RAF Puma HC2


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.

RAF Puma HC2
RAF Puma HC2

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

By November 2013, seven upgraded aircraft were in service with 33 and 230 Squadrons and the full programme is scheduled to complete in 2014/15.

The last HC1 went out of service in December 2012.

Puma HC2 Life Extension Programme
Puma HC2 Life Extension Programme

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.

Puma HC2 Confined Area Training

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)

CAE Medium Support Helicopter Aircrew 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

Two small UK companies are also supporting the Puma HC2 introduction, Lutra Associates and Oxford Specialist Coachbuilders who between them have delivered an two escape trainers.

Best of all, the escape trainers will be fitted into two modified ISO container to enable easy re-siting, oh, happy days.

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Although you have to approve of any additional helicopters for JHC in this day and age I do wonder about the financial wisdom of such a purchase. Especially when there out of service date is still only extended to 2025. The workshare is very poor for UK businesses as well, isn’t most of the work being done in Romania?

Sweden bought 15 brand new UH60M with a full training, spares and initial support package for about £330 million at around the same time. They are expected to last into the late 2030s. Makes you wonder how much we could have got out of a Army Lynx and Puma replacement combined fleet (and still be made at Wastelands).


I’m afraid i still can’t see £260 million to keep 24 old helo’s around for 10 more years value for money.

Sure it’s not an awful deal (the upgraded airframes will most probably represent a decent capability) but if we identify a clear need for a medium sized helo in RAF service post 2025 then surely it would have been better to put all that money towards a new fleet now rather than sinking extra cash on this life extension.

Better yet i’d have kept the Merlin HC3 in RAF service in place of the retired Puma and gone for an off the shelf replacement for the RN Sea Kings instead of this confused, complicated and downright nonsensical situation of a life extension for a fleet which will still need replacing in the not too distant future and the fiddly/costly navalisation/transfer of perfectly good RAF lifters which we are currently seeing.

Just another example of the MOD failing to create cogent, clarified, ‘joined up’ planning.


Back in the 80’s, the word was the Army wanted Chinook and Blackhawk. The RAF got it half right, so now we have Chinook/Puma/Merlin :-(


Does anyone know how much (in terms of £) of the Merlin Life Sustainment Programme is for the conversion of the HC3’s into ship board helicopters, and how much is for the life extension that would have gone ahead anyway? If it is even a £100 million for the conversion, then you are looking at a budget of £360 million for a Sea King replacement had they gone the route of binning the Puma’s, keeping the HC3’s with the RAF and replacing the Sea King’s in RN service.


On the face of it this looks like a decent capability upgrade. Whether it is value for money then that is debatable

dave haine

Shouldn’t be too long before someone dark blue comes along and starts going on about how an upgrade to the sea king would have been better, cheaper, faster etc, etc……. :)


@dave haine: I doubt that. Even a simple auto-rotation produced a down chit when I was last in one, and that was a quarter century ago :-)


Well I said it at the time, but to repeat, would it not have been better to retire the puma, let the RAF keep its Merlins, then use the money saved from the Puma upgrade & Merlin (botched) conversion, to buy new, folding navalised Merlins for the RN transport task?

The Other Chris

What helicopter type(s) should replace Puma after 2025?


@TD: if the Swedes are buying Blackhawk *after* buying NH90, I doubt it will ever be truly “working” :-(


I would think that by 2025 there might be the option for something a bit different else – I particularly like the Sikorsky x-2 style technology. Although reconsidering that, it’s only eleven years away. Going on the current glacial rate of procurement we would be lucky to get a conventional helo by then


TD, come now you of all people should know it will not be that simple.
By 2025 the American Blackhawk replacement will be in the running, so I doubt a simple plan like an affordable 1 for 1 will be given preference. Cue a few years of studies that recommends the new all singing and dancing American option which will be licence produced in the UK to save British jobs (with no chance of getting any export orders due to its higher cost) and then an order for 15 airframes, with an option for 5 more to replace 30, due to the cost and complexity.
This will be justified by the newer airframes being capable of fulfilling the role of 30 due to their ……………… complexity.

I think the Puma upgrade is as much value for money as converting the Merlins for Naval use, but I have a feeling a certain service will beg to differ. ;-) Is’nt there a rumour that the blokes from Hereford are not entirely happy with Wildcat for the light assault role.

Ace Rimmer

I like the idea of the Puma upgrade, ok its not fold-able for shipboard use, but then it doesn’t have the hang-up of carrying all the extra weight, and should be pretty useful in austere environments. Gets my vote. A shame that like the Lynx Mk 9A, the Puma HC.2 only received the engine upgrade in the twilight of its career.


The guys who have developed this and are now fielding it have done as gd a job as they possibly could to get this capability up and running

However it should never have been upgraded. Despite doing all they can to mitigated historical safety issues associated with a 1970s design it does not fully compare to the safety standards of modern designs. Like nimrod or indeed rivet joint we have undertaken a upgrade of very old airframes in a hope it will save money.

