July 2021

AW101 Merlin Crowsnest

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AW 101 Merlin HM.2 - Crowsnest

820 Sqn, HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH, Carrier Strike Group 21, 2021

Italeri, with scratch conversion, kit and Model Art markings.

© Crown Copyright  2021 MOD Picture.

To provide the RN’s new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers with over- the-horizon (OTH) radar capabilities, a team from Lockheed Martin UK, Thales UK and Leonardo have produced a role-fit AEW/ASACs radar, using Thales Searchwater radar sets removed from the Sea King ASACs.7, but now fitted to the RN’s existing AW 101 Merlin HM.2 helicopters and integrated with the HM.2’s Thales Cerberus mission system.   

This low cost option has provided the new carriers with a potent airborne surveillance capability based on familiar and proven technology.

Although the original proposals included permanent fits, possibly to new AW101 aircraft, the kit that was eventually procured is intended as a temporary “Role Fit”, that can be installed or removed from the helicopters as required.  As might have been expected, the installation of used equipment into used airframes has proved more difficult and slower than anticipated.   Nevertheless, 3 pre-production sets have now deployed with Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG-21), embarked in HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH for a global deployment. .

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Converting the Italeri EH101 Merlin kit:

My basis for this conversion is an older Italeri EH101 Merlin HAS.1 kit that I built back in 2001.  It was looking a little tatty, I always intend to build a newer one, since the initial Italeri issue is missing some critical items that are available in the Revell and later Italeri HM.1 issues (such as weapons pylons and a winch). Since the new Crowsnest installation is a critical part of the RN’s new Carrier Strike capability it had to be added to my collection.  The new Searchwater radome comes from a Revell Sea King kit, intended for an AEW.3 Sea King. The rest is scratch built, including a few airframe mods to reflect a more up to date Merlin HM.2.   

The radome baseplate and hinge are scratch built from sprue and plastic card.  I had hoped to keep this as a removable fit, but it quickly became apparent that this would not work.  

A hinge made from copper wire does allow it to move up and down into flight or landing positions for demonstration purposes;  on the real thing it cannot be lowered on the ground and my open cabin door precludes me modelling it in flight!

Apart from the new radome, I have added laser warning sensors on the nose, the radio antenna on the lower aft starboard fuselage and the black CPI antenna on the aft starboard fuselage.  New decals for the Royal Navy titles and the serial come from the Model Art Merlin set, plus a few miscellaneous markings - the original Italeri kit has spurious markings (the serial is that of one of the development aircraft that crashed near Exeter - amazingly all crew were able to bail out) and oversized titles.  ZH846 is an ex 829 Sqn aircraft that has now been modified and is deployed with 820 Sqn on CSG-21.  I needed to repaint some parts of the airframe, and my newer Medium Sea Grey  paint is a very different colour from that I used in 2001 (which has also yellowed slightly) ; however I can get away with the resulting patchy finish as the real things have never been completely repainted and are similarly patchy!

The new Radome attachment.  This proved to be a somewhat more complex installation than I thought, but fortunately the MOD provides some very nice pictures!

Above and right © Crown Copyright  2021 MOD Pictures - fitting the kit at RNAS Culdrose.

The 3 Crowsnest aircraft embark in HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH at Portsmouth Naval Base  © Crown Copyright  2021 MOD Picture.

Background - HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH departs Portsmouth at night © Crown Copyright  2021 MOD Picture.

The 3 Crowsnest aircraft embark in HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH at Portsmouth Naval Base  © Crown Copyright  2021 MOD Picture.

A Crowsnest Merlin in flight © Crown Copyright  2021 MOD Picture.