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Marines' upgraded Merlin makes Yeovilton debut

Marines' upgraded Merlin makes Yeovilton debut
12 July 2017
Pale grey is the new green. This is the very first of the Royal Marines new steeds to drop in on its future home.

This is a second-generation battlefield Merlin, factory model MLSP 1, tail number ZJ122, making a brief debut at Yeovilton.

It went into the factory at nearby Leonardo (previously Agusta-Westland) in Yeovil as a khaki green Merlin Mk3…

…and it emerged as a maritime grey Merlin Mk4 complete with folding tail, folding rotor head, floatation devices, fast-roping points, enhanced radio and comms equipment and an improved undercarriage (plus lashing points) - modifications all designed so it can operate at sea.

The Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) acquired two squadrons of battlefield Merlins from the RAF to replace their veteran Sea Kings.

Faster and more powerful than their predecessors and equipped with a ramp to load/offload 16 commandos in full battle rig, they were almost exclusively designed for operating over land.

It's the ability to fold the tail section - it's been completely rebuilt for the Mk4 - and the rotor heads which assist flying from Royal Navy carriers in particular.

This first Mk4 made its debut in the Somerset skies last autumn, but it took nearly a year for the Leonardo team to make the short hop to Yeovilton, where it dropped in to refuel as the air station prepared for its annual air day.

At the controls, aircraft captain Rob Dowdell, Leonardo's senior test pilot, with QinetiQ test pilot Lt Ian Pearson at his side in the cockpit and Leonardo's flight test engineers John Doherty and Simon Lewis in the back of the cab.

The first of 25 Mk4s will be handed over to CHF in January, with transition to the new machine completed by the end of 2020.

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