As for what comes next well tilt rotors and what the Americans are looking at have lights going off about complexity and cost and I’m not sure how practical they are for the type of urban missions puma apparently services. We should follow the propulsion layout adopted by the civil world for future rotor craft built on a military standard fuse.


I think whomever bought the Puma upgrade was being sensible. Despite the fact that UH60M would be a far better solution, the chances of this being bought were zero, but getting this sort of upgrade through was possible: so take the chance and at least get something rather than nothing…


There has been some speculation, and suggestion, that Puma will simply be allowed to waste. Of course 2025 is still a decade away so time will tell….

The Other Chris

Quite favour a conventional coaxial design for a Puma replacement. More power in a smaller footprint for the payload would be the benefits which sounds ideal for the confined locations niche being discussed.

Challenges to overcome would be gearbox complexity, impact on maintenance of same and preventing blade flapping causing a blade collision. Good old engineering, design and material science problems those.

Until recent developments, Kamov would quite likely have sold off design elements. This leaves Sikorsky as the only likely source of a working design for such an arrangement, sans the “pusher” if you want the keep the shorter rotar diameter.


Not doing any compound interest/ depreciation, a mln per cab per year, for the next ten years looks like a good deal… for troop lift not going down.

AH entering a Y-fork… is it a niche, or the next-gen tank?
And are the pretend AH’s worth the money?

So we have the light/ scout covered to almost the same point in time as where the Pumas will reach… a reduced AH fleet (likely)… no utility type… troop lift covered (even after Puma 2 goes)
=> we should buy the Sikorsky S67 for the Scout and AH (how long back in time does that go!),
a decent utility/ CASEVAC type (at that 2022-2025 point in time), and of course keep the Chinooks, where the SF fitout should cover also the CSAR role as long as there are enough of them to spread around, to places where such a need could arise.


Sikorsky? Yes, we dust off their S67 design, and then, by the time we have no 9As or Puma2s to go, we will have
– a decent Scout/ Raider/ CASEVAC
– some number of upgraded AHs for a hot war (whatever that number will be)
– still no utility
– unaltered troop lift with the Chinooks… pretty much
— the SF version should be good enough for not only MEDEVAC, but also CSAR in the SF fitout

And the RN will have more helos than they have ships to fly them from (assuming that the carriers are not wholly turned into Commando Carriers).


Comment editor very naughty tonight: the first time I used it, ate my whole long and considered post.

Won’t treat the shorter version of it, either ( so you will have to suffer the typos).

Tried to change to a different browser, and then I get this???
“ThinkDefence.com is for sale (Think Defence)
Click here to buy ThinkDefence.com for $2,595”
… some bloody virus or some other type of malware


No!!! The second comment gone, too.


This is what should replace the Puma and Merlin eventually ;-)

Just shove a couple of RTM322 in, add Mk4 on the end, and reopen the British copter building and export industry.


The number of people to be carried and the method of egress would be configuration drivers along with things like hot and high and corrosion requirements.

If you look at potential options around today the aw149/ec175 or bell 525 would be the direction they should be looking.

Lord Jim

What will the US replace the Blackhawk with post 2025, probably another Blackhawk. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. As for the Uk, well I have come round to thinking the Puma HC2 is not a bad investment. The Merlin and Chinook fleets have been worked to death over the past decade and the HC2 will be able to take up some of the strain post Afghanistan. Will we replace it, probably not as our Armed Froces are going to continue to shrink we will end up with RN Merlins and RAF Chinooks, as the “Wise Ones” in the MoD have already decided and these fleets will also shrink over time. My biggest bug bear is the wildcat though. It has diverted resources from other programmes in ts form as a jobs retention scheme for Agusta/Westland. Yes the naval version will be a fine replacement for the Lynx but the T-23 was designed to operate a Merlin and so should the T-26. We should be upgrading all the ASW merlin airframes and even purchasing 10-12 more. WE are only going to have I Carrier, 2-3 T-45s and 3-5 T-26s available for operations so a fleets of up to 36 ASW, 6 AEW&C and 20 Commando Merlins would meet our needs including those based on RFA support platforms. The money from the Wildcat programme would have covered the majority of this and the conversion of the RAF Merlins to RN use couls have been managed in a more structured and effective manner and even allow additional airframes to be purchased to the new standard and for CROWSNEST rather than converting existing ASW airframes which would be of more use in their intended role. In fact their is nother the naval Wildcat could do that the Merlin shold not be able to. West German Sea Kings carried the Sea Skua so why can’t the Merlin carry it replacement? You could even go so far as to kit out the Commando Merlins as assault transports with sensors and a weapons package of podded cannon, rockets and ever Hellfire! It has the engine power to carry this and its existing troop compliment. The Merlin like so so many UK programmes has not been fully realised through short sightedness. When the Pumas go this will come home to roost

