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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 UK originally acquired two versions of the Merlin. The Royal Navy ordered 44 Merlins configured for anti-submarine warfare as the Merlin HM1 fitted with the Blue Kestrel sea scanning radar and dipping sonar. The RAF also ordered 22 configured for battlefield support as the Merlin HC3 included a rear loading ramp. Following an urgent need for additional battlefield Merlins following the deployment of the Merlin HC3 to Iraq, Merlins which were destined for the Royal Danish Air Force were acquired by the RAF and designated as the HC3A. Following a defence review, in 2014 the RAF transferred its HC3/3A fleet to the Royal Navy in order to replace the Commando Sea King force. These helicopters were upgraded to the latest HM2 avionics standard of the Royal Navy ASW Merlins and were modified with folding rotor blades for maritime use, they are now designated as the Merlin HC4. The Merlin HM2 has also been upgraded to act as the Airbourne Early Warning platform for the new aircraft carriers using the Crowsnest radar.
Whilst the Royal Navy own and operate the entire UK Merlin fleet, the HC4 Commando fleet are all under the command of Joint Helicopter Command (JHC). The JHC combines all the battlefield helicopters of the Army Air Corps, Royal Navy and RAF under a single military command structure centralised around the Army. The JHC will be sending a Merlin HC4 to appear in this year's Air Tattoo. Photo Credit: Tom Jones