectrum of military operations and missions, including putting Marines ashore for combat operations, launching air strikes, keeping sea lanes free and open for the movement of global commerce, and delivering humanitarian aid following a natural disaster».
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.
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».