As for the Army, well it need a proper Recce platform more in common to the Gazelle in size. In fact Eurocopter make a number of suitable platforms and a number already have the neccessary sensor and weapons capability to meet this need. The requirement of the US Army for an ARH to compliment the Apache Block III is also a pretty good benchmark to follow regardless of the past c@@k ups. As for the Apache, well I would rather see the RAF bin a Tranche 2 Typhoon squadron if it meant we could maintain the numbers of Apaches and bring them all up to Block II standard with its ability to control UAVs and UCAVs through the new datalink that replaces the Longbow. Having a Block III Apache overhead with in addition to its weapons load also the capablility to bring in UCAVs for additional support and providing the man in the loop target aquisition and execution is the sort of CAS soldiers on the ground have dreamed of, especially if the soldiers on the ground are also link in with the Apache. In addition it provides a superbe ISTAR network that can also be integrated with the bigger picture and these platfroms data tranfer nodes allowing greater use of real time info sharing to a greater and faster extent.

A similar role could also be found for the CROWSNEST platforms, controling UAVs be they recce platforms or ASW/ASuW UCAVS, as well as providing an over the horizon data node from surface or even submerged platforms.

This is the future and it all starts with the UKs Rotary Wings Platform plans. Unfortunately I doubt any of this will be realised due to Governemnt interference, ineptitude and in service rivalry in the MoD, lack of funding and shortsighted savings measures, but Ican dream.


I had a different view on the JHC (fleets) thread, RE
“maintain the numbers of Apaches and bring them all up to Block II standard with its ability to control UAVs and UCAVs through the new datalink that replaces the Longbow.”

But I read somewhere that the Israeli AHs already do the above; could be just propaganda. Or maybe it is just Boeing selling the upgrades on an “all-or-nothing” basis? Common trick in software (will not be supported after… just that with MS you don’t even get an improved version, rather the opposite!).



The 525 gets my vote from your list mostly because it looks more like Airwolf (222) than any of the others ;-)


What would make sense to replace a helicopter like puma which basically which provides a 2 tonne tactical lift to shift stores up forward. Isnt this a job for a Kaman Kmax optionally manned?


The K-Max is an excellent little cab, for use on the every day replen runs and for moving light guns and ammo etc. We would still need a cab that could carry pax (preferably section/squad sizeor slightly larger) for assault and movement around the battlefield.


If & its a big if, the Puma upgrade is as good as they say, why does it have to go out of service in 2025? Could that not be extended to 2029-30?

I too find it incredible that the Puma is still in service more than 40 years after being introduced. Those of us who deployed by Puma in Belize in the 80s were immediately struck by how much better the US Blackhawk was when it first arrived. Thirty years later, the Blackhawk is still going strong, so much so that any attempts to replace are likely to be met with stiff resistance. Blackhawk and Chinook are definitive military helicopter designs.

Instead of refurbishing our Puma fleet (or Sea Kings, which are just as old), Randomer says that, like Sweden, we could have easily purchased a brand new fleet of 20-30 Blackhawks for a similar cost. he’s absolutely right. Actually, if we’re serious about deploying an air mobile brigade, we need 40-50 utility helicopters, not 24. In any case, Blackhawk would definitely be my choice. I know it well and think it is superb.

There is a very good reason why the Merlin has been given to the Navy. It struggled to access certain landing sites at high altitude in Afghanistan. With three engines rather than two, the maintenance requirements were also much higher than those of either the Chinook or Lynx fleets. No surprise really, it was primarily designed as a long endurance seaborne helicopter not as military utility helicopter.

If we bought Blackhawk, we could also use it to replace Lynx – it would be a much more flexible multipurpose machine. We could use three basic airframe types (Blackhawk, Apache and Chinook) instead of five (Chinook, Puma, Lynx, Merlin and Apache). Moreover, the Navalised Blackhawk, the Seahawk, would be an ideal helo for our Type 45s and 26s, although I don’t know whether the Crowsnest suite would fit.

As things stand, various research programmes are underway in the USA to replace the Blackhawk, Apache and Chinook fleets, but so far only technology demonstrators have appeared. I wouldn’t hold my breath on a new US Army utility helicopter being fielded anytime soon.


I don’t think the Puma upgrade is the worst ever decision but I do think we are missing out. A new fleet of black hawks would have presented a better long term solution and the possibility to do CSAR with AAR capability which I think is our biggest capability gap after MPA.

I do feel there is a need for something in green between the Chinook and the Lynx which was the Merlin but all of those are needed for the RN and buying new Merlins would be extremely expensive and possibly overkill given the increase in the Chinook fleet.


If think Puma HC2 is a good investment. I believe they should be worked to the limit of their flying hours.

Replace with NH90 as each one goes out of service.

But will anyone at the MoD be thinking far enough in advance to even consider a puma replacement?

Ace Rimmer

TD, “I think the K-Max is bloody fantastic”

If we’re going that route, how do we get around the fact that it cannot carry troops? Can I suggest a modern update of the venerable Kamen HH-43F or something similar? That way you can have your egg whisk and a troop carrying capability as well.



