Leonardo (AgustaWestland) AW101 / EH Industries EH101 Merlin Medium Lift / Multirole Helicopter
The massive AgustaWestland Merlin helicopter is powered by no fewer than three turboshaft engines to achieve the desired performance for military and civilian causes.
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The AgustaWestland AW101 "Merlin" (formerly the EH Industries EH101 Merlin) is a medium-lift, multi-purpose, multi-role helicopter developed as a joint venture by the British and Italians. To date, sales have increased and its battlefield reach has broadened considerably since development began in the 1980s. The AW101 is a large helicopter system driven by no fewer than three turboshaft engines and the airframe can support a myriad of military- and civilian-minded requirements to include general passenger transport, maritime defense, anti-submarine warfare (ASW), airborne early warning (AEW), search and rescue (SAR), amphibious support, disaster relief and medical evacuations. Over 140 of the type have been produced as of this writing.
By the late 1970s, the world was still embroiled in its "Cold War" arms race. Another war waging across the European battlefields remained an all too real possibility and, undoubtedly, a plethora of military weaponry would be called into play should the Cold War ever go "hot". Key to the success of NATO in the region would be control of the surrounding waters and, as such, ship-based rotary-wing systems would prove of great value. The British and Italian navies found themselves looking for a more modern anti-ship/anti-submarine option to replace their aging American Sikorsky H-3 Sea King platforms (these being produced locally by Westland and Agusta in their respective countries). While the British had already committed to the development of the proposed Westland WG.34, no prototype was constructed before a joint development initiative was struck concerning Westland and Agusta to produce a common end-product as a cost-effective solution. To compliment the agreement, "EH Industries" (European Helicopter Industries) was set up in London in 1980 as a 50/50 partnership. Each participating nation could then receive the same helicopter product at cost, differing only slightly in their final delivery presentation to suit their individual navy requirements.
To evolve the product further, the helicopter was then envisioned to compete on the global market against the Sikosrky UH-60 Blackhawk medium-lift helicopters which had already entered service in 1979. The AgustaWestland helicopter would be designated as the "AW101" and, in 1984, formal agreements between Great Britain and Italy were secured and a mock up was showcased the following year at the Paris Air Show. The first prototype (PP1) went airborne on October 9th, 1987 and proved the large helicopter design viable. The program evolved to include PP2 through PP9, each developed to achieve specific program goals. The British made use of the PP1 testbed while the Italians worked the design through their PP2, this achieving first flight on November 26th, 1987. For the British, the engine of choice became the Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM332 series turboshaft while the Italians elected for the General Electric CT7-6 series, the latter produced locally under license through Alfa Romeo Avio and Fiat. Initially, a rear loading ramp was only an Italian military requirement but this was eventually taken up by the British military as well. The PP3 was the civilian-minded prototype and first flew on September 30th, 1988. PP4 and PP5 (first flights on June 15th, 1989 and October 24th, 1989 respectively) were both Westland products, the latter achieving a shipborne landing in 1991. Agusta delivered the PP6 to which first flight was recorded on April 26th 1989 and this prototype made its first shipborne landing in 1991 as well. Westland claimed the PP8 prototype whilst Agusta finalized the PP9 prototype.
All appeared well for the joint helicopter endeavor until the end of the Cold War in 1991. This global shift forced all competing frontline militaries and their governing politicians to rethink spending efforts in a new world devoid of an arms race. The Canadians, who initially held interest in the new EH Industries product, abandoned thoughts of procurement in 1993 after a new government was elected. Steep financial penalties resulted in the cancellation and a new helicopter competition emerged that, once again, ended with the selection of the EH101 in 1997. Despite the setback, Britain and Italy were forced to press on and make good on their expensive venture, ultimately completing development and securing quantitative production orders for their respective navies. These orders were formally placed in 1995 with deliveries beginning in 1997. In 2000, Agusta and Westland were formally merged to become the Anglo-Italian concern of "AgustaWestland" and all previous product designations still in production were therefore updated to the well known "AW" designation. With this merger, the EH Industries product banner was no longer needed and dropped from use soon after. In June of 2007, the EH101 was officially being designated as the "AW101". The British went on to know the helicopter as the "Merlin".