Marvel of the Merlin retold with wizardry
Book review – The Merlin EH (AW) 101: From Design to Front Line by Rich Pittman
Helicopter enthusiasts are likely to be spellbound by Rich Pittman’s book on the 30 year journey of the Merlin EH101 through to its latter Leonardo AW101 designation and beyond.
The opportunity to design a new helicopter is a rare one. In the Merlin’s case, it’s obvious the task was set about by manufacturers with gusto. Pittman sets the scene in the 1980s with the MoD intent on rebuffing the Soviet Union’s submarine missile threat. During the same period, the Italian Navy sought a replacement for its fleet of SH-3D Sea Kings and so began an Anglo-Italian partnership under Augusta and Westland to design a multi-role helicopter of distinction.
In less than 100 pages it seems that every possible detail concerning pre-production events, flight tests, water tests, airframe, rotor, engine and avionics changes are covered in depth. That’s not to mention how the aircraft fulfilled international defence requirements for the UK, Italy and Denmark to name a few.
The account is such that readers have every right to assume this is the most illuminating and comprehensive portrait of the Merlin to date, and it will endure for years to come.
There’s even time to write about the more trivial aspects of the project’s original beginnings, when it emerges that a clerical error in re-typing hand written notes led to the new helicopter accidentally being inked as EH101 instead of EHI-01 (EHI being an abbreviation of the European Helicopter Industries Limited company which had been created to market the aircraft to prospective customers).
The trials and tribulations of nine pre-production aircraft are particularly interesting, beginning with PP1’s maiden flight in October 1987, which saw the failure of its tail-rotor ground instrumentation, ‘preventing the ground crew from recording the stress-load on the tail rotor, thereby curtailing first flight as a precaution.’
Pittman pays attention to larger events such as the EH101’s first transatlantic flight in 1999, which he recounts started in Aberdeen, taking in Iceland and Greenland in the process.
Undoubtedly however, the showstopper of the piece — so to speak — is the 814 NAS Merlin being deployed for service during the 2012 London Olympics. In all its majesty, the picture and accompanying story of the type stand out, having been called into service to conduct maritime security operations during the sporting extravaganza.
By virtue of the Royal Navy consistently relying on its Merlin HM1 and highly capable upgraded HM2, it’s little wonder that the service entry chapter is dominated by developments concerning both aircraft. The message from Pittman is clear – the Merlin’s impact on British maritime security operations is indelible and it’s no surprise when he writes that it will ‘continue to provide the Royal Navy with a truly world-class platform for the next 20 years, up to and beyond it’s notional out of service date of 2029.’
Beyond a British focus, there’s a lively exploration of the Merlin’s exemplary SAR record in Portugal, beginning with a nod to the vast areas of water which the country’s air force are tasked with covering. This context, and an admission that the Portugal Air Force push the Merlin to the very limit of its range capability, is central to the Portuguese story as a whole – but that’s only part of it. The other part tells of the lives saved by the helicopter.
In all, the Merlin has most certainly left its mark on the aviation industry and equally this book is sure to leave a fond impression on its readers.
- The Merlin EH (AW) 101: From Design to Front Line is available from Amberley Books