Exactly one year ago, the first of the UK’s fleet of next-generation, anti-submarine maritime patrol Merlin helicopters was being delivered to the Royal Navy. The delivery of the five helicopters to the Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, upgraded as part of a £750M Lockheed Martin contract, marked a significant milestone. But that was just the beginning.
It has been a year of achievements for the Merlin helicopters, which entered service and achieved full operational capability in May. Seventeen aircraft have been delivered to Naval Squadrons 824 and 820 at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, and an additional four are in trials and test at Qinetiq Boscombe Down airfield.
In mid-June, the HMS Illustrious set sail with nine Merlin Mk2 aboard, to participate in a sub-hunting exercise called Deep Blue. Aircrews and engineers worked round the clock alongside pilots and aircrew operating on a non-stop “sleep-eat-fly-sleep” rotation. The relentless pace supported three aircraft aloft at all times with two on ready status.
The Merlin Mk2 are fitted with a state-of-the-art glass cockpit and improved aircrew console and avionics with advanced touch-screen displays and an improved ability to detect and track targets and share data with other aircraft and ships while airborne. These improvements enable the helicopters to carry out counter-piracy and casualty evacuation missions.
Lockheed Martin is converting thirty Merlin MK1 helicopters to the Mk2 model. Commodore Andy Lison, RN, responsible for the Merlin, Lynx, and Sea King teams for the MOD’s Defence, Equipment and Support Organization has called the Merlin Mk2 a “truly exceptional aircraft.”
Bob Kramer, vice president and group managing director, Lockheed Martin UK Integrated Systems said the Merlin Capability Sustainment Program “represents a magnificent team effort…to provide the Royal Navy with unrivaled capability to carry out its anti-submarine patrol and policing requirement.”