Wildcat: trials of the beast

Last week, I attended the Royal Aeronautical Society’s talk by Mark Burnand, deputy chief test pilot at Leonardo Helicopters, on ‘flight testing the AW159 Wildcat’.

With the flight testing having a primary focus on deck trials, Burnand discussed at length the nail-biting challenges that face Wildcat helicopter pilots as they approach a ship’s deck.

In approach towards the ship, considerations to take into account that could affect a landing are turbulence, the natural horizon, the ship’s motion, sea states and wind, among many others.

USS Wasp flight operations

Burnand outlined the ship trial objectives that the Wildcat team sought to address during exercises.

‘To develop the widest possible envelope in terms of wind speed and direction… to the ship and maximum deck motion limits,’ he said.

With its rugged undercarriage, the aircraft is designed for ship landings in challenging environments. He explained further that the Wildcat was ‘inherently flexible and that allows precision’.

The rotor is semi-rigged, stiff with no flapping hinges on the blades, and they therefore flap only slightly when the aircraft is static on the deck.

Last month, Leonardo confirmed it will continue to support the Wildcat helicopter fleet with the UK MoD outlined in a five-year deal.

Training and support services will be provided by the OEM for the entire fleet of 62 aircraft across the Royal Navy and Army Air Corps.

With the Wildcat regarded as the next-generation of Lynx aircraft, Burnand stipulated that comparatively the aircraft are completely different, although a pilot who has flown in both will feel it is a familiar aircraft.

‘[Both aircraft’s] agility, handling qualities are similar as they have a similar rotor system,’ Burnand said.

Artemis Trident

Describing the Wildcat as a ‘flexible beast’, he noted that flight trials took place over a few years and in a variety of conditions during day and night. On the whole, the trials took place off the British Isles although on occasion some took place in Middle Eastern waters.

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