UK — Wildcat begins sea trials with Iron Duke

Wild­cat, the Navy’s next-gen­er­a­tion heli­copter, has begun its most exten­sive tri­als yet, join­ing a frigate at sea for the first time.

A Wild­cat heli­copter takes off from the flight deck of HMS Iron Duke [Pic­ture: Crown Copyright/MOD 2012]
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

The suc­ces­sor to the trusty Lynx, which has served the Navy and the Army admirably since the 1970s, will spend the next month fly­ing on and off HMS Iron Duke in the Eng­lish Chan­nel as part of its most exten­sive tri­als yet. 

Wild­cat is the next gen­er­a­tion of light mul­ti-role heli­copter to serve both the Army and the Navy in the future. The Navy vari­ant of the Wild­cat will be the main­stay of heli­copter oper­a­tions from Roy­al Navy destroy­ers and frigates, with 28 ordered for the Fleet Air Arm. 

Although the air­craft looks sim­i­lar to its pre­de­ces­sor — with the excep­tion of its dis­tinc­tive tailplane which improves the helicopter’s sta­bil­i­ty — Wildcat’s char­ac­ter­is­tics are suf­fi­cient­ly dif­fer­ent from Lynx to war­rant exten­sive flight tri­als, set­ting the para­me­ters with­in which it can safe­ly operate. 

Wild­cat has gone to sea before, land­ing on the back of avi­a­tion train­ing ship RFA Argus off the south coast of Eng­land back in Novem­ber 2011. 

And the pro­to­type ZZ402 paid a brief vis­it to HMS Iron Duke just before Christ­mas, when pilots and tech­ni­cians test­ed some of the basics. 

Those tri­als were car­ried out with the ship sta­tion­ary in Portsmouth Naval Base. For the ‘Ship Heli­copter Oper­at­ing Lim­its’ tri­als cur­rent­ly under­way, Iron Duke and Wild­cat have put to sea. 

A team of more than 30 experts has joined the Type 23 frigate for the eval­u­a­tion; the ship has also been fit­ted with spe­cial­ist instru­ments to record every aspect of the trials. 

Ini­tial­ly the tri­als will take place in Lyme Bay, before Iron Duke sails increas­ing­ly west­wards, not least search­ing for rough weath­er to help define the helicopter’s oper­at­ing lim­its ‘over the full enve­lope of oper­a­tions’ (i.e. pay­loads and weights car­ried by Wild­cat in all man­ner of cli­mat­ic conditions). 

The tri­als should take until around ear­ly Feb­ru­ary 2012 after which around nine months is required to analyse and eval­u­ate all the infor­ma­tion gathered. 

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK 

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