The life of AgustaWestland AW-101 began in the 1970s of the last century, when the whole world was engrossed in the arms race of the Cold War.
AgustaWestland AW-101 helicopter, also known as EH-101 or simply Merlin, is considered to be the most powerful, modern and most expensive medium-lift helicopter in the world today, price up to 21 million USD per unit.
AW101 is chosen by military forces in many countries around the world, designed for both military and civilian purposes. Advanced technology standards and high safety make this helicopter a popular choice in the military and government sectors, but still meets the needs of individual ownership.
The life of AgustaWestland AW-101 began in the 1970s of the last century, when the whole world was engrossed in the arms race of the Cold War. As an important member of NATO, the British and Italian Navy were now seeking a more modern anti-submarine warfare option to replace their aging Sikorsky H-3 Sea King platforms, to counter deal with advances in Soviet submarine technology.
Agusta and Westland have worked together to develop the EH101 project and set up a new company under common ownership. In 1985, a mock-up helicopter was first introduced at the 1985 Paris Air Show.
The new helicopter was designed to be flexible, which could be customized to meet the needs of various civilian or military customers. The EH-101 Merlin first took off in 1987 and was officially put into use by European countries in 1999. In 2000, Westland and Agusta merged to form AgustaWestland, resulting in its current name of the helicopter.
The US Air Force has also developed a special type of Marine One helicopter specifically for carrying the president called VH-71 Kestrel. Unfortunately, this program was canceled in 2009 due to financial issues. The VH-71 Kestrel is a modified version of the AW-101 Merlin helicopter.
The design of AW101 Merlin features the characteristics of a conventional transport helicopter, but hidden within it is the most advanced technology. The fuselage structure is modular and comprises an aluminium-lithium alloy, designed to be both light and damage-resistant.
The tubular fuselage with a spacious cabin accommodates up to 24 seated or 45 standing combat troops and their equipment. Alternative loads include a medical team and 16 stretchers, and cargo pallets. The fuselage has a volume of 31.91 cubic metres, the ramp and cabin floor are fitted with flush tie-down points, it can take a 3t load, allowing it to carry vehicles such as Land Rovers.
A cargo hook under the fuselage can carry external loads of 5.4t via the use of a semi-automatic cargo release unit. A rescue hoist and a hover trim controller are fitted at the cargo door. An optional cargo winch can be installed near to the rear ramp.
The AW101 is typically operated by a crew of three: a pilot, an observer, and an operator. The crew is seated in a cockpit with great views in all directions. The cockpit is located right behind the small nose, it is accessed through two hinged automobile-style doors for each person.
The pilot is able to fly for the majority of a mission in a hands-off mode, enabled by the sophisticated autopilot. All crew members have individual access to management computers and tactical information. The pilots’ instrument displays include six full-colour high-definition screens and an optional mission display; a digital map or forward looking infrared display can also be installed.
The AW101 is powered by three Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322-01 turboshaft engines. The engines power a five-bladed main rotor, which are constructed from composite materials for lighter overall weight and efficiency. The blade design improves aerodynamic efficiency at the blade tip and reduces the acoustic signature, while increases the AW101’s maximum takeoff weight.
The helicopter can reach a maximum speed of 309 km/h, a cruise speed of 278 km/h, an operating range of 833 km and a service ceiling of 4500m, it can also be outfitted with a probe for aerial refuelling.
The AW101 is designed for operating in extreme weather conditions; it is fitted with a de-icing system and rated to operate in temperatures ranging between −45 and +50 degrees Celsius. The aircraft’s control systems allow the AW101 to maintain a stable hover in 74 km/h crosswinds. An active vibration control system, known as the active control of structural response system, reduces airframe vibration by up to 80% which increases crew comfort and minimises the buildup of stress on the airframe.
The AW101 is equipped with the Blue Kestrel search and detection radar which is capable of 360 degree scanning and can detect small targets as far as 25 nautical miles.
As part of the Royal Navy’s Merlin HM2 upgrade program, Lockheed Martin implemented a series of improvements to the radar, notably allowing it to track 40 times the number of targets previously capable. Danish EH101s are fitted with the RDR-1600 search and weather radar.
Mk 2 Royal Navy Merlins are equipped with the AQS901 anti-submarine system for processing sonographic data from sonobuoys to detect and target submerged submarines. The AQS901 was derived from the system on the earlier Hawker Siddeley Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft.
Most variants of the AW101 are equipped with self-defence systems, such as chaff and flare dispensers, directed infrared countermeasures, ESM, and a laser detection and warning system. British Merlins have been outfitted with protective armour against small-arms fire. A side-mounted forward looking infrared imaging sensor has been fitted to some variants.
Two hardpoints are present in the underside of the airframe on which the HM1 model can carry four Sting Ray torpedoes or Mk 11 Mod 3 depth charges.
Some customers have chosen to deploy the Marte anti-ship missile on the AW101; as of 2011, the Royal Navy is considering equipping their Merlin fleet with an anti-surface missile. The Mk1, Mk3 and Mk3A variants can mount general purpose machine guns in up to five locations in the main cabin, aimed out of both door and window apertures. AgustaWestland has examined the integration of rockets and additional ground-attack weapons.
Since being put into service in 1999, over 140 AW101 variants have been ordered and more than 120 delivered. Civil operators also use AW101s in roles such as passenger and VIP transportation. The type has been deployed to active combat theatres, such as in support of coalition forces during the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan. The flexibility makes the AW101 the most advanced, versatile and capable multi-role helicopter available today.
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