The UK Royal Navy's (RN) Green Merlin Mk 3 helicopter has started sea trials onboard the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Lyme Bay.
The helicopter was recently transferred from the Royal Air Force (RAF) to the RN 'Junglie' Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) and is scheduled to operate on board HMS Queen-class aircraft carriers.
This trial is being conducted by a team from Rotary Wing Test and Evaluation Squadron (RWTES) and QinetiQ engineers, based at MoD Boscombe Down in Wiltshire.
Joint Helicopter Command Operational Evaluation Unit (JHC- OEU) lieutenant commander Nigel Gates said: "It's the first time that the Mk 3's operated at sea. At the end of the day it is a Merlin so we know most of its characteristics already and roughly what to expect.
"In the back of the aircraft we have a team of QinetiQ engineers whose job it is to analysis all the data we collect, as we fly the Merlin on and off Lyme Bay's deck. We're checking that it can operate safely in all wind conditions and if necessary recommend changes to the clearances."
The team has been working out of RNAS Culdrose throughout the trial period, changing the aircraft's weight and landing position across the deck.
This will help to determine how Green Navy Merlins will be used in the future with CHF, especially flying from the deck of the future carriers.
Gates added: "We've also done trials with night vision goggles (NVG) and in flight refuelling with the aircraft, known as HIFR.
"The data will help us with future Mk 3 operations, but more importantly this is preparing the way for the Mk 4 Merlin."
As part of this programme, strengthened steel tie down points and heavier wheels have also been added to give the current Merlin Mk 3 an all up weight (AUW) of approximately 14.6t.
Image: Green Merlin Mk 3 has been conducting sea trials onboard the RFA Lyme Bay, operating daily from the Fleet Air Arm's West Cornwall Base. Photo: courtesy of Royal Navy.