Royal Navy Merlin Mk.4 helicopter makes debut on HMS Medway

The Royal Navy’s largest helicopter has debuted on its global patrol ships for the first time, during three days of intensive training in the Caribbean.
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Royal Navy Merlin Mk4 helicopter makes debut on HMS Medway 925 002 Merlin Mk.4 (Picture source: Royal Navy)

Commando-carrying Merlin Mk.4s touched down on HMS Medway during a concerted period of aviation training for the new patrol ship in preparation for the imminent hurricane season. Medway is currently working side-by-side with support ship RFA Argus which has been deployed to the Caribbean to provide vital aid and assistance to British – and other – citizens in the region should their islands be hit by a severe tropical storm.

Embarked on Argus are specialist Royal Marines and soldiers, equipment and aid, plus one Wildcat and three Merlin helicopters to move personnel and kit around any disaster zone.

There’s no helicopter assigned to HMS Medway, but there is a flight deck, allowing the ship to serve as a ‘lily pad’ – hosting helicopters temporarily, refuelling them, giving crews a break, transferring personnel and equipment. The ship is the second of five River-class patrol ships built for long-term operations around the globe, deploying from the UK for years on end and operating from overseas ports and bases under the Royal Navy’s growing Forward Presence programme. To date the four ships in Royal Navy hands have worked exclusively with the smaller, nimble Wildcat.

Merlin is more than twice the weight, can carry 16 commandos/troops, casualties on stretchers and substantial loads both in the back of the cab and slung beneath the 14-tonne helicopter in huge net sacks.

As well as landing Merlin and Wildcat, Medway conducted ‘vertical replenishment’ drills – transferring loads between the ship and Argus – and also practiced the response of the bridge and flight deck teams to helicopter emergencies in what was a hugely successful three days of flying

The Merlin of the British Navy is medium lift helicopter variant of the EH101 helicopter developed by AgustaWestland (formerly EH Industries). The Merlin Mk4 is a faster, more powerful version of the Merlin Mk3 optimized for ship operations with automatic main rotor blade folding and tail fold, an uprated undercarriage and enhanced cabin safety features.

HMS Medway is a River-class offshore patrol vessel. Along with her sister vessels, she was designed for counter-piracy, anti-smuggling, fishery protection, border patrol, counter terrorism and maritime defence duties.

The first steel was cut on HMS Medway in June 2015, at a ceremony in Glasgow. HMS Medway was formally named at BAE's Scotstoun yard on the Clyde by Lady Fallon, wife of Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon and sponsor of Medway throughout her active life, on 20 October 2017.