GKN-Westland, October 16, 2000 - Yeovil, UK - An EH101 Merlin HC Mk3 successfully completed a series of recent troop loading trials in a tactical environment on Salisbury Plain Military Training Ranges near Warminster, UK, using fully equipped airmobile soldiers of the 1st Battalion Green Howards. This is an important Ministry of Defence milestone in the programme confirming the ability to embark and disembark troops rapidly if their landing site were to come under hostile fire.
The trials also involved personnel from the Rotary Wing Operational Evaluation and Training Unit (OETU) at RAF Benson who were responsible for making the trials as realistic as possible. The aircraft was deployed in field conditions to an area of mud and long grass for timed trials with 24 troops in 'fighting order' which included section and platoon sustained fire weapons and appropriate combat supplies. Every soldier carried some 50 kg of equipment making his total weight at least 130 kg, with an overall average of 140kg. Timed runs were carried out in front of representatives from the Defence Procurement Agency (DPA) and OETU crew gathered the official times. The loading and unloading of 24 troops was achieved well within the target times mandated for tactical military operations, confirming the capability of the EH101 Merlin to transport troops in hostile tactical situations at minimum risk.
The DPA's Deputy Project Manager for the EH101 Merlin Mk3 programme, Colin Paterson, emphasised the importance of meeting such a milestone. "The trooping demonstration was a significant milestone in the aircraft's introduction into service allowing us to appreciate the ability of Merlin to function in real Support Helicopter operations. Salisbury Plain mud and the foul weather combined to make this more realistic than anticipated but we were very pleased that the Green Howards were easily able to cope, showing us that Merlin can operate successfully."
In anticipation of the commencement of Merlin Mk3 operations by No 28 Squadron, based at RAF Benson, Oxfordshire, in November, RAF air and ground crew have been undergoing an intensive training and familiarisation programme at GKN Westland's customer training centre. Four pilots, two navigators and three air loadmasters have completed their training and a second group of aircrew is currently undertaking conversion flying with GKN Westland pilots.
Six EH101 Merlin Mk3 aircraft have already been delivered and a further seven are in production with three planned for delivery in the last quarter of 2000. RAF01 and RAF02 have completed the first stage of Military Aircraft Release (MAR) trials and are now preparing for the second stage of MAR trials. Operational training will commence at RAF Benson later this year and a limited Release To Service (RTS) is being prepared sufficient to support this initial training. This RTS will be enhanced during 2001/02 to enable No 28 Squadron to use the full capability of the Merlin Mk3 in day and night operations.
EH101 Merlin Mk3 will greatly augment the capability of the RAF's existing helicopter fleet. Its modern and sophisticated navigation, optical and avionics systems will enable the aircraft to self-deploy over long distances and operate in all weathers, including darkness and known icing conditions, in demanding tactical scenarios.
The Ministry of Defence has ordered 22 EH101 Merlin HC Mk3 helicopters for the UK's Royal Air Force.
The MK3's uprated engines will give the aircraft an enviable engine-out performance capability in addition to offering considerable efficiency savings. Although designed essentially for the overland tactical role, the helicopter will offer significant strategic flexibility, as it will be fully marinised and be equipped with an air-to-air refuelling capability.
The EH101 Merlin Mk3 will carry bulk cargoes, artillery, Land Rovers and other vehicles, heavily equipped combat teams and, when required, will quickly convert to casualty evacuation or humanitarian and disaster relief roles.
Operating away from base workshops, Merlin has the modern technology, including health and usage monitoring, active vibration control and built-in test equipment that facilitates easy maintenance, guarantees high availability and results in much reduced maintenance hours per flying hour compared with current aircraft.
The Merlin Mk3's three engines are designed to operate in adverse conditions, including extremes of temperature, icing, dust and sand environments.
EH101 Merlin Mk3 is corrosion proofed for operation from ships and the cockpit is compatible with the latest Night Vision Goggle (NVG) capability. Fitted with a twin wheel tricycle undercarriage with high flotation, low-pressure tyres, it is more capable of operating from soft terrain than current in-service aircraft.
The Mk3 can carry a maximum payload of more than 4000kg and has a maximum range of over 1000km. This range can be extended by carrying auxiliary fuel tanks internally or by air-to-air refuelling (AAR). With AAR, Merlin Mk3 can fly for more than twelve hours; two twelve hours sorties would, for example, take the aircraft to the Middle East from the UK.
Merlin Mk3's wide rear-ramp and sliding freight door provide unprecedented ease of access to the 27.5 cubic metre unobstructed cabin for maximum speed of loading and unloading. Up to twenty-four troops, each averaging 130kg, would be a possible army load, and trials using the rear-ramp have established that 24 troops with full packs, personal and support weapons can be loaded, seated and strapped in under two minutes and can de-plane in under forty seconds.
The constant section cabin and rear-ramp gives excellent internal load capability. The requirement for underslung loads, which restrict manoeuvrability, preclude nap-of-the-earth flying and increase vulnerability, is greatly reduced, although the option remains available.
Tough and rugged, EH101 Merlin Mk3 meets stringent vulnerability, detectability and crashworthiness targets. The damage tolerant structure is matched with system redundancy and physical separation, signature reduction measures and modern, integrated defensive aids.