I just had a brief by the local Seahawk (as the USN calls them) helo wing captain (group commander as you call them??). Our navy is transitioning to two major new versions i.e. MH-60S and MH-60R with somewhat different capabilities and systems onboard. The so-called Sierra is the VERTREP bird. Both very kicked up (as we say~)
see also: http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/mh_60s/


Their is a very interesting piece in the May Edition of Combat Aircraft Monthly regarding the recent decision to order CRH-60 to replace the USAF’s HH-60G fleet. A view taken by one Veteran pilot is that although the new aircraft has new avionics, more comfy seats, a new composite tail pylon, and a better engine. It is still constrained by the 3,400shp of the gearbox. It won’t go further or faster than the current version. So it won’t really bring anything new in capability.

If we are going to replace the Puma, we need something that is 21st Century, not 20th! All we have bought is time for now with the HC2. Although I do like the look of the V-280!


BlackHawk S-70A-19 (WS-70) reg ZG468.

We nearly got there!

The Other Chris

The Westland WS-70 license-build was intended for the ME, though I can see the leap of logic that if we’re building them here for someone else it’s not a huge step to buy some ourselves.

The Other Chris

V-280 Valor is interesting… however when it comes to the UK there’s always (always) a question of saltwater. The design would need serious modifications to fold away, mainly due to the V-fin and rotating the main wing.

If I were to pick the future vertical lift winner and everyone’s designs work out as planned, I’d plum for the AVX family as I feel it’s more of a fit for the British Armed Forces as a whole. Fulfilling long range and hover endurance requirements, jointiness, fitting aboard boatiness, making the Army use marine modified helecopteriness, etc.

I also quite like their AVX 300 and AVX 509 civilian concepts as well. Would get me to work nicely, as well as doubling as the lightweight Gazelle (optionally manned for the UAS aficionados amongst us of course) utility role :)

Are we buying aircraft to range out over territory?

Or are we buying aircraft to support the rear of a division/reinforced brigade?


TOC – looking at the two offerings (fast personnel-only Bell and slower cargo-capable AVX) I too would look at the AVX as a more useful all-rounder. Not the prettiest flying machine but then everybody knows helicopters can’t fly – they are so pug-ugly the ground rejects them…

Unless the sole purpose for these is to get small numbers of troops far into hostile territory really quickly, I’d advocate the AVX as a more cost effective flying truck. Good enough stopgaps until Rotodyne is ready to take over.

Gareth Jones
Ace Rimmer

Simon257, re: “So it won’t really bring anything new in capability.”

Do they need anything new or does it do the job that well? I’m thinking along the lines of heritage, why doesn’t the U.S invest in the S-92 as a Blackhawk contender, and why didn’t Sikorsky go along the same lines? Looks to me like the CRH-60 is the least cost option, with the RFP written to fit the Blackhawk, rather like our very own AW159 Wildcat.

Swimming Trunks


…with you all the way!

Gareth Jones


“The McDonnell 120 used pressure jets-in an innovative design that could either lift using a cable or carry a specialised pod to transport up to 12 troops. However, the aircraft failed to garner any orders from the military or civilian markets, despite being described by test pilots at the Naval Test Centre, NAS Patuxent River, as ‘one of the most outstanding helicopters evaluated to-date in its weight class. The project was cancelled early in 1960.”

Ace Rimmer

Swimming Trunks: http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2010/09/flying-cranes-time-to-take-another-look/

…with you all the way! Although given the current political climate regarding Putin, I thought a converted Kaman would be a safer bet!

Gareth Jones
Ace Rimmer

One thing I think we’re missing from the discussion is stealth, the battlefield isn’t going to get any safer, especially in a naval context, I’m pondering along the lines of Sikorsky bringing out regular versions of the Stealth-Hawk. In this sense the CRH-60 appears somewhat oldhat. I’m trying to visualise a stealthy Seahawk…



@ Ace Rimmer

The main gripe I took from the article is that the CRH-60 doesn’t bring anything new in capability. When fully loaded with mission equipment and internal tanks the CRH-60 will still only be getting 250nm radius of action. It doesn’t compare with the speed and range of either the USAF’s CV-22B’s or the USMC’s MV-22B”s. I would say this is really about CSAR capability, not Battlefield support, which what the Puma is really about. (Although I would love to see us operate the CV-22B, even just for SpecOps or CSAR.)


@Ace Rimmer

The US did have a go at stealth helicopters, at least for the attack helis. Unfortunately, the Comanche became so expensive it never made it to production. Now extend that to utility helicopters. :(

Lord Jim

You won’t find many admitting to it but one reason stealth is so popular is that it allows you in theory to hit the same number of targets with fewer airframes as you don’t need a full support package etc. Stealth for rotary platforms is a compromise as the rotors are very very difficult to mask to put is mildly. Yes you can reduce the airframes signiature as the US has done on a limited number of Blackhawk variants with specialist duties but that is really as far as it goes. It isn’t cost effective, and cost is the main driver in defence. You want the Gucci kit then you have to accept smaller numbers. The CRH-60 is an example of where the Pentagon has decided that a revamp of an existing platform that just does what is needed is far more cost effective than some all singing and dancing variant of the 22.

