QinetiQ, in a partnership with the MOD’s Joint Test and Evaluation Group (known as ATEC – Aircraft Test & Evaluation Centre), has successfully completed a 12-month, £5.25m Carson blades project to increase the capability of the Royal Navy Sea King HC Mk 4 helicopter. The work, carried out for the Sea King Integrated Project Team (SK IPT) in support of an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR), now enables the Sea King HC Mk 4 to be deployed in support of Operation HERIC in Afghanistan – providing much needed capability. The main rotor blades on the aircraft have been replaced by modified Carson composite blades (produced by Carson Helicopter inc) and the tail rotor was replaced by an AgustaWestland 5‑bladed tail rotor system. A rigorous and intensive series of performance evaluation and flight testing was then conducted by ATEC using a QinetiQ-owned Sea King test aircraft. These confirmed initial predictions that the new system generates up to 2000lb increase in maximum hover mass at high altitude plus enable a significant increase in the maximum forward speed.
Carson blades first came to the MOD’s attention six years ago during a Sea King maintenance symposium and the SK IPT was keen to investigate the technology further, but funding and other operational commitments did not immediately allow the idea to be developed. Some time later however, the MOD had to look at extending the life and capability of its current medium lift Sea King and Puma helicopters. Funding was made available to investigate Carson’s claims of increased performance and QinetiQ was tasked with conducting a feasibility study. The results confirmed that Carson blades were indeed a cost effective upgrade that delivered real performance improvements, so the MOD moved to bring them into service quickly for use in operational theatres.
The project was formally declared as an UOR on the 21st December 2006 and the SK IPT immediately selected QinetiQ to act as the prime contractor responsible for integrating both modifications. The demanding trials programme developed by QinetiQ focused on delivering specific capability enhancements in a staged release and due to the extremely tight timescales QinetiQ used one of its own Sea King trials aircraft for the test programme. This aircraft (XZ575) was extensively instrumented in a short timeframe and deployed via RAF C17 to Gunnisan, Colorado in the USA for an exhaustive flight test programme that maximised the ‘hot and high’ conditions at the trials site. Both Carson Helicopters and AgustaWestland, supported QinetiQ and ATEC throughout and both phases of the service modification and all supporting documentation were delivered on 10th October 2007.
“Within the MOD, the Carson blades programme is recognised as being demanding with regard to the short timescales involved and there has been a lot of admiration for the way that QinetiQ has tackled the programme and the amount of hours and effort that have been put in,” commented Lt Cdr Dave Maude from the SK IPT. “Looking from the outside, the amount of work that individuals have put in and their dedication is incredible.”
Lt Cdr Maude went on to praise the work of the design instrumentation and manufacture team and squadron engineering. When asked about QinetiQ’s working relationship with other organisations involved in the programme, he stated: “QinetiQ has attained a good working relationship with AgustaWestland and also with the SK IPT, the Combined Helicopter Force (CHF) and Joint Helicopter Command (JHC), who have been involved in all aspects of the programme.”
The delivery of the service modification was made just in time to allow 846 Naval Air Squadron to conduct operational training in Cyprus with the newly modified aircraft. At a briefing given to the SK IPT, CINCFLEET, JHC and CHF shortly after the Cyprus deployment Cdr Mario Carretta (CO 846 NAS) confirmed hover performance was found to have increased by 2000lb and a forward speed increase of up to 49 knots had been demonstrated. Cdr Carretta concluded by stating that “846 NAS was eager to deploy the new capability.”
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