The AW159 Wildcat spotted while conducting high altitude tests with a load of 20 Martlet missiles.
After completing a testing campaign in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea recently, the Royal Navy’s AW159 helicopter moved to northeastern Italy, where it is involved, since Oct. 19, 2022, in additional testing on the Altopiano di Asiago, a vast plateau located in the Northern part of the province of Vicenza. With an elevation of 3,409 feet, Asiago airport is the highest in Italy.
As happened during the trials aboard RFA Argus, the Italian campaign saw the specially instrumented Wildcat ZZ513 fly in pretty heavy configurations: for instance, between Oct. 26-27, 2022, our contributor Claudio Tramontin saw the AW159 operate from Asiago with a full array of 20 Martlet missiles.
As explained in our recent article, the short-range Martlet missile, also known as the Lightweight Multirole Missile, is an air-to-surface and surface-to-surface supersonic missile for use against small surface vessels. The Wildcat can fly with up to 20 Martlet missiles, as each of them only weighs 13 kg (but can still provide an engagement range of more than 6 km). This weapon offers a unique capability to defeat asymmetrical and terrorist threats in the littoral environment. The first successful test firing of Martlet was carried out during the maiden deployment of the Carrier Strike Group, last year and, currently, the Royal Navy is exploring the full flight envelope of the aircraft when flying with the missiles on the “weapon wings”, that affect the overall handling of the helicopter.
“This AW159 is performing performance tests in an area considered ideal for altitude capacity testing. Years ago we did the same for the AW101,” told us a Leonardo Helicopter spokesperson. “The activity in Italy is part of an increase in capacity as the aircraft becomes ready to expand the mission scope and operating environment.”
The images in this post show the Wildcat flying in symmetrical weapon load configuration. It’s not clear whether it will carry out testing in asymmetrical configuration as done at sea.