The Royal Navy’s newest anti-surface, troop insertion, (C)SAR, recon, ship protection and utility helicopter, the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat, has gone on its first operational cruise. On board Type 23 frigate HMS Lancaster, the Wildcat and crew will patrol the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for the coming nine months.
The chopper – officially called 201 Flight of 825 Naval Air Squadron – started operations after the frigate left Portsmouth navy harbour on 21 March 2015.
The AW159 is a further development of the legendary Westland Lynx helicopter. Equipped with new avionics, new missions and COMNAV systems and the possibility to operate newer weapons, the Wildcat has one huge advantage over other maritime helicopters like the NHIndustries NH90: it is smaller and therefore more easy to fit in. Two turboshaft engines with Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) provide the chopper of power.
Operated by a pilot and co-pilot/Tactical Coordinator (TACCO) the Wildcat is big enough to accommodate 6 additional persons in crash resistant seating, or 9 passengers in non-crash resistant configuration. While staying airborne for up to 3 hours or fly 300 nautical miles (500 km) before refuelling is needed, the Wildcat can reach speeds of 150 knots (172 mph or 277 km/h) with the ordinary cruise speed being 143 knots (164 mph or 264 km/h). Its operational ceiling is at 15,000 feet. Out at sea the crew should be able to hover all the way up to 4,800 feet.
Eyes and ears
The Wildcat has armoured crew seats and an armoured floor. For its versatile missions it is equipped with a rescue hoist, a cargo hook, a rappelling / fast roping kit, a four bag emergency flotation system and it has a waterproof floor installation. An infrared engine exhaust suppression system is meant to reduce the risk of being detected. Electro-optical sensors, a 360 degree AESA surveillance radar (underneath the nose) and an anti-submarine active dipping sonar give the Wildcat eyes and ears. The chopper can be armed with a forward firing cannon, plus 7.62 or 12.7 mm pintle mounted machine guns, as well as air-to-surface missiles / rockets, torpedoes and depth charges.
The Royal Navy is expected to receive a total of 30 Wildcats, while 30 in battlefield support configuration are destined for the Army Air Corps. Another eight machines have been designated to serve as Light Assault Helicopters with the UK’s Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing. Eight Wildcats have been ordered by the Republic of Korea Navy.
© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top): The AW159 Wildcat in Royal Navy configuration (Image © AgustaWestland)