AgustaWestland, June 14, 2005 - On March 19th 2005, No 1419 Flight, 28 (Army Co-operation) Squadron operating four Royal Air Force AgustaWestland EH101 Merlin HC Mk3 helicopters, declared Full Operational Capability (FOC). As part of the UK's Joint Helicopter Force (Iraq) supporting the UK led Multi National Division (South East), they continue to support the stabilisation and peace process within Iraq.
This deployment of the RAF Merlin HC Mk3 completes the transition of No 28 (AC) Squadron from training and development, to a fully operational squadron, having successfully introduced this new, next generation, state-of-the-art, medium support helicopter into RAF service. They were not only the first helicopter detachment to self deploy from the UK into theatre in Iraq, but were also capable of undertaking in-theatre training and limited operational tasking within a day of arrival - a tribute to both the aircraft's capabilities and the Squadron's Engineers. The successful planning, hard work and pre-training undertaken by the squadron prior to their arrival in Iraq, combined with outstanding serviceability and operational capability of the Merlin resulted in 1419 Flight taking over daily tasking from the RAF Chinook HC2s of 1310 Flight at least a week ahead of schedule.
The Joint helicopter Force (Iraq) is part of the UK's Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) and is based at Basrah Air Station providing support to Coalition and Iraqi troops in an Area of Operations that covers approximately 20,000 sq miles of Southern Iraq. The RAF Merlin's deployment to Iraq has confirmed many of the outstanding capabilities of this new helicopter and has helped to expand its operational potential but none more so than its reputation for reliability and serviceability. Returning 96% serviceability and performing 70% more missions than originally mandated in its first 30 days in Iraq, this facet of Merlin operations was initially established during its thirteen month tour in Bosnia in 2003/4. This has been reinforced twice since on extended and remote Merlin HC Mk3 deployments to the USA. Firstly during a US Navy evaluation at NAS Patuxent River from November 2003 to March 2004 and secondly during a coast-to-coast tour in October 2004. Whilst at Patuxent River the two aircraft flew over 200 hours and achieved 99.1% availability and more recently the coast-to-coast tour covered 6000 miles in 10 days during which the single aircraft was serviceable at all times. Now 1419 Flight provides MND (SE) and JHF (I) with Merlin HC Mk3s available for tasking at thirty minutes and sixty minutes notice for operations by day and by night 24 hours per day 365 days a year. The primary roles for 1419 Flight are assault, fire support, troop moves, airborne command post, reconnaissance and surveillance, convoy protection and Casevac.
It's new generation Rolls-Royce RTM322 engines and aerodynamically efficient rotor blades provide an exceptionally low fuel burn rate, which not only gives the aircraft a very long range (greater than 450 miles) or endurance (over 5 hours) without internal tanks, but allows the Merlin to cruise almost quietly at low level and high levels at 150kts. This unique capability has opened up the AOR and allowed the ground troops to access areas previously closed due to unacceptable helicopter evacuation times. Of enormous benefit to troops, is the active vibration control unit. This smoothes out rotor generated vibration and allows passengers to get off the aircraft after a long transit ready for business. The Merlin also has a comprehensive radio suite and one of its roles is to provide an Airborne Command Post. A recent operation in support of Iraqi Security Forces saw a Battle Group Commander and his Staff using one of the Merlins as an Airborne, Battle Group Command Post running an operation involving several hundred troops, over 40 vehicles, two assault Merlins and other surveillance aircraft. In this harsh operational environment the Merlin has also proved to be reliable. Squadron Engineers have benefited enormously from their previous experience over recent years in maintaining the aircraft's high availability rates. Modern technology, including a Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) and built-in test equipment has facilitated ease of maintenance and resulted in much reduced maintenance hours per flying hours.