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The AgustaWestland (now Leonardo, previously EH Industries) Merlin is a relatively large medium-lift helicopter with three engines originally developed as a joint venture between the UK and Italy. First flying in 1987 the Merlin eventually entered service in 1999 and are built at Yeovil in Somerset and Vergiate in Italy. The Merlin has been developed for a variety of roles ranging from anti-submarine warfare, to airborne early warning, to search and rescue, police patrols or combat evacuation. The Merlin was chosen as the replacement of the H-3 as the US Presidential helicopter nicknamed 'Marine One' however the order for the Merlin, known as the VH-71 Kestrel was cancelled by President Obama in 2009, the produced Kestrels were sold to Canada for spare parts.
The Italian Navy were one of the first customers for the Merlin who acquired the anti-submarine warfare version, the amphibious support version and a unique airborne early warning version for operation on their aircraft carriers. The Italian Air Force have been a relative newcomer to operating Merlins and ordered the HH-101A Caesar to replace the HH-3 in the combat search and rescue role. A total of 15 Caesars are in service and each can carry up to 20 fully equipped troops in all weathers and at night behind enemy lines.
The Italian Air Force will be sending one of their HH-101A Caesars for static display at this year's Air Tattoo as part of our celebration of their centenary. The helicopter will be provided by 9° Stormo from Grazzanise just north of Napoli. Photo Credit: Michael Hind