The first of 16 Royal Norwegian Air Force (RoNAF) AW101 helicopters has completed its maiden flight at Yeovil, UK.

The launch of the flight tests will be followed by the start of deliveries to the Ministry of Justice and Public Security Norwegian in 2017.

Deliveries under the contract are expected to be completed by 2020.

Norwegian Minister of Justice and Public Security Anders Anundsen said: "I am very pleased that Finmeccanica has reached this important milestone in the SAR helicopter project and thereby making good progress for the replacement of the aging Sea King helicopter with the new state-of-the-art AW101 by 2020.

"I would furthermore like to bring my sincere gratitude to the dedicated and hardworking team at the company who have made this first flight possible in time."

"I am very pleased that Finmeccanica has reached this important milestone in the SAR helicopter project."

The development is part of the £1bn contract awarded to the company in December 2013, covering the provision for supply of 16 AW101 helicopters along with support and training, and also includes an option for six additional aircraft.

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The Norwegian helicopter will feature an advanced SAR equipment package, including a multi-panel active electronically scanned array (AESA) surveillance radar system that provides 360° coverage, four-axis digital automatic flight control system (AFCS), two rescue hoists, searchlight, electro optical device, and a fully integrated avionics and mission system.

Under the contract, the company will deliver 15-year turnkey support solution, comprising spares and technical support and training services, with an option for extension for an additional five years.

Additionally, the company will provide initial support and training services, including spares at each of the operating bases and aircrew training using a full flight simulator, followed by performance-based logistic support for the fleet.

Image: The Norwegian helicopter. Photