More than a quarter century ago, an unproven helicopter went to war. Its service introduction had come barely five years earlier, and the nimble naval rotorcraft had to prove its sea legs in arduous conditions far from home, with minimal support. Flying from the decks of combat vessels, air crews stayed in the air almost constantly. Armed with torpedoes or anti-ship missiles, they proved their deterrent value by successfully defending a naval invasion force from attacks by surface ships and submarines.
Helicopter heroics that garnered mention in dispatches could not, however, insulate the attacking fleet from jet-aircraft-launched missile attacks, and three of the little rotorcraft went down with ships sunk in the conflict in the Falklands. Less than a decade later, upgraded naval helicopters of the same type raised hell in the Persian Gulf War when they engaged armed Iraqi oil platforms, ships and patrol boats, sinking or damaging many with anti-ship missiles while flying missions with Coalition Forces. These helicopter attacks helped to neutralize the Iraqi Navy, destroying almost every vessel that ventured away from their ports.
Just a few years later, an African rebel group captured seven soldiers and threatened to kill them unless government authorities made unreasonable concessions. On a late summer dawn, commandos swooped into the partisan camp, killing or capturing dozens of thugs and rescuing the hostages. Thanks in large part to the close air support firepower from the Army version of the same helicopter, the raiders destroyed the rebel organization and escaped with the loss of only one team member.
Most recently, for five years during Operation Iraqi Freedom, both Army and Navy variants of this now-veteran rotorcraft, equipped with sand filters and additional avionics, have flown numerous combat missions, proving yet again that they are formidable platforms capable of battle dominance. This outstanding service has exacted a price, however. In 2006, insurgent ground fire brought down a naval rotorcraft, killing the five-member crew. This was that service’s first and only helicopter loss in the war in Iraq. In these same years, the little craft has conducted numerous peace-keeping missions and operations other than war in support of deployed army and naval forces around the globe.
These distinctive actions are probably unfamiliar to American aviation buffs, most of whom naturally assume they involve U.S. military rotorcraft. On a global scale, however, several helicopters have earned recognition as world-class platforms on par with home grown rotorcraft in similar categories, even if they’re not well known in the U.S. In fact, every mission noted here involved the Agusta/Westland Lynx.
The Lynx clearly has established a strong reputation for outstanding performance as a multi-mission combat helicopter since its introduction nearly 40 years ago. The helicopter grew out of an Anglo-French accord in 1967 to co-produce and sell military helicopters that led to such designs as the Aerospatiale (later Eurocopter) Gazelle light utility rotorcraft and the Puma utility transport. Both of these rotorcraft have seen extensive French and British military service. Under the agreement, both nations were also slated to produce a joint combat and utility helicopter design for French and British army and naval aviation, but the French purchased just a handful for their Aeronavale, leaving Westland to develop the Lynx series largely on its own. Larger companies later acquired Westland, lastly Italy’s Finmeccanica, which merged the firm with its subsidiary Agusta to form the current business.
First flown in 1971 as the WG.13, the design incorporated the features of a utility helicopter, with side by side seats for pilot and co-pilot in the cockpit and sliding doors on both sides for passengers. Westland originally intended the rotorcraft for both civil and military use, but a commercial variant sold poorly. Counting prototypes and all variants, the company has produced well more than 400 Lynxes, about half the for British military and naval forces and the rest for nearly 20 other nations.
The rotorcraft’s success derives in part from its size and configuration. With an original empty weight of about 7,300 lbs. (slightly higher in later models), the Lynx falls midway between the Bell UH-1 Huey (about 5,200 lbs) and the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk (around 10,600 lbs.). Its propulsion power also is in between the U.S. helicopters. The Huey flies on a single turboshaft engine with about 1,100 horsepower, and the Black Hawk uses two engines with combined output of about 3,600 shaft horsepower. The Lynx’s two Rolls Royce engines generate about 2,250 shp. The Lynx also shares a four-bladed main rotor system with the UH-60, giving it plenty of lift, a 2,480 ft/min rate of climb and very nimble controls.
This combination of versatile size, reasonable weight and strong power give the Lynx unusual versatility and prowess, much like the Predator whose name it borrows. Shortly after its development, for example, test craft began setting rotary wing speed records, culminating with a 1986 flight that reached 249.09 mph (400.55 kmh) with experimental rotor blades, a modified tail plane and rerouted exhaust from LHTEC gas turbine engines to assist with forward thrust.
The Lynx’s speed advantage was a selling point from the start, along with its exceptionally robust agility and maneuverability, and Westland successfully marketed the rotorcraft. First to the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm for both anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare with first deliveries in 1976. Second to the British Army Air Corps in both attack and light utility and transport roles with deliveries under way the following year.
The Army’s version, designated AH Mk1, saw first service as a utility rotorcraft, handling tactical troop and materiel transport and casualty evacuation. With two pilots and a crew chief, the cabin can hold nine fully equipped troops or six litters in MEDIVAC configuration. With seats removed, the rotorcraft can lift up to a ton of internal cargo. Sling load capacity is 3,000 pounds.
The Air Corps quickly expanded the mission profile with the addition of two hard points that can accommodate up to eight BGM-71 TOW, HOT or AGM-114 Hellfire missile mounts for anti-tank warfare, or two 20mm cannon, rocket or 7.62mm minigun pods to handle surface strike, combat scout and escort duties. In addition, the cabin contains machine gun pintle mounts to suppress ground fire in transport missions. For special operations, the Lynx can operate with four fast ropes, and it can carry a rescue hoist for personnel recovery while in hover.
In later years, the Army upgraded its fleet to AH Mk7 and Mk9 standards. The most apparent difference between the two models is the landing gear. The Mk 7 uses conventional skids, and the Mk 9 has fixed tricycle gear with a steerable dual nose wheel. Both aircraft contain improved avionics. The navigation system includes Doppler radar, a radar altimeter, automatic direction finder, gyro compass, DME (Distance Measuring Equipment), VOR/ILS (VHF Omni-directional Rangefinder and Instrument Landing System), and a TACAN (Tactical Air Navigation system). The suite also includes an AFCS (automatic flight control system) and an automatic stabilizer. Electronic warfare capabilities combine an IEWS (Information and Electronic Warfare System), infrared jamming system installed under the tail boom and a radar warning receiver. When armed with TOW missiles, the Lynx uses a roof-mounted sight. Additional avionics and countermeasures improvements are in the works, and the entire inventory may convert to tricycle landing gear in the future.
The Air Corps flies AH Mk 7s as armed reconnaissance helicopters with its WAH-64 Apache attack platforms, much as U.S. Army OH-58D Kiowa Warriors accompany AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters in combat. About four out of five Lynxes in the Army’s fleet are Mk 7s. Mk 9s, which feature composite rotor blades and a larger takeoff weight in the absence of weapon hard points, serving mainly as transports or in an airborne command and control role.
The Lynx At Sea
The Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm operated about 100 HAS (for Helicopter Anti-Submarine) Mk 2 and Mk 3 Lynxes, equipped for anti-submarine or anti-surface warfare. For ASW, the rotorcraft carries a dipping sonar to detect underwater targets and two torpedoes or depth charges. Configured for ASuW, the helicopter’s hard points mount four Sea Skua semi-active, all-weather, radar guided anti-ship missiles, the weapon that hammered the Iraqi Navy, guided with the Seaspray radar systems. Range is about 12 nautical miles. Lynxes in French service carry AS-12 missiles. Mk 3 armament is the same, but avionics and communications systems are more capable. The HMA Mk 8 embodies more recent Royal Navy upgrades for its maritime attack helicopter fleet. A small number of earlier marks have conducted Antarctic research support and other special missions.
For export, Agusta/Westland produces the Super Lynx, also known as the Battlefield Lynx. Similar in most respects to the AH Mk 9, Super Lynxes feature tricycle landing gear. With power from two Rolls-Royce Gem Mk 42 turbines, the rotorcraft remains fast and agile, and its cockpit instrumentation facilitates nap-of-the-earth flight for special operations. The company has designated various marks for each country that has procured the helicopter, and in some cases, has upgraded aircraft from original configurations with additional marks. More than 200 Lynxes operate with more than a dozen navies worldwide, including the British and French fleets.
The most advanced export version, the Super Lynx 300, first entered service with the Malaysian Navy in 2003 after its first flight two years earlier, and most recently, the same model began South African service in February 2008. The 300 features an integrated glass cockpit with advanced avionics and sensor systems, stronger airframe and more powerful LHTEC engines, developed by Rolls-Royce and Honeywell, with FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control), that facilitates operation in high-hot conditions.
Future Roles For The Cat
The Lynx’s future also appears secure. The UK’s Ministry of Defence established a developmental program in 2006 for the Future Lynx, now known as the Wildcat, that will improve on the Super Lynx 300. The new rotorcraft will grow in capability, expanding its maximum takeoff weight to 13,770 lbs., and use a new digital cockpit with a laser target designator and infrared suppression system on Army versions. The Wildcat will meet the Army’s Battlefield Reconnaissance Helicopter requirement with 40 rotorcraft, and the Royal Navy’s Surface Combatant Maritime Rotorcraft plan calls for 30 more. Both variants share a common marinized airframe with a new four-bladed tail rotor, a symmetrical tail plane and larger, stronger fuselage components. Production on the helicopter began in October 2007, with critical design review in the spring of 2008 and first flight slated for 2009. The schedule calls for initial deliveries in 2011, with operational service to start in 2013.
Whatever the name it adopts in the future, the Lynx promises to serve for several more decades as a mainstay of military helicopter fleets in Europe and around the world. The rotorcraft has the demonstrated capacity to incorporate new technical advances as they arise, and its performance characteristics will enable it to remain what it has been since the 1970s—one capable cat.
More than a quarter century ago, an unproven helicopter went to war. Its service introduction…
by Eric Poole / Jan 16, 2009