Merlin works its magic

Thierry Domin
First published May 5, 2003

Apr. 24, a British Royal Air Force (RAF) Merlin helicopter made multiple flights into downtown Sarajevo. The aim of the mission was to transport air conditioning devices from Sarajevo Airport to the roof of the Unitic Towers (formerly known as Unis Towers) as part of the ongoing reconstruction work being carried out there. It took three hours and 35 minutes.

The EH 101 Merlin MK3 was built in the late 80's. It is 19.50 metres long (22.80 with the rotor), 5.20 high and 4.50 width. It is able to carry up an external load up to 4.5 tons. It is used in Italy's and UK's Navy and Air Force, under several models.

Sarajevo - The helicopter carried four sling loads in four separate trips. Since the weight of the first two loads was important, the helicopter flew at the beginning with very little aviation fuel and was obliged to fill up twice, after the first and the second rotation.

External load up to 4.5 tons
"There were four flights, and each box airlifted by this helicopter weighed no less than two tons. The air conditioners will be assembled now," said Mirsad Kurtovic, Unitic General Director.
The helicopter and crew for this mission were from the Royal Air Force and are based in Banja Luka. The packers on the ground came from Banja Luka and Mrkonjic Grad.

According to UK Squadron Leader Paul Bartlett, pilot, "First of all, we were asked to see whether the Merlin was capable of lifting the air conditioning units onto the building.We conducted a reconnaissance and determined that it was possible to do. It is the largest sling load I've ever lifted. It required more planning and co-ordination than usual to ensure the task was completed safely."
The weather itself wasn't great, fairly low cloud and mist, but it was certainly well within limits to achieve the task.

A team's job
UK Flight Lt. Peter Appleby was the Air load-master for the operation. He explained: "From my point of view, the most challenging part is bringing the load in sufficiently high above the building such that you don't hit the building, yet low enough so that the pilot has a visual point of reference to hover."
"It took some fairly able fine-positioning co-ordinated by the air load master in the back to talk me onto the exact position, and a ground party of four using positioning ropes to make sure the load was orientated correctly over it," underlined Bartlett.
"It was a very challenging and worthwhile task that also provided extra training value for all involved. I wouldn't say there was any difficulty for the crew because it was a standard load, nevertheless quite heavy for the aircraft," explained Appleby.

But, "because the maximum mass of the load, (the load plus the aircraft), there was a variable change increase - temperature, sea level, height of building etc. We were effectively operating at about 2000 feet above sea level in very hot temperatures, which put us close to our power. We took out any extra equipment such as seats to give us extra flexibility and power," he continued.
And Bartlett concluded: " It underline the UK's commitment to the SFOR mission by putting a new aircraft just at the start of its operational life into theatre."

Related links: UK
SFOR at Work

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Photo: Courtesy of 28 Sqd. Detachment

An unusual view over the roofs of Sarajevo.


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Photo: Courtesy of 28 Sqd. Detachment

Not a lot of room on the top of the Unitic Tower.


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Photo: Master Sgt. Timothy Haase

The Air load master is the eyes of the pilot for all happening under the chopper.


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Photo: Master Sgt. Timothy Haase

Accuracy, co-ordination and safety: quickly done, well done.


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Photo: Master Sgt. Timothy Haase

The team on the ground also played a capital role.