We do not need the UH-60 though. we do not operate our rotary assets like the US, and need our platforms to do more with less, hence the preference for the Chinook. IT might be overkill of a utility, troop transport but we need a platform that can do many other things. The Puma will in all probability not have a direct replacement, and will end up as a sacificial lamb if further cuts are required, as removing an entire type from service creates greater savings than simply reducing numbers within a fleet. The Chinook will be with us if decades to come until the US developes a replacement as will Merlin. The latter has no obvious replacement on the horizon that would have the same capability and be affordable in any meaningful numbers. Again we need something that is more than a troop transport. The MV-22B and CH-53K have to be rules out on cost grounds as would a fully marinised CH-47F variant with folding rotors etc.

Of course all of the above depends on the UK operating its rotary assets as it currently does. If it does change things again it will be on cost grounds, and we woupld probably end up with the same number of smaller platforms, unable to do the same jobs as either the Merlin or Chinook, but I cannot see this happening for at least the next twenty years or so unless something really radical happens before then.


Observer you have to remember that the US has already fielded a “stealth” utility helicopter, that cat was let out of the bag with the bin laden raid.

I will mention again that stealth is not just about radar cross section nor necessarily is this off biggest concern to helicopters as they can fly very low. Heat, noise and visual signature reduction could become considerations for helicopters if you wanted to go that way.

The Other Chris

Not to mention that “Stealth” (such a buzzword term) is another means of getting your opposite numbers to spend a lot of effort, energy, resources and money themselves to either counter and/or reproduce something that you either have a head start in or can perform relatively easily.

Got to play to your strengths. The East can more than compete in traditional manufacturing techniques, so why play a numbers game with “peer” levels of manufacturing and training?

The vast majority of material science globally still happens in the West. In addition, any manufacturing process involving significant automation is as cost-effective in the West as it is in the East if the customer base and supply chain is local. Consider the large numbers of injection moulding houses in Europe.

For the West to build “baked in” low observability (to use an F-35 related buzzword) requires a smaller expenditure of relative effort on our part than for our counterparts and produces a superior result to a traditionally constructed airframe wrapped in low observable materials bent into appropriate shapes.

Link to the LM brochure on their particular program below, though you can find plenty of peer reviewed papers to back the science and the supply chains:


As one practical example, Yale has developed a material science technique for classifying Bulk Metallic Glasses that cuts the research time for identifying the estimated 200 million remaining alloys from 4,000 years down to 4 years:

White paper: http://www.nature.com/nmat/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nmat3939.html

Media article: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/04/15/boffins_stronger_than_steel/


I was (and still am) skeptical about the US “stealth” BlackHawk that did the BL raid.

It was a publicity ruse to provide deniability to nearby nations.

I’m sure the conversation went something along the lines of:

“Crikey Sir, how on Earth are we going to build a stealth copter in only a week?”
“Simply, just paint it matt black and put some angular fairings on a few areas and no-one will know.”
“Err, that might look okay, but it won’t stop the Doppler shift from rotors spinning at 200mph!”
“Doesn’t need to, Pakistan have promised to look the other way. Besides, we use advanced carbon composites for rotors nowadays so we can use that one on the public too.”


@TOC (and generally),
widely held beliefs and emerging trends as shown in statistics are often at odds. China surpassed USA in chemistry patent applications a decade ago and Japan five years ago.

The trend in other key areas of materials science is the same as shown in graphics and tables in a quick glance here

When you look at the “hidden” part of China’s defence spending, there are 20 priority areas for R&D where universities do not need to worry about finding funding. These have specifically been defined to enable catch-up with the US across the sharp end of military applications, too, and not just broadly in industrial uses.


I’m leaning towards Simon’s POV on the LO helicopter that did the Bin Ladin raid, it was more likely an infrequent modification of a UH-60 than a special series of “stealth helicopters”. Mark is right though in that Helicopter Stealth focuses on different aspects vs Aircraft Stealth.


@Observer Helicopters are still aircraft, give them a break :D

Why reinvent the wheel here? The only time stealth is important is in an assault. If you’ve got RADAR and AA weapons up the ying yang in your target area maybe you should land elsewhere…

For a support helicopter the ideal is a reliable, versatile asset not a one trick pony reliant on more maintenance to retain the ‘stealth’ element.

There are loads of these in service or in development. My bet would be NH90 is there is going to be any replacement as it has common engines with Apache and Merlin. Why would we want to take part in another high stakes development just for a support helicopter? Use proven technology!

The Other Chris

Volume of patents does not translate into Utility Model and Design, nor does it equate to supply base. Dan Prud’homme (2012) has a nicely written (peer reviewed) piece.

