- North Atlantic Treaty Organization
- Royal Air Force
- United Kingdom
Two new Merlin Mark 3a helicopters which will form part of a new RAF Merlin Squadron were unveiled at RAF Benson today, Wednesday 3 October 2007, by Minister of State for Defence Equipment and Support Lord Drayson.
They are the first of six brand new helicopters that have recently been bought from Denmark in a £175 million deal which includes the upgrade of the Merlins to RAF standards, with operational enhancements and the latest generation of advanced rotor-blades which will enhance their speed, range and lift. This will ensure good performance even in demanding environments like Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Merlins will deliver more battlefield support helicopter capability to operational commanders and increase the Merlin Support Helicopter fleet by over 25 per cent. They are expected to be available for operations early next year.
The existing RAF fleet of Merlins is currently operated by 28 (AC) Squadron from RAF Benson in Oxfordshire. Lord Drayson also announced today that a second Merlin Squadron, 78 Squadron, will be formed in December 2007. Officer Commanding Designate of 78 Squadron, Wing Commander Nigel Colman, witnessed the unveiling today. He said:
"28 Squadron is already the largest squadron in the Joint Helicopter Command with 22 aircraft and approximately 300 personnel. With the increase in Merlin numbers to 28 I'm looking forward to establishing 78 Squadron here at Benson from the 3rd of December.
"We are training crews at present for the new Squadron and will split the existing Merlins between the two Squadrons. The Mark 3a's are like our Mark 3's but with enhancements such as new rotors and greater range, improving the capability still further."
The two Merlins unveiled today at Benson have returned there from AgustaWestland in Yeovil, where they have been undergoing enhancements. The six Merlins were originally bought by the Danish Government from AgustaWestland, but before entering service with the Danes, they agreed to transfer them to the UK in order to deliver a rapid increase in helicopters for the UK's operations. The MOD has entered into a contract with AgustaWestland to produce six new Merlin helicopters for Denmark as replacements for the six transferred.
Lord Drayson said:
"Battlefield support helicopters are a vital capability for military commanders. I am committed to making sure we deliver the equipment our Armed Forces need, and these new helicopters will increase the Merlin fleet by a quarter. By acquiring these helicopters from Denmark we have been able to speed up the delivery of extra helicopter capability, which will allow commanders more choices at their disposal when they plan for operations.
"Getting these aircraft into service so quickly would not have been possible without the assistance of our close NATO ally so I want to thank the Danish Government for their help."
UK Merlin aircraft have been operating in desert environments such as Iraq since 2005 and have exceeded every expectation of performance, reliability and availability.
The Danish Merlins are designed to operate by day and night, in hot, high or freezing conditions. Powered by three Rolls Royce Turbomeca RTM322 engines, the Merlin can carry a crew of three to four and 24 fully-equipped troops for distances of over 1,000km and at a maximum speed of 167 knots (310km/h). Alternatively, under slung loads of up to 4.2 tonnes can be moved, or search and rescue or casualty evacuation roles can be undertaken.
Self-protection can be afforded with side door and ramp mounted 7.62 machine guns. Pilot workload is eased with automated flight control and aircraft management, integrated global positioning system and inertial navigation system, extensive communication systems and night vision goggle-compatible electronic instruments and displays.
As part of the AgustaWestland modification programme, the Danish aircraft will be fitted with a comprehensive defensive aids suite including a new missile counter measures system and improved ground communications using the BOWMAN system.
Source: New Merlins unveiled for new RAF Squadron
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