UK Marines Take Delivery Of First AW101 Carrier-Based Helicopter

By Dan Parsons | May 25, 2018
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Defence Minister Guto Bebb has today announced the delivery of the first of a fleet of new helicopters designed for Royal Marine aircraft carrier operations. Crown copyright.

The U.K. Royal Marines on May 24 took delivery of the first of a fleet of Commando Merlin Mk4 heavy lift helicopters designed for aircraft carrier operations.

Built by Leonardo based on the AW101, the Mk4 is faster and more powerful than legacy Sikorsky SH-53 Sea Kings and has upgrade digital flight controls and mission computer.


To facilitate shipboard operation, it is painted maritime grey and both its main rotors and tail boom fold for storage. The Royal Navy intends to deploy the Merlin Mk4 aboard its new aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The Royal Marines air wing, the Commando Helicopter Force, will eventually field a fleet of 25 of the heavylift aircraft that will serve as ship-to-shore air transport for personnel and cargo. Full operational capability for the entire fleet is scheduled for 2023.

“This new version of the Merlin will provide an essential bridge between sea and land for our Marines operating from ships, including our brand-new aircraft carriers,” U.K. Defense Minister for Procurement Guto Bebb, said in a prepared statement. “This fleet will deliver troops and supplies to the center of the action, be that a conflict zone or the site of a humanitarian disaster, as well as providing search and rescue cover.”

Air crews will train on the first aircraft to prepare for the Commando Merlin’s entry to service, planned for summer.

Built in the AgustaWestland factory in Yeovil in Southwest England, the first aircraft delivered was unveiled at a defense conference in London on May 25.  The Ministry of Defense invested more than $6.6 billion in the region in 2017, Bebb said.

The Commando Merlin Mk4 aircraft, an upgrade from the Merlin Mk3 standard, are being delivered through a $450 million contract between the MOD’s Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) and Leonardo Helicopters, supporting 175 skilled jobs at Leonardo in Yeovil, and a further 500 across the U.K. supply chain.

Delivery of the first Mk4 comes just over a week after the U.S. Marine Corps took delivery of its first Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion, which will replace its aging CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift helicopters.

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