At the end of 2021, the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security accepted its 13th AW101 All-Weather Search and Rescue (AWSAR) helicopter from a batch of 16 that are on order. This aircraft delivery to the customer will be critical in contributing to the go-live of Base 3 at Banak in Norway which is expected in the near term.
The Banak Base will be significant for rescue missions, a variation of the AW101; the Canadian CH-149 Cormorant (below) undertook a recent rescue effort in country. Due to flooding and mudslides experienced in the Agassiz region of British Columbia the Cormorants evacuated hundreds of people with the aircraft flying for up to 8-9 hours a day.
Last year, Leonardo was proud to support the UK Carrier Strike Group’s seminal first deployment, which saw the carrier strike group cover 26,000 nautical miles, and conduct over 70 engagements in 40 different countries.
HMS Queen Elizabeth was at the centre of the group, which oversaw joint carrier operations between the Navy and its NATO allies. Key to the missions were Leonardo’s AW159 Wildcat and AW101 Merlin helicopters: embarked on several units, they deliver the best rotary wing maritime capability available today and were able to demonstrate worldwide interoperability within the task group, alongside NATO allies and other partner nations.
The Merlin Life Sustainment Programme will see the upgrade of 25 Merlin Mk3/3a to a Mk4/4a specification. Leonardo is pleased to note that another aircraft has been successfully delivered to the UK MoD. Modifications to the aircraft include new cockpit avionics and ship optimisation, including a folding main rotor head and folding tail to allow their use from ships for littoral manoeuvre.
The Polish Navy’s second AW101 achieved its first flight in the fourth quarter of 2021, further to the first aircraft flying in the summer of last year. This followed the announcement in April 2019 that Leonardo would supply four AW101s and a comprehensive integrated logistics and training package to the Polish Ministry of National Defence. The aircraft will significantly enhance the Polish Navy’s helicopter capability.
The Merlin magic will continue in 2022 as programmes progress and develop. For example, since early 2020, a product improvement programme has been underway at Leonardo in Yeovil to increase the AW101’s Main Gearbox torque rating and utilise the additional power already available from its engines.
The endurance testing of the MGB will demonstrate that it can handle the new torque rating without a significant increased maintenance burden. This undertaking will see an increase of the AW101’s Main Gearbox ToP (Take Off Power) torque rating to 117%.
This private venture initiated by the AW101 team at the Yeovil site will increase lift capability and overall performance of the three-engine helicopter. The team is looking to undertake a hot and high campaign flight test in the US this year and it is anticipated that FAA certification of the FADEC will be achieved in summer 2023. The capability will be delivered to some existing customers and all new AW101 customers.