Merlin helicopters will join Navy

Oxford Mail: CHANGES: Squadron Leader Kevin Harris, right, and Commander Steve Doubleday MA RN of the Commando Helicopter Force Buy this photo CHANGES: Squadron Leader Kevin Harris, right, and Commander Steve Doubleday MA RN of the Commando Helicopter Force

MERLIN helicopters from RAF Benson are now being altered so that they are suitable for use by the Navy.

Earlier this week Augusta Westland was awarded two Ministry of Defence contracts worth £760m in total to ‘future-proof’ two fleets of military helicopters — the Merlins and Apaches.

The 25 upgraded Merlin helicopters will replace the Sea King Mk 4 helicopters which go out of service in 2016.

New glass cockpits and avionics, a folding main rotorhead and tail, and improved undercarriages are being fitted.

The Merlins will then be used to transport Royal Marines, vital supplies and cargo from sea to land.

Two people overseeing this process at RAF Benson are Commander Steve Doubleday, Chief of Staff of the Commando Helicopter Force and Squadron Leader Kevin Harris.

Commander Doubleday said command of the Merlin force would switch to the Navy in September.

He added: “This is an important change for Benson as it reflects on 75 years of history.

“The RAF guys have been outstanding, welcoming 250 Naval personnel, ready for move back down to Yeovilton, which will take place in March 2015.

“The mentoring they have given us on the Merlin has been outstanding.”

Squadron Leader Harris added: “The base is always evolving and this is another chapter in its long history.

“But with the Mk2 Puma already here the future looks bright for a long time to come.”

Squadron Leader Harris was awarded the DFC in 2008 after scrambling in a Merlin helicopter to recover a fatally wounded soldier from Basrah Palace in Afghanistan.

He is one of 450 personnel with Merlin squadrons being given new roles by the RAF.

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