The UK Royal Marine Corps’ newest Merlin Mk4 helicopter has successfully completed its first flight, ahead of the Royal Marines’ 352nd birthday.
The helicopters are undergoing a conversion as part of the UK Ministry of Defence's (MoD) Merlin Life Sustainment Programme (MLSP), awarded to AgustaWestland in January 2014 to transform 25 AW101 Merlin helicopters for maritime operations.
Under the £330m award, AgustaWestland is modifying the Royal Air Force AW101 Merlin Mk3 and Mk3A helicopters to replace the Royal Navy’s fleet of Sea King Mk4 helicopters.
Royal Marine Commando Helicopter Force colonel Lenny Brown said: “What a fantastic achievement for Leonardo, the Merlin project team and all those involved at Commando Helicopter Force.
“This is truly a leap forward in CHF’s capability to support 3 Commando Brigade at the speed and range required on the modern battlefield, whether operating embarked in Royal Navy warships or on land.”
Developed to replace the existing Mk3 helicopter, the grey-coloured Merlin Mk4 features a folding main rotor head and folding tail, meaning it can operate from the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers and assault ships at sea.
The helicopter can accommodate a crew of four and is equipped with an improved avionics suite.
The battle-proven Merlin Mk4 can be engaged for both commando operations and flying at sea.
The first Merlin Mk4 helicopter is expected to be deployed into front-line operations by the end of next year, with the entire fleet to be replaced with 25 new helicopters by the end of 2020.
Image: New Merlin Mk4 helicopter completes its maiden flight. Photo: courtesy of Royal Navy.