Merlin magic for RAF

RAF Benson in south Oxfordshire is the base for a new squadron of Merlin helicopters acquired from Denmark, the first six of which were unveiled yesterday by defence minister Lord Drayson.

The MoD announced in March 2007 that it was buying six additional Merlin helicopters from Denmark at a cost of £175m in order to deliver a rapid increase in helicopters for operations.

The six helicopters have been delivered to the UK and are being upgraded to RAF standards at Yeovil-based Augusta Westland in order to integrate them into the RAF fleet early next year. They will be modified for operations and will have the latest generation of advanced rotor blades fitted to enhance their speed, range and lift.

Lord Drayson said: ‘Battlefield support helicopters are a vital capability for military commanders. I am committed to making sure we deliver the equipment our armed forces need, and these new helicopters will increase the Merlin fleet by a quarter. By acquiring these helicopters from Denmark we have been able to speed up the delivery of extra helicopter capability, which will allow commanders more choices at their disposal when they plan for operations.

‘I am also very pleased to announce that 78 Squadron is being established at RAF Benson to operate these helicopters. RAF Benson already operates the RAF’s existing Merlin fleet and the new squadron will add to the capability at the base.’