The HMS Queen Elizabeth Phase 2 Ship Helicopter Operating Limits (SHOL) team is part of the Air Test and Evaluation Centre (ATEC) – a partnership between QinetiQ and the Air & Space Warfare Centre. The team was set the complex and technically challenging goal of widening helicopter clearances on the carriers for all marks of Merlin helicopters. This Category 1 flight trial involved taking the aircraft into unexplored areas of the flight envelope and culminated with a series of aviation firsts – from running take-offs to aft and clearance of 12 additional landing spots to flying the highest ever Corrected All Up Mass of an embarked Merlin.
The fact such impressive capability achievements were delivered during an exceptionally busy period of the ‘WESTLANT 19’ exercise, stands as testament to the team’s commitment, meticulous planning and innovative methodologies. Significantly, it has resulted in the most capable Merlin SHOL of any Royal Navy ship. Such a positive trial’s outcome was achieved while not only accommodating constantly changing operational priorities and environmental conditions, but also minimising disruption to embarked aircraft as well as other carrier trials and operations. The success of the programme has created a new benchmark for delivering effective and efficient SHOL trials.
This flight trial programme has proved in so many ways to be a game-changer and work is ongoing to capitalise on the extensive data gathered during the trials to see where further operational enhancements can be achieved. Every member of the ATEC HMS Queen Elizabeth Phase 2 SHOL team felt a huge sense of achievement once the trials were concluded. However, to be awarded an AOC 1 Group Team Commendation is as unexpected as it is deserved. Receiving such an accolade is a credit to the professionalism, skill and exceptional dedication of every single member of the team.