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UK: Royal Navy receives its final AW101 Mk4/4A Merlin helicopter from Leonardo.

| 2023

According to a PR published by Leonardo on January 11, 2023, the UK MoD, on behalf of the Royal Navy, has received its final AW101 Mk4/4a Merlin helicopter. This aircraft was part of the Merlin Life Sustainment Programme, which entailed the upgrade of 25 AW101 Merlin Mk3/3a aircraft.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001 AW101 Mk4/4a Merlin helicopter (Picture source: Leonardo)

The aircraft modifications include new cockpit avionics, ship optimization including a folding main rotor head and folding tail to enable the helicopters use from ships for littoral manoeuvre.

Recognising the need to replace the legacy Sea King Mk 4 Commando Helicopter, the Merlin aircraft were transferred to the Royal Navy in 2014 and the airframes commenced an upgrade programme to become the Merlin Mk 4.

Within their new role with the Royal Navy’s Commando Helicopter Force (CHF), the aircraft are now required to operate from amphibious ships and provide a sea-to-shore assault capability, often in support of troops from the Royal Marines.

The new designs have equipped the aircraft with a folding main rotor head and a new tail section to provide a folding tail ability – both of which are essential to allow the aircraft to operate from the new Queen Elizabeth Class carriers and Albion Class Landing Ships.

Key to providing a battle winning edge was the integration of a new tactical processor that provides tailored information to the aircrew to better understand the tactical environment and enemy threats that they find on the battlefield.

Drawing from the technologies developed for the AW159 Wildcat aircraft, the system is fully integrated in the cockpit and can be updated in real time by the aircrew.

The upgrade also introduced a new Glass Panel cockpit display system with five separate screens allowing multi-functional displays that can show moving maps with tactical symbology overlays, images from the Electro Optical Camera, or a read out from the aircraft engine and electrical systems.

In addition, the aircraft was fitted with a new fast roping beam that allows the rapid deployment of Special Forces (SF) from the main cabin door – therefore this opens up a new SF support role for the aircraft.

The first flight of the AW101 Merlin i-Mk3 took place on 24 March 2015 and delivery of the first aircraft took place seven months later. Initial Operating Clearance was declared on 24 March 2016, a week ahead of the scheduled date, when the seventh and final aircraft was delivered. The anticipated full operational capability for the MLSP is in late 2024. The first Merlin MK4 took flight at Leonardo in Yeovil on 24 October 2016.

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