UK Royal Air Force (RAF) crews have begun training on the Eurocopter Puma Mk 2, although the two squadrons will not be cleared for service until 2015. Under a contract signed in 2009, Eurocopter is upgrading 24 of the 40-year-old helicopters with new engines, glass cockpits, digital autopilot and other improvements. Seven have been redelivered to date.
Fitted with the same two 1,700-shp Turbomeca Makila 1A1 turboshafts as the AS332 Super Puma, the Puma Mk 2 offers much greater range, endurance and payload than the original version. In particular, the Puma Mk 2 can lift 16 troops and a full fuel load in any temperature conditions. The aircraft have also received new composite tail-rotor blades, a tailboom reinforcement, fuel system modifications and a new Selex defensive aids system (DAS).
However, the upgrade has been controversial, not only because of the age of the airframes but also because the airframe work is being done by Eurocopter’s subsidiary in Romania. Eurocopter is believed to have offered to upgrade the Pumas in the UK, but the Ministry of Defence (MoD) chose the cost-saving option. The MoD acknowledged last week that less than one-third by value of the work on the £260 million ($420 million) contract was being done in the UK. In addition to Eurocopter’s UK subsidiary and Selex, the British contractors are Cobham (antennas); Ferranti (helmet-mounted display); GE Aviation (aircraft management systems); GKN Aerospace (self-sealing fuel tanks); Permali (ballistic protection and flooring); Rockwell Collins UK (navcom equipment); and Thales UK (avionics).
“The Puma is a remarkable aircraft, and its ability to operate in urban and harsh environments will see it play a key role in any future deployments,” said RAF Puma Force Commander Gp Capt. Nigel Colman. One of the key attractions of the Puma to the RAF is the ability to airlift two of them in a C-17 with minimal disassembly, so that they can be flying again within four hours of arrival.