The last of 22 upgraded Lynx support helicopters has been handed over to the Army Air Corps today on budget and three months ahead of schedule.

Today a ceremony at Agusta Westland’s Yeovil plant in Somerset marks the handover of the last upgraded Lynx Mk9A three months ahead of the contract end delivery date. The first upgraded Lynx Mk 9A helicopters with more powerful engines were delivered to Afghanistan on 25 May 2010, only 18 months after the project was started under the urgent operational requirement system to provide commanders with a far more versatile, light helicopter. The upgraded helicopters performed so effectively that a further £42M contract was approved covering the remaining 10 aircraft in March 2010.

The upgraded helicopters can operate all year round in the hot and high conditions on the front-line, providing fire support, troop transport and casualty evacuation in the most demanding conditions.

As well as the more powerful T800 engine, the upgrade includes updated instruments and digital displays, a modified gearbox and strengthened rear fuselage to deal with the extra power.

The new systems have been designed for ease of maintenance, enabling faster servicing and turnaround between missions.

Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, Peter Luff, welcomed the milestone:

“I am delighted that this programme has swiftly equipped the Army with a helicopter that can play a valuable support role in theatre all year round, free of the performance restrictions that affected its predecessor. Commanders are already feeling the benefits of this more versatile development of the excellent Lynx.”

MOD Defence Equipment & Support’s Director, Helicopters, Adrian Baguley said:

“The delivery of this urgent operational requirement to enhance the Lynx Mk9 fleet has given Theatre Commanders a much more capable and versatile light helicopter. It is a truly outstanding example of joint working between the MOD’s Lynx project team and Agusta Westland.”

The Commanding Officer of 9 Regt Army Air Corps, Lt Col Mike Keating, said:

“The Lynx Mk9A has revolutionised the provision of Light Utility Helicopter support in Afghanistan. Operationally credible and capable, its performance and reliability enable the enduring provision of escort and overwatch to support helicopters and ground troops alike. A delight to operate and maintain, the platform’s utility continues to expand as its versatility in theatre increases on a daily basis.”

The first Lynx prototype made its maiden flight on 21 March 1971 and delivery to the Army Air Corps started in 1977. The MOD fleet has undergone a range of upgrades and modifications over the past 40 years and is currently made up of marks 3 and 8 for the Royal Navy and Mk 7 and 9A for the Army.

The current Lynx fleet will be withdrawn from service during the next decade and is being replaced by the Lynx Wildcat AH Mk1 for the Army and Wildcat HMA Mk1 for the Royal Navy that will enter service in Jan 2014 and 2015 respectively. Lynx and other support helicopters from all three Services come under the overall control of the Joint Helicopter Command.