As for proven technology helicopters, no problem if you don’t want anything different to what The Other Guy has.

Several fleets across a number of NATO countries are up for renewal within the next design period. Sticking to what you know is OK, after all “nobody got fired for hiring IBM”, or if you’re going to look at a new design anyway you may as well up the stakes and pressure The Othger Guy into renewing their fleet(s) earlier than planned to keep pace.


True, “Volume of patents does not translate into Utility Model and Design, nor does it equate to supply base. ”

But it is a bloody good indicator where the “other guys” are on the catch-up curve? Should have made my reference more specific as I was addressing this statement:
“The vast majority of material science globally still happens in the West”


One of the reasons why the Puma is so long lived is that there are also heaps of them out in the civilian sector, so you get economics of scale and parts are easy to come by. So maybe next time someone designs a military helicopter, maybe they should consider civilian usage as well? It also helps a lot that once the plant finishes military contracts, they can work on civilian orders and not go bust waiting for the next military order 5-10 years down the road.



Does that mean the S-92 might be worth a punt (Bristow SAR)? Surely Canada would have sorted the Cyclone out by then for our ship based ops too. Maybe would could lever off their mistakes rather than going through a whole set of our own?

I do find it truly amazing that there is no clear replacement for the Sea King. The NH90 is about the closest (if you don’t want to be able to stand up).

Are airframes heavier nowadays?
Are engines less powerful and efficient nowadays?

Electronics are ever smaller and lighter and I was under the impression that most of the innovation in aerospace in the last 20 years was in materials science so can’t get my head around what all these copter companies are doing wrong :-(


Actually, the Sea King’s replacement, though of the same era, would probably be the Chinook. Quite a few have been used at sea.

As for the H-92, it really does have a good shot. If the Pumas become too expensive to keep extending their lifespan, the H-92 looks like it will stand a really good chance in a “like for like” replacement. Not sure about maritime usage though, ship hanger bays can be pretty space constrained, and the Cyclone is about 5m longer than the Puma. This is for us. You guys got your Merlins, which can work just as well and increasing the order of an already existing unit drives down unit costs and increases your logistics buffer as well. Just keep your Merlins, they are a decent unit.


Simon – Re replacement for Sea King – What do you think the Merlin is or was designed to be?



Yes, granted, we have replaced Sea King with Merlin, but at what cost? 1.5 times the weight, 3 engines to maintain, an overloaded gearbox, non-folding RAF versions. I think Merlin is great, I just don’t really see it as a direct replacement for a 10t copter.

We fell into the American trap of “bigger, bigger, bigger”. We did the same with the 6t Lynx and 15t Harrier replacement too!

We seem to push the limits of what we want over what we need.

The Other Chris

Merlin is an awesome machine for its designed task. I’m not aware of anyone who has to dangle under the rotors of one in the Atlantic who complains about there being three engines up there!

Sure, I’ve met plenty of engineers who grumble about the maintenance but then again they’re aware that the three engines are there for faster and safer response to power change requirements in the various engine modes rather than pumping all 6,300shp at once into the high speed high altitude flight that Sea King was never very good at in any case.

There’s also plenty of electrical power available from the arrangement, allowing for the likes of Vigilance Pods (downside of AESA’s are they are thirsty and thermally inefficient requiring robust cooling) if selected for CROWSNEST.

Anyway, nobody’s mentioned a lightweight dipping sonar for Wildcat yet…


Merlin is Gucci, it does a great job but at a great cost; you pays your money you take your choice.

What is remarkable is how only now are we starting to get some sort of standardisation within the UK Helo fleet, for such a small force to have been operating so many different types for so long is incredible. At least we are now seeing standardisation around Chinook, Apache, Merlin and Lynx- with Puma likely to fade into history without replacement.


I agree with the train of thought… but:

Once all the surrogates, Puma in operational fleet, leased 212s on the training ranges, 7 of the frenchies that look civilian (but are part of the SF fleet) have gone away
… the medium utility just want leave us (utility = good for many jobs; medium = lesser unit cost, to help in keeping up the fleet numbers)

Creme de la creme… lots of it:
Merlin (navy appliacation, esp. ASW)
Lynx (OK, very flyable, but otherwise… for the job spec?)
Even Chinook would be, had it not been produced in such numbers that they are now commodities (still expensive, but it is $ per unit of capability that counts?)

The Other Chris

Completely agree with you both. I do harbour personal hope for a Puma replacement despite the “tradition” of ditching fleets.

There’s a number of positive sparks that can be seized upon if you scratch around the embers, and not just for a Puma replacement:

# MoD are starting to deliver their programs again and beginning to successfully reduce costs of programs. This makes them more attractive as an investment from the Treasury for reasons other than pure military e.g. economic stimulus in a geographical area.

# Perception amongst the public following popular press articles during the Afghan and Iraq campaigns that “our boys lack helicopters” (paraphrasing).

