Merlins’ are magic says RAF

photo courtesy of RAF

photo courtesy of RAF

Having proved itself in Bosnia, the latest addition to the RAF’s helicopter family continues to shine in Iraq. The aircraft of choice when flying in low to pick up casualties in confined areas, Merlin is also used for moving troops and to supply the front line.

It is described as an aircraft for the 21st century and when you sit in the cockpit you can understand why.

In a way you feel like a goldfish in a bowl when sitting in the pilot’s seat – with near all-round visibility and protection in the form of Kevlar. And with more computer screens and technical wizardry than you would find in most business IT (Information Technology) departments, Merlin is equipped to succeed.

Merlin packs a mean punch when it comes to protection – two 7.62mm General Purpose Machine Guns as standard, with a five-gun fit available. Self-protection is even better with a whole host of defensive aids including missile and laser warning systems and infrared jammers.

And to prove the Merlin’s capabilities on operations even further, only last year, the first female to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Flight Lieutenant Michelle Goodman, was the pilot of a Merlin carrying an Immediate Response Team (IRT) which flew in low over rooftops at night and under heavy fire to save the life of a critically injured soldier in Basra City.

Based on the military utility version of the Anglo-Italian EH101, the Merlins Mk3 and Mk3a can operate by day and night, in hot, high or freezing conditions.

Powered by three Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322 engines, the aircraft can carry three or four crew members and 24 fully-equipped troops at a range of over 1,000km and at a maximum speed of 167 knots.

Alternatively, under-slung loads of up to 4.2 tonnes can be moved. Squadron Leader Pip Harding, Second-in-Command of 78 Squadron, based at RAF Benson, said:  “As soon as Merlin went into theatre people realised how beneficial they would be for that climate and style of operations. They coped very well with the dust and sand, coped well with picking up troops, and taking them at speed from one place to another. They handled the IRT role with precision.”

With anti-vibration mechanisms fitted, air-cooling and safe and comfortable seating in which troops can sit in their webbing, the helicopters can move troops, or the injured, in a greater degree of comfort. And with everything but the kitchen sink up the front, it is described as a pilot’s aircraft.

Sqn Ldr Harding said: “Merlin is the next generation of helicopters – it’s a 21st century aircraft. The cockpit is phenomenal.”

The MOD plans to move the Merlins to Afghanistan once they have completed their mission in Iraq.

This article by Neale Adams was first published in the January 2009 issue of “RAF News – Voice of the Royal Air Force”.

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