UK: Navy’s Next-Generation Helicopter Makes Debut at Sea
This is a sight to warm the cockles of any Naval aviator’s heart: the first landing of the Fleet Air Arm’s next-generation helicopter on a ship at sea.
Noon precisely in Lyme Bay on Monday, November 7, 2011 and a Wildcat touches down on the vast flight deck of RFA Argus.
The helicopter is the 21st Century variant of the Lynx which has served the Navy so well since the 1970s.
The landing on Argus heralds four weeks of ‘operating limit trials’ for the Wildcat, which will lay the foundations for flying the new helicopter when it enters front-line service.
Wildcat takes the best bits of the final version of the current Lynx in service, the Mk8, and the general design of the Lynx and, with cutting-edge enhancements, provides the Navy with a souped-up, nimble, helicopter with added punch well into the middle of the century.
A team from Agusta-Westland, the Yeovil firm which builds the Lynx, experts from the Aircraft Test and Evaluation Centre at Boscombe Down, plus RN air engineers and technicians have joined Argus for the trials.
It fell to Lt Cdrs Robert Dowdell and Lee Evans to make the historic flight – assisted (and observed, hence this nice photograph) by a Lynx Mk8 of 815 Naval Air Squadron, which will get its hands on Wildcat in a little over two years’ time.
“This marks a significant milestone in the life of Wildcat,”
said Lt Cdr Rob Taylor, Commanding Officer of 700W Naval Air Squadron – the trials unit set up at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset specifically to bring the new aircraft into service.
“The deck landing’s the first in a series of trials which will see Wildcat cleared to operate on all classes of Royal Navy and RFA ships in all theatres of the world.”
Wildcat is bristling with new sensors and kit – improved radar, improved communications suite, more powerful engines, more firepower, and a ‘glass’ cockpit with four large display screens replacing the older dials and screens.
The cockpit’s layout has been heavily influenced by input from the pilots and observers to allow them to find, collate and report contacts on sea or land rapidly.
At the same time, engineers should find the Wildcat easier to maintain – which means the aircraft will have an even higher rate of availability than the already-reliable Lynx.
The first Wildcat arrives at Yeovilton, home of the Navy’s entire Lynx force, in January 2013, when the team at 700W will determine how aircrews will operate the helicopter on deployment.
At the same time, a training course will be designed ahead of the first Wildcat crews converting from the existing Lynx joining 702 NAS, the Lynx operational training unit, in January 2014.
From there the qualified fliers will move to the front-line Lynx squadron, 815, which provides frigates, destroyers and the Navy’s ice patrol ships with a dedicated Flight – helicopter plus air and ground crew – for their global deployments.
The first Wildcat Flight is earmarked to deploy in 2015.
Some 62 Wildcats are being bought by the MOD, 34 for the Army Air Corps, 28 for the Fleet Air Arm.
The Army variant is due to begin operations in 2014.
Source: royalnavy, November 09, 2011