Gearhead News

May 18, 2021
Watch This Lynx Helicopter Land On A Crazy Mock Pitching Flight Deck

Putting a naval helicopter down safely onto the flight deck of a small warship, pitching and rolling, and at the mercy of atrocious weather, is certainly one of the more exacting skills required of military aircrew. This video shows a British-made Westland Lynx tackling a wildly gyrating flight deck mockup in a unique test scenario — and one that tells us a lot about the special capabilities of this diminutive maritime helicopter.

The footage almost certainly dates from the period after the first flight of the WG.13 prototype in March 1971 and before the initial-production Lynx HAS2 model entered service with the British Royal Navy in September 1976. In fact, the helicopter that we can see testing out the type’s deck-landing attributes could well be the first of the navalized prototypes, serial number XX469, which ended up being lost in an accident in November 1972. The three windows in the side door are certainly typical of the prototype batch.

TWITTER SCREENCAP
Rear-view of the Lynx clinging onto the dummy deck.

As for the location, that’s unclear, but it is likely the Westland (now Leonardo Helicopters) plant at Yeovil, in Somerset, southwest England. Details are also hard to find on the elaborate rig that was set up to replicate a deck, complete with actual pitch and yaw, and with its own wheeled undercarriage. However, it seems conceivable that the test rig was only ever employed as part of the Lynx test program.

As the video’s narrator explains, the naval Lynx incorporated a raft of features that made it ideal for small-deck operations. Instead of the landing skids found on the land-based variant, the helicopter had a tricycle undercarriage. The rotor system provided the pilot with rapid response to control inputs and plenty of control power, allowing the helicopter to be positioned exactly over the landing spot on the deck and then ensuring an accurate touchdown.

   

Once touched down, the pilot alighted the helicopter onto a grid on the appropriately equipped flight deck, before the Lynx’s ‘harpoon’ deck-lock system came into play. The grid, approximately six feet in diameter, and made of steel, featured roughly 2-inch diameter holes all over it.

The pilot selected a switch on the collective, which extended the harpoon hydraulically from below the helicopter’s belly and into the deck grid. Once it had made contact, the end of the harpoon opened out like a claw and grabbed onto the metal grid. Then the hydraulic ram reversed direction and pulled the Lynx securely down, effectively clamping it to the deck.

Thanks to the fully castored undercarriage legs, the helicopter could even rotate 360 degrees, as seen in the video, while still held securely to the deck. This was achieved by the pilot using the tail rotor to swing the aircraft left or right.

San Diego Air & Space Museum
Westland Lynx XX469 is likely the aircraft that was used in the trials.

Another useful feature allowed the pilot to select ‘sub-min collective pitch,’ a highly negative collective pitch that would force the aircraft onto the deck if the weather and pitch/roll of the deck were really bad. This wasn’t suitable for regular use as it put excessive stress on the rotor head. It could, however, be a lifesaver if the pilot missed the grid and the Lynx was at risk of rolling off the deck entirely.

When it was time for takeoff, the pilot selected the same switch on the collective to disengage the harpoon before completing a standard departure. Thanks to the castoring undercarriage arrangement, the helicopter could also be rotated into the wind for takeoff, rather than having to have the ship change course.

U.S. Navy/Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Peter J. Carney
A much-upgraded Lynx HMA8 aboard the frigate HMS Grafton in the Persian Gulf in 2005. The grid for the harpoon deck-lock is visible directly below the helicopter. 

Time and again, the Lynx’s harpoon system proved its worth, especially for the Cold War Royal Navy that operated small-deck warships in the rough seas of the North Atlantic and the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom (GIUK) Gap. When committed to action in the Falklands War in 1982, the Lynx again proved highly dependable, successfully engaging Argentine ships and submarines with anti-ship missiles and delivering troops and supplies. According to some accounts, when HMS Coventry was sunk, a Lynx remained firmly attached to the flight deck even after the warship had fully capsized.

A Royal Danish Air Force Lynx landing on the deck in rough seas:

In Royal Navy hands, the last of the Lynx fleet was retired in 2017, but the type survives with several operators, some of which continue to upgrade the type for continued service. The Lynx’s successor in the Royal Navy is the much-improved Wildcat, which retains much of the DNA of the original. That includes the harpoon deck-lock, which ensures that successive generations of naval aviators can be confident in recovering on warship decks even in the most challenging environments.

Contact the author: thomas@thedrive.com

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