A Wildcat helicopter lands aboard the U.K. Royal Navy frigate Iron Duke during sea trials. (Royal Navy)
The U.K. Royal Navy’s new Wildcat helicopter has completed two 10-day sessions on board the frigate Iron Duke and marked a milestone in the Fleet Air Arm’s trials and training program for the next-generation multi-role aircraft.
During the trials in January and February, the Wildcat touched down on the Iron Duke’s flight deck 390 times. The trials included 148 night landings, 76 of which were performed using night-vision goggles.
The AgustaWestland-built prototype made its first landing on the Iron Duke in December to check basic parameters such as the ability of the vessel’s flight-deck recovery system to pull the helicopter into the hangar and whether the frigate’s command system could communicate with the Wildcat’s system.
A major upgrade of AgustaWestland’s Lynx, which has been in U.K. military service in various versions for more than 30 years, the Wildcat is sufficiently different for it to require new guidelines for safe operations in various sea conditions and for carrying different payloads. To help establish the operating guidelines, the frigate sought out a variety of weather conditions off the southwest coast of England, in the Irish Sea and off the north coast of Scotland. Two test pilots assessed and scored the difficulty and workload required for each landing in differing weather conditions and sea states. Data on the helicopter’s performance was collected by multiple sensors and video feeds were produced from each crew position.
In December, the first Wildcat is scheduled to be delivered to the 700W Naval Air Squadron at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in southwest England. The squadron is responsible for preparing Lynx aircrews for the new helicopter and will provide the core of personnel for the Wildcat Operational Conversion Unit (OCU), to be established in early 2015. The OCU will eventually take over all Wildcat training.
The Ministry of Defence plans to purchase 28 Wildcats for the Royal Navy, with operations beginning in 2015. The Army Air Corps is to begin operating the first of 34 Wildcats in 2014.