Home Europe Royal Navy receives final Mk4/4a Merlin helicopter

Royal Navy receives final Mk4/4a Merlin helicopter

Final upgrade Royal Navy Merlin Mk4 helicopter
Illustration: Royal Navy file photo of a Mk4 Merlin helicopter

The UK defense ministry has taken official delivery of the final AW101 Mk4/4a Merlin helicopter for the Royal Navy.

This aircraft was part of the Merlin life sustainment program, which entailed the upgrade of 25 AW101 Merlin Mk3/3a aircraft to the Mk4/4a configuration.

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

Recognizing 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 program 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.

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 is also part of the upgrade. 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 Merlin Mark 4 – colloquially known as the Commando Merlin – is proving to be a game-changing capability upgrade for the CHF. It has already demonstrated itself to be a critical enabler of the Royal Navy’s strategic outputs – contributing to the security of the UK and delivering the United Kingdom’s Commando Forces in the littoral,” Colonel Mark Johnson, Royal Marines, Commanding Officer of CHF, said.

“It was fantastic to see the final Merlin Mk 4 released from the production line completing the MLSP program. The Merlin Mk 4 brings a major step up in tactical prowess while the folding head and fast roping beam have been key to enabling CHF in their maritime role – a role that we now see deployed to great effect across the globe,” Matt Grindon, Senior Test Pilot at Leonardo Helicopters UK, added.

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.