AgustaWestland’s AW159 Lynx Wildcat has moved closer to being fully operational. The initial release into service for the British Army model was issued last April and the first operational flight came on June 18. The AW159 is the successor of the Lynx helicopter family although the only major components in common with the earlier Lynx design are the main rotor blades and rotor head.
The program includes the manufacturing of 34 helicopters for the British Army and 28 for the Royal Navy. The UK Ministry of Defence’s intention was to have in service a medium helicopter with improved performance, maximizing endurance and range while increasing sensors and mission payloads. With the new airframe, the AW159’s maximum takeoff weight (mtow) has increased to six metric tons compared to the 5.3 tons of the current SuperLynx, and it has a growth capacity up to 6.25 tons.
Current LHTEC CTS800 engines can provide 1,400 shp maximum output each (1,281 shp continuous), the transmission being able to accommodate 1,960 shp (that will become 2,150 shp with the adoption of a new output stage). The new tail rotor is already designed for the 6.25-ton model, while the legacy rotor, which features a manual blade-folding system, allows the use of the AW159 at six tons mtow.
The flight-test program is going according to schedule, and in late May about 500 of the planned 600 flight development hours had been flown, three trials helicopters being available to the company at Yeovil. Those three aircraft are part of the 62 ordered, and at the end of the production they will be refurbished to standard configuration and handed over to the customer.
Helicopter performance testing has been finished, including the demanding hot-and-high trials that were carried out in Colorado in summer 2010, the vast majority of the remaining 100 hours being dedicated to the navy variant. A first ship-and-shore trial period was carried out in November 2011, while a second session in rougher seas and with rolling deck was completed in January 2012. A third and final testing period aboard ship will be conducted in late 2012/early 2013, depending on Royal navy ship availability.
The Naval variant can carry out ship operations from rolling decks up to 23 degrees and sea state 6, and is oriented mostly toward antisubmarine and anti-surface warfare missions. In the latter configuration, a typical payload would include defensive aid subsystems, Thales lightweight multi-role missiles and auxiliary fuel tanks to provide a 145-nm (270-km) radius of action.
Sensors include a Selex Galileo 7400E 360-degree active-array radar and an L3 Wescam MX-15Di optronic suite. Surface surveillance, third-party targeting in AsuW missions, boarding party and counterterrorism missions, as well as utility missions are also part of the AW159 roles. The army variant will lack the radar and will be equipped with door gun posts for a machine gun.
All Lynx Wildcats will be based at RNAS Yeovilton, where both the navy and the army units equipped with the new helicopter will be based, allowing common logistics and a better exchange of experiences. The first three helicopters, in army configuration, were retained by AgustaWestland at Yeovil, where the company ensures “factory delivered training” to army-qualified instructor pilots.
Two five-week courses for five pilots are being scheduled and are due to be completed late this month. The first three army AW159s were delivered to Wildcat Fielding Team (army) at Yeovilton, where army instructors will ensure type conversion for the pilots assigned to the new helicopter, while four more were planned to be delivered by late June.
Type conversion will be followed by conversion to role, where pilots will learn the operational use of the helicopter, leading to the IOC [initial operational capability] for the army, scheduled for 2014. The company will be involved in the army trials, a combined team ensuring maximum learning from that phase. In September it will be the turn of navy instructor pilots to carry out their type conversion on the Wildcat, navy initial release into service being planned for November this year, followed by deliveries to Wildcat Fielding Team (navy).
The first helicopter aimed at the Fleet Air Arm is the eighth and should fly in the second half of July and the Navy is planning its IOC in 2015. AgustaWestland is building the Wildcat Training Facility at Yeovilton and will install the two full-flight simulators, a flight-training device and cockpit procedures trainer, as well as maintenance training devices; it will then be delivered to the UK MoD, although the company is to be retained to run the facility.
As for export opportunities, AgustaWestland currently sees them as mostly naval. The Wildcat was shortlisted in Denmark, where the company is currently in negotiation with the defense ministry, as well as in South Korea where the Super Lynx is already in service; in both cases, the AgustaWestland helicopter is bidding against the Sikorsky MH-60R Seahawk. A choice might be announced in both nations before the end of this year.