Finmeccanica’s AgustaWestland has delivered the first of seven upgraded AW101 Merlin HC Mk3 helicopters to the UK Royal Navy.
The new development is part of Phase one of the Merlin life sustainment programme (MLSP).
Under this programme, AgustaWestland is responsible for converting 25 AW101 Merlin HC Mk3/3A aircraft to the Merlin HC Mk4/4A configuration.
The upgraded helicopters will replace the navy’s Sea King HC Mk4 in the amphibious support role.
UK Defence Minister Philip Dunne said: "Delivery of this first upgraded Merlin marks an important milestone in our £330m investment in the fleet, which will give our Royal Navy a total of 25 Merlin MK4 helicopters by 2020.
"These upgraded helicopters will improve the capabilities of the Merlins for their amphibious roles, including flying from our new aircraft carriers. This work on the fleet has sustained hundreds of jobs across British industry, including in the South West."
MLSP Phase 1 covers the modernisation of seven Merlin HC Mk3 aircraft.
Delivered to AgustaWestland’s Yeovil facility in October last year, the first helicopter received modifications, including the introduction of a folding main rotor head, naval lashing rings, revised twin wheel main undercarriage for ship operations, and fast roping capability.
In addition, the company delivered various communications upgrades, including the introduction of an ‘I Band’ transponder.
In March, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) awarded a £580m contract to AgustaWestland, to provide maintenance support to the Royal Navy’s Merlin Mk2 and Mk3 helicopters.
Under the new contract, the company will deliver the required support over the next five years and is expected to deliver more than £140m savings.
Image: The upgraded Merlin HC Mk3 helicopters will replace the navy’s Sea King HC Mk4 in the amphibious support role. Photo: courtesy of AgustaWestland.