PUNISHING conditions were not a problem for the Royal Navy’s newest helicopter as it was tested for the first time in the searing heat of the Gulf by a naval team from Portsmouth.
Wildcat – which will provide the aerial eyes and punch of British destroyers and frigates for a generation – spent a fortnight flying in the Middle East during key trials with the Portsmouth-based destroyer HMS Duncan.
It is the first time the new helicopter has experienced such extreme heat, with the mercury rising to 45 degrees C.
On top of this, the six-tonne aircraft had to contend with strong wind.
Both HMS Duncan’s crew and the test pilots were pleased Wildcat’s performance, with the helicopter even managing to land backwards on the flight deck as the destroyer powered through the Gulf.
HMS Duncan’s commanding officer Commander Richard Atkinson said the Wildcat trials had ‘surpassed expectations’.
‘I am delighted that we have contributed to the development of this potent new helicopter,’ he said.
Lieutenant Gus Munro, one of the destroyer’s principal warfare officers, added: ‘It’s quite an aircraft. The capability it will bring to the war-fighter will be a real game-changer. The fact that you can land it facing astern is particularly impressive.
‘Now we know how it flies, I’m looking forward to testing the weapons and sensors to see how it fights.’
Wildcat is replacing the long-serving Lynx, with one helicopter already six months into its first front-line deployment with the Portsmouth-based HMS Lancaster, patrolling the Atlantic.
But despite four years of extensive trials to ready the aircraft for operations, it has never been tested in the extreme heat of the Gulf.
The large hangar and expansive flight deck of HMS Duncan, which is escorting USS Theodore Roosevelt on operations against ISIS forces, meant the destroyer could continue normal duties with its Lynx helicopter alongside the Wildcat trials.
The specially-modified Wildcat, fitted with sensors and instruments to record how the engines, flight controls and tail rotor handled, was packed aboard an RAF C17 transporter and flown to Bahrain, hub of the Royal Navy’s operations in the Gulf before arriving on HMS Duncan.
As well as the aircraft there was an 18-strong team of aircrew, engineers, technicians and aviation experts.
HMS Duncan deployed from Portsmouth in March and is due to continue her deployment to the Middle East ensuring security and freedom of navigation in the region until the end the year