AW149: Meet the helicopter that could replace the military's Puma fleet

Watch: Is this the military's next medium helicopter?

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) is looking to replace the Puma helicopter, with four companies shortlisted to manufacture the replacement.

As well as replacing the Puma, the new helicopter is expected to be able to incorporate three existing helicopter requirements into one platform-type.

One of the four finalists is the AW149 helicopter, built by Leonardo.

The helicopter already exists, so it does not need to be built from scratch and was designed and built with the military in mind.

It can transport 19 troops, despite being smaller than a Puma, has a maximum range of 517 nautical miles and can carry a useful load of 3,800kg – with an underslung load of 2,800kg.

The footprint of the aircraft, considering its capabilities, is small, allowing it to get troops in and out of areas that a larger aircraft, like a Chinook, could not.

Watch: Take a tour of the Leonardo AW149, the MOD-shortlisted helicopter.

Complete with a number of autonomous features, such as hover mode, and software to help it navigate through difficult terrain, the medium helicopter, built from start to finish in Yeovil, Somerset, can also be airborne in less than two minutes.

It is vital for the Puma's replacement to be able to react quickly in hostile scenarios, which is why the AW149 comes with systems allowing it to operate in temperatures ranging from -44° to 55° Celsius.

Alongside all of the new tech incorporated into the AW149, it was designed with the military in mind, seeing huge developments in the survivability of the aircraft and anyone in it.

Firstly, it has ballistic tolerant rotor blades.

Leonardo Helicopters found the blades, after being hit with 12.7mm rounds, were fine after 90 minutes of flying.

It was also found that the aircraft could fly for 50 minutes, roughly 100 nautical miles, with no gearbox lubrication – a massive increase from the pre-existing 20 minutes.

But one of the most impressive, and life-saving, elements of the AW149 is its infrared suppression system.

Watch: Crewless Black Hawk helicopter flies at 115mph.

Designed with a US company, the system sees the infrared signature of the aircraft reduced by 75% – massively important as it makes the aircraft much harder to hit with infrared missiles.

If selected by the MOD, the AW149 can also be fitted with a number of crew-served weapons.

This includes machine-guns fitted behind the cockpit, allowing personnel to get on or off the aircraft uninhibited while getting protective fire cover from the helicopter.

The other options the MOD is presented with were submitted by Boeing, Airbus and Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed Martin says it believes the latest-generation Black Hawk, a helicopter designed from the outset for use by military operators, would be an ideal solution for the new medium helicopter. 

The company cited its flying range, powerful engines and its uncrewed autonomous flying developments as just a few of its strengths.  

Airbus is putting forward its H175M aircraft, stating it is a modern, versatile and high-performing helicopter.

It can carry an underslung load of 2.7 tonnes, has up to 16 troop seats with a dual winch system so personnel can fast rope from either side and has a 600-mile range.

Boeing is also putting forward a helicopter, but said in a statement that while it is exploring producing a new helicopter for the MOD, it is not "sharing specific details about our involvement at this time".

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