It is perhaps quite easy to forget just how long the Puma helicopter has been in service with the RAF. After over 40 years of service (since 1971) the Puma 2 or HC2 upgrade programme (Puma Life Extension Programme) will deliver 24 upgraded airframes and a range of supporting services.
The programme cost is £260m with £78m being carried out in the UK, Vector Aerospace supporting the integration of the defence aids systems for example, the balance by Eurocopter (now Airbus Helicopters) in France and Romania.
An assessment contract was let to Eurocopter in 2007 with the upgrade contract coming a couple of years later in September 2009.
The contract was originally for 28 aircraft but this has since reduced to 24 (in 2012), from a total original fleet size of 33.
Upgrades and Numbers
The RAF describes the Puma HC2 as
As Support Helicopters (SH) within the Joint Helicopter Command (JHC), the Puma is used in the classic support role of tactical troop and load (internal/underslung) movement by day or night. The aircraft accommodate up to 16 passengers or 12 fully equipped troops or up to 2 tonnes of freight. Another major role is that of casualty evacuation, for which, 6 stretchers can be fitted.
The upgraded aircraft will benefit from;
- Turbomeca Makila 1A1 engines that provide 40% more power than the existing Turbomeca Turmos IIIC4 with 25% fuel consumption reduction (this element will consume about £45m of the programme budget)
- Glass cockpit and 4 axis dual duplex digital flight control system (DAFCS) autopilot, the latter reportedly more advanced than any other UK military helicopter and that will enable flying in extremely challenging environments
- Increased fuel capacity, combined with improved fuel efficiency will allow HC2 to carry twice as much three times as far as the HC1, with a 3 hour flight endurance
- Upgraded communications fit including beyond line of sight
- Upgraded DAS (Selex HIDAS)
- Structural modification on the upper section; fuel system, multipurpose air intake, and electrical wiring modifications; and a tail boom reinforcement.
- Upgraded main gear box
- Ballistic protection for crew and passengers
The last HC1 went out of service in December 2012.
The niche role for Puma is reportedly confined spaces, where Merlin and Chinook are simply too big with too great a downwash, and Lynx too small.
This is manifest particularly in urban environments where it is said to be in high demand by the underwater knife fighting community and where the very advanced DAFCS will enable it to land in locations that would previously been prohibited.
Another valuable feature of the Puma is that it can be flying in less than four after rolling off a C17 ramp, each C17 being able to carry two Pumas.
The additional power also allows operation in previously limited hot and high environments, it has an additional 500 shaft horsepower against only a very modest increase in weight.
HC2 is currently planned to go out of service by 2025 so in effect, the upgrade programme buys 10 years and 24 aircraft, which I don’t think is poor value for money, despite several others voicing concerns.
Training and Logistics Support
Contractor Logistics Support (CLS) for the Puma HC2′s new Makila 1A1 engines will be delivered by Heli One in a 13 year contract signed in February last year (2013)
From the Heli One press release
Heli-One, a division of CHC Helicopter, has supported over 340,000 Makila engine flying hours in the last three years alone, providing services since 1985. Heli-One were able to use their depth of operational and maintenance experience to analyse the RAF’s requirements in detail and assemble a service support model. The innovative proposal includes the ability to sustain engine availability using Makila 1A1 assets from Heli-One’s own stock if required.
The CLS model is founded upon best-practices in the high-frequency commercial rotary Oil and Gas support sector developed for ‘Power by the Hour’ (PBH) contracts. PBH contracts allow the customer to have complete budget awareness and control. The MoD will be able to forecast schedules of expenditure based on planned flight hours logged through an RAF and Heli-One dual reporting system.
Ian Craddock commented; “I’m extremely pleased to witness the award of this contract to Heli-One. The Makila engine substantially increases the performance of our Puma helicopters and is a vital part of the modernisation of this capability. Heli-One have substantial experience in the support of the Makila engine and the robust support arrangements we have agreed will help secure this performance advantage for the military and deliver excellent value for the taxpayer.”
Working closely with Heli-One will enable Puma HC2 Squadrons to benefit from industry-leading responsiveness and service levels. The multimillion pound contract is for a period of 13 years. The engine repair and deep overhaul activity will take place in Heli-One’s facility in Stavanger, Norway. Heli-One Norway’s Turbomeca-approved engine shop is a centre of excellence for Makila support, and has been repairing and overhauling Makila engines for over 20 years. The scope of the contract will also involve Heli-One technical engineers being permanently embedded at RAF Benson to work as a team with RAF operations staff.
Lars Landsnes said; “Heli-One is exceedingly proud to be helping the MoD pioneer a new way to manage key assets. Everything we have learned from years operating Makila engines in both benign and harsh environments will be of value in helping the RAF achieve optimal mission-readiness.”
So Puma HC2 engines will be have deep overhaul and repair carried out in Norway.
This award has been followed up a year later by confirmation that Heli One have achieved certification as an Approved Maintenance Organisation.
The total size of the Makila 1A1 pool will be 58, supporting the 24 strong fleet, with 3,000 hours between overhauls.
This contract is significant for the RAF because it is the first one that has been awarded to a non engine manufacturer and where commercial Makila 1A1 engines can be injected into the system to maintain availability.
Another contract will provide for ground school and simulator aircrew training at CAE’s Medium Support Helicopters Training Facility (MSHATF)
Specifically for the HC2, the existing Puma simulator has been upgraded to accommodate the HC2
The CAE Medium Support Helicopters Training Facility (MSHATF) at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire is an impressive facility with a range of networked classrooms and 6 full simulators, 3 for Chinook, 2 for Merlin and 1 for Puma. Personnel from other nations such as from the Netherlands, Canada, Italy, Australian, Oman and Japanese also make use of the facility, this offsetting the cost to the MoD
Medium Support Helicopters Training Facility
Read more in the brochure
Best of all, the escape trainers will be fitted into two modified ISO container to enable easy re-siting, oh, happy days.