The Green Merlin Mk 3, new addition to the Royal Navy's Merlin family of aircraft, has been conducting sea trials onboard the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Lyme Bay.
It is operating daily from the Fleet Air Arm’s West Cornwall Base, the Royal Navy announced in its press release on Friday.
The trials activity is now under way to take the aircraft on board HM Ships. A trials aircraft, crewed by a team from Rotary Wing Test and Evaluation Squadron (RWTES) and QinetiQ engineers, based at MOD Boscombe Down in Wiltshire have been putting the new Junglie helicopter through its paces. Working on board RFA Lyme Bay, they have been checking that the safety clearances, already in place for the Mk 2 Merlin are similarly valid for the Mk 3.
Lieutenant Commander Nigel Gates of Joint Helicopter Command Operational Evaluation Unit (JHC- OEU) is one of the Royal Navy pilots conducting the trials. He said, “In the back of the aircraft we have a team of QinetiQ engineers whose job it is to analysis all the data we collect, as we fly the Merlin on and off Lyme Bay’s deck. We’re checking that it can operate safely in all wind conditions and if necessary recommend changes to the clearances.”
The team has been working out of RNAS Culdrose throughout the trial period, changing the aircraft’s weight and landing position across the deck. These results will go a long way to determine how Green Navy Merlins will be used in the future with CHF and in particular flying from the deck of the HMS Queen Elizabeth class carriers.
“So far we’ve found that the Mk 3 has a little bit more power available, which helps with the worst wind conditions. We’ve also done trials with Night Vision Goggles (NVG) and in-flight refuelling with the aircraft, known as HIFR. The Data will help us with future Mk 3 operations, but more importantly this is preparing the way for the Mk 4 Merlin," Nigel added.
"This will be what emerges from the Agusta Westland conversion program for the Mk 3 to make it optimised for ship operations. The Mk 4 will have a folding rotor head and tail section as well, like the current Anti-submarine Grey Merlin Mk 2’s.”
Strengthened steel tie down points and heavier wheels have also been added, giving the current Merlin Mk 3 an all up weight (AUW) of around 14.6 tonnes. The Mk 4 will have a bigger AUW of around 15.6 tonnes.