- Can currently carry up to 24 fully-equipped troops
The Merlin HC3 was the first of the next generation of medium support helicopters for the RAF. The aircraft transferred to Royal Navy command as part of the Commando Helicopter Force on 30 September 2014 and is currently operated at RAF Benson by 845 Naval Air Squadron ahead of their move home to RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset in summer 2016.
The aircraft can currently be armed with two general purpose machine guns mounted in port and starboard cabin windows, and can be equipped with a wide variety of role equipment, including a rescue hoist and a roller floor to assist loading cargo via the rear ramp. Modifications will see the addition of a folding main rotor head to allow ship-borne operations and maintenance and the aircraft will eventually also have a folding tail rotor.
Three Rolls-Royce / Turbomeca RTM-322 turbines
74ft 10in (22.81m)
Normally crewed by one pilot, one navigator, or two pilots, and two crewmen and up to 24 combat-equipped troops.
An active vibration damping system reduces the level of noise and vibration inside the cabin to a similar level to turboprop aircraft, reducing crew and passenger fatigue and increasing airframe life.
Merlins deployed on their first operational tour with the RAF - to the Balkans in support of UN Forces - in the Spring of 2003. They completed numerous further operational tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, moving thousands of troops and tonnes of kit as well as saving lives with the Medical Emergency Response Teams and Counter Improvised Explosive Device Team. On 30 September 2014, the Merlin helicopters were formally handed to the Royal Navy Commando Helicopter Force. In March 2015, the first aircraft departed RAF Benson with 846 NAS to move to RNAS Yeovilton. 845 Naval Air Squadron will depart RAF Benson in summer 2016, taking all remaining Merlin helicopters with them.
Roles in the RAF
- Support Helicopter (SH). The movement of troops, weapons, ammunition and support stores in and around the battlefield.
- Casualty Evacuation (Casevac). Removal of casualties and medical emergencies from forward areas.