PICTURE: Flight testing begins on uprated Puma HC2

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Test and evaluation flights using the first Royal Air Force Eurocopter Puma in the upgraded HC2 configuration have begun at Qinetiq's Boscombe Down, Wiltshire facility.

Undertaken by the service's Rotary Wing and Test Evaluation Squadron, appraisal activity began on 20 January using aircraft XW216.

Pictured on the UK Ministry of Defence's Salisbury Plain training area, the transport helicopter is the first of 22 aircraft to undergo the HC2 upgrade as part of the type's Puma Life Extension Programme at Eurocopter's facility in Braşov, Romania.

raf puma hc2 c rickingham

 Rick Ingham 

Aircrew from the RAF's 33 and 230 squadrons who formerly operated the HC1 variant have been assigned to other duties since the Puma flew its final sortie on 14 December 2012.

Conversion courses for the enhanced model, which features glass cockpit avionics and uprated engines, will begin "in the spring".

The MoD is aiming to release the aircraft to service in May, it says.

Meanwhile, officials from the MoD and Eurocopter have developed a charter aimed at improving the relationship between the airframer and its customer. Key themes include a focus on delivery, personal ownership and collective effort, says the MoD.