HMS Queen Elizabeth returned to UK waters last month following completion of Merlin and Chinook flying trials carried out to support the helicopters’ clearance to land on the carrier.
The trials, conducted by QinetiQ and the Air Warfare Centre under the Air Test & Evaluation Centre (ATEC) partnership, brought the two aircraft together on deck for the first time as part of a cost-saving initiative negotiated between QinetiQ and the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD). The Merlin trial was originally contracted in April 2016, with Chinook added to the existing agreement at the end of 2017 under a new contract amendment.
The revised strategy eliminated the need for separate trials, ensuring the time available on deck was used to maximum effect and avoiding a second voyage out to sea later in the year. The initiative will ultimately expedite the release of the carrier into service.
John Anderson, Managing Director Air & Space, QinetiQ, said: “We are proud to contribute to the Royal Navy’s carrier programme, which forms such a vital part of the UK’s defence capability. These deck trials have been among the biggest ever conducted, and mark an important step towards enabling the carrier’s rotary wing capability, ahead of the F-35 trials planned later in 2018. Combining the trials delivers on our strategy to help customers make best use of their available funding when conducting mission-critical test and evaluation work.”
Prior to the trials, QinetiQ at MOD Boscombe Down designed and installed flight instrumentation for two Merlin Mk 2 and two Chinook Mk 5 helicopters and delivered pre-trial simulator training to their test pilots. The aircraft then deployed to HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Atlantic and, over a period of four weeks, conducted landings at different weights and in varying conditions, including in the dark using night vision. The ATEC team undertook data analysis and reporting to establish each aircraft’s safe operating limits.
The work continues a three-year programme that includes assuring flight operations for the new Tide Class Tankers and Off Shore Patrol Vessels, and will ultimately provide rotary wing aircraft clearances for the life of the new aircraft carriers.