# AgustaWestland produce (a) possible candidate(s) for the Puma replacement and this would likely result in work for the Yeovil facility. Another feather in the cap for AW in this regard is the production of AW159 and the AW189 for the MoD and Bristow (SAR) respectively with associated local supporting infrastructure. As an aside, I think @Mark favours their AW169 for a post-Puma?

# Demonstrated interest in advancing rotorcraft systems with the Tactical Maritime Unmanned Air System (TMUAS) program and lead in Rotary Wing Unmanned Air System (RWUAS) Capability Concept Demonstrator (CCD) program. Observation: Combined with MHCP and CROWSNEST evidence, the UK is very much into “System of Systems” and “Payloads and Platforms” thinking. Always worth bearing in mind when looking at platform selections in a UK context.

# The incumbent government have (finally?) recognised the (desperate?) need to preserve skills and signalled a desire to readjust to a drumbeat with the recent OPV contracts. It’s not a huge leap of logic to extend this acknowledgement to helicopters, preserving sovereign skills when the AW159 starts to age and learning from our mistakes. Again another opportunity for AW here perchance?

Lord Jim

When will the UK realise that it needs to design and build platforms that other nations will want to buy as their prioroty and if the MoD decides to buy them as well or at least a variant, it is a bonus. We cannot afford to place orders with UK amnufacturers simply to retain jobs and skills, our budget is not big enough. For larger programmes we can still locally manufacture platforms under licence in order to retain both but it should not ever be the driving force. AW should be encouraged to continue to develope new platforms that may suit the MoD but we should not pay them to produce a bespoke design. National sovereigty is over played by many people and in reality is a political football which can adversely affect the Armed Forces.

Back to the Puma, and while we have it, it will fulfil a useful role but a cannot see the MoD purchasing a direct replacement. Rather I can see them pruchacing additional Chinooks or Merlins. If the latter is no longer available then any Puma replacement would also be a Merlin replacement, but I can see overseas orders for the Merlin increasing in the future as it shows it mature capabilities in a market where its two main rivals the NH-90 and H-92 having more and more troubles.

With hindsight though I still believe we would have done better to not purchase either the Wildcat or Puma HC2 and ordered around 18-20 new marinised Merlin HC1 for the Navy to replace the transport Sea Kings even at the greater cost, and requiring additioanl funding, eventually marinising the RAF platforms to creat a single fleet of around 40 platforms.


@Lord Jim

I think I agree, we should have retained HC3/3a in RAF service and bought brand new HC4s for the Marines. Then you modify the HC3/3as up to 4/4a standard.

I think Puma HC2 was a good idea regardless but it needed the upgrade faster so it could do its job in Afghan where I’m sure it would have proved useful. I also believe that we should let the RAF operate the heavy type (chiook) and leave Merlin and Puma to Marines and Army respectively.

Wildcat should be a navy helicopter!!! (been there a couple of times now :D )

And the army should have bought something like EC635/645 for really light lift and BR.

But thats all in the past, the MoD now needs to focus on what it wants to replace when and where helicopters actually lie in UK defence. If we want small numbers or very rapidly deployable troops we need transport aircraft and helicopters with refuelling probes.

Ace Rimmer

Penny’s worth…

The Merlin wasn’t just a Seaking replacement, it was an Anglo-Italian project and the Italians needed a replacement for their larger AS-61R’s (or Jolly Green Giants), so the Merlin replaces two types.

To me, the NH90 is fundamentally flawed in design, am I the only one who feels that the cabin doors slide the wrong way? If the doors slid to the rear, then there would be space for door gunner stations like the Blackhawk. Unfortunately the main undercarriage gets in the way and always will unless there is a radical redesign of the airframe.

Re: stealth in helicopters, I’m thinking of just an airframe redesign and reshaping, without the use of exotic coatings and paints etc. A ‘healthy’ redesign of an existing aiframe, utilising existing systems and engines etc would help keep development costs down, while using flush rivets and spike alignment to reduce the RCS as much as possible. Not perfect, but moving in the right direction. :)


@Ace Rimmer

NH 90 with rear gunner stations


Still might get in the way of the ramp though.


What about AW139? In service with Irish (not to mention bristow) and has a door mounted weapon.


The Other Chris

The AW189 purchased by Bristow SAR is an AW149, which is a stretched version of the AW139.

Ace Rimmer

DN & TOC, how about an AW149/NH90 cross, essentially an AW149 with a rear ramp, covers just about all the bases!


Ace Rimmer,

Yeah I’d go for that as long as the development cost is not too great. We could ditch Wildcat for the army then as well. :-)


Again what do we need a rear ramp for? Keep it simple, the MoD keeps saying “yeah we want that but with this thing as well.” Just buy the aircraft of the shelf!!!


@Ace Rimmer, @DN

AFAIK none of the NH90 users have taken up the (daft?) rear window gunner idea. Door guns seem to be becoming standard (Miniguns for Italian NH-90s, FN MAGs on French NH-90s)

FN MAG door gun:



Ref rear door gunners – The picture was of an Australian NH 90.


