The first next-generation battlefield helicopter has been handed over to the military at one of the world’s greatest showcases for air power.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond unveiled the first Wildcat – successor to the Lynx, which will serve with the Fleet Air Arm, Commando Helicopter Force and Army Air Corps – at Farnborough Air Show.
Mr Hammond unveils Wildcat as First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope and the head of the Army, General Sir Peter Wall, look on. Pictures: PO(Phot) Paul Punter, FRPU East
DEFENCE Secretary Philip Hammond saw the future of naval aviation when he unveiled the first of a new fleet of Wildcat helicopters – and confirmed a £250m support package.
The first of 62 Wildcats – set to replace the trusty Lynx serving with three Fleet Air Arm squadrons at RNAS Yeovilton – was officially handed over to the MOD at the Farnborough International Airshow by manufacturer AgustaWestland.
A leap forward in technology, the Wildcat engine is much more powerful than the Lynx allowing it to be flown under more extreme conditions, it also has a more robust fuselage to give better protection to the crew and a high tech interactive display.
The radar system has also been vastly enhanced and now comes with an overland mode which can track targets moving across the ground.
Mr Hammond chats with some of the naval personnel resposible for the new helicopter
Of the 62 Wildcats, the Army will have 34 while the Navy takes on 28 which have been modified to a maritime attack variant. Both types will be based at Yeovilton.
First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope said: “Today is hugely important as the Wildcat represents the future Navy. We are making sure we can deliver the top punch in crisis management around the world or for when we are required in warfare situations.
“The Naval variant is capable of supporting the fleet at sea and in the longer term will carry Mk11 Depth Charges and the Sting Ray torpedo.
The first Wildcats to be handed over to the MOD are the Army helicopters, which will come into service in 2014. The first Royal Navy versions are due to be delivered for training later this year before coming into service in 2015.
They will fly with 700W Naval Air Squadron – the specially-formed unit which will help introduce the Wildcat into service – training squadron 702 NAS, as well as 815 NAS which currently provides frigates and destroyers with Lynx flights to support their global mission, and 847 NAS which operates hand-in-hand with the Royal Marines.
The £250m Wildcat in-service support and training contract with AgustaWestland will provide a specialist training centre at Yeovilton that will include flight simulators and a wide range of other equipment to train pilots, ground crew and engineers.
Mr Hammond said: “Wildcat represents a considerable advance over the current Lynx helicopters, bringing greatly improved performance and capability. The contract to provide training and support will keep them flying wherever they are needed.
“These helicopters will be a key part of the future equipment programme for the Armed Forces that will see £160 billion spent over the next ten years. By balancing the budget, we can deliver the airframes and the millions of pounds of support they require.”
Wildcat lifts off from HMS Lancaster last week off the South Coast during trials. Picture: AgustaWestland
Royal Marine flying instructor Major Paul Nolan has been working with the Army Wildcat Training Team at Yeovilton and, as a trained pilot, has been one of the first in the military to fly the helicopter.
“Our job, having been trained by the AgustaWestland pilots, is to then deliver that training to the pilots ready for when the Wildcats come into service,” he said.
“In terms of a new digital platform this is a leap forward in capability. It looks like a Lynx so everyone assumes it’s a Lynx but the improvements have made it a much more stable helicopter.
“The Army and Navy variants are extremely similar but have been slightly adapted in terms of the job we are deployed to do. The nose wheels are different as the Navy lands on ships while moving at sea whereas the Army are on heavy terrain.
“The Navy has a radar to prosecute targets at sea whereas the Army Wildcat has a system to link it with other aircraft such as an Apache.
“Both will have a general purpose and heavy machine gun but the Navy will also have a missile which is currently being looked into. It is a very exciting and interesting time to be working in Naval aviation.”