At least some clam shell doors :-)

The Other Chris

But… but… but… conventional helicopters are so 1950s!

Coaxial/Compound for me :)


Here’s a better idea, Wessex with new engines. Now thats a utility helicopter 50-60 of them please!




The door gunner is going to be restricted when the troops are piling out the door, but at least they are close enough for him to feel/see them come by. That rear window gun looks like an accident waiting to happen. Small window meaning restricted situational awareness and friendlies coming from a few metres forward crossing your arcs.
And is that a box of flares ready to blast them out right across your face?


Also for Chris


Rotodynes’ spiritual successor?


Note door gun positions on aw149 layout fwd of the main door don’t know if that better but similar on Blackhawk I think?. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/europe/images/aw149-line2.gif

If you goal is to deliver a people to urban areas which is supposedly why pumas still here along with deploy ability then it can’t be unmanned and the less funky the rotor system should be because theres more that can go wrong. Ir manpads and RPGs probably the biggest threat. An 8 man team + a couple of specialist + door gunners usually amounts to what needs carried hot and high.


If you guys want to worry about door mounts, I’d actually recommend a swing out pedestal or external mount for a door gun. Pushing the gun out of the cabin exposes the gunner a bit more, but allows you to fire forward of the helicopter instead of being just limited to side arcs. Let’s you debus troops and provide fire support at the same time, face the enemy base of fire while the troops unload through the back or sides. The external mount saves cabin space, but exposes the gun to the elements while the swing out mount cuts into cabin space but keeps the gun out of the rain.

Edit: I just had a thought in that if you had a top mounted pedestal, you might even be able to use it for a winch if you are not putting a gun there, might help in fast SAR conversions.


ST – absolutely brilliant – what’s not to like?

Jonesy – I’d looked at the big Carter cargo lifter back in 2008 I think it was. Not how I’d approach the development – the two-blade rotor for a start would seem a retrograde step. But consider; since Wobbly Westlands took over Fairey Aviation, there is a development route that would combine the Rotodyne principles with high efficiency rotorcraft developments like high rotor disc loading to reduce rotor diameter, the BURP tip blades to better control tip losses etc. As a start point I’d rebuild the same basic aircraft with a five blade rotor with the better silenced tip jets embedded in the BURP structure and see how well it went. If successful, it should get a fuselage that can take cargo 2.55m wide, 2m tall or a bit more (about 10% bigger than CH-47) to give the beastie a market niche all its own, and start building lots… I’m sure I could whip one up in CAD in a week or two.

As an aside and on a different related subject, U-Bend offered up related videos at the end of ST’s selection, one of which was this short one about flight testing of TSR2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXdJxjvQZW4 I particularly liked the bit when the TSR2 test pilot lit just one afterburner and punched through the sound barrier while accelerating far faster than the Lightning chase plane could match with both engines on full reheat.


Not something I’ve looked at in a while to be honest Chris, but, my understanding was always that the high rotor disk loading was something to be avoided if possible as it led to massive inefficiency in the hover. The broad chord twin blade rotor was a benefit for its stiffness and easier, simpler, hub configuration?.

Either way the technology is getting a new appraisal as part of the US Tern project so, hopefully, that will lead to wider interest down the line somewhere.


Jonesy – maybe worth comparing Sea King & Merlin; MAUM of Merlin is 14.6t and of Sea king is 9.6t – Merlin max weight then is 1.5x that of Sea King. Both have five blade rotors, Sea King has 280 sq.m disc area and Merlin has 272 sq.m disc area. Not hard to see that Merlin has 50% greater disc loading than Sea King. I would have thought the efficiency issues still related to tip spill/vortices which perhaps the club-shaped BURP tip fixes? Whatever – Merlin is used as a dipping sonar platform so must be OK for fuel burn in the hover.

Anyway. I’ve never been much of a fan of the two blade teetering rotor option so favoured by Bell; for one thing its colossally noisy on approach – almost as loud as Chinook – all down to the leading edge hammering into the airflow. Its quiet when going away. Sort of exactly the opposite of what you want in a military environment.

Also, I was once told that the efficiency and propulsive capability of propellers was in proportion to the number of blades, hence Spitfire prototype had a two-bladed prop, the first in service a three bladed one, then as performance demands grew first a four then a five bladed prop were fitted. No doubt the later versions used more power to turn the prop but for the same(ish) diameter the propulsion was evidently much greater too. Which is why my (imaginary) Rotodyne has five blades to hang under.

Gareth Jones

@ Chris – The Groen Brothers have done some work on the Rotodyne concept (although the last I heard they were in financial trouble) – they believe any high wing transport plane can be converted into a Rotodyne, although having a “H” tail probably an advantage…




Hi all,
I read with interest an article on defenseindustrydaily.com that Mexico has requested a batch of 18 UH-60M’s. The article also lists the ancilliary equipment included- not that much actually. The deal is valued at $680 Million which means a unit cost of $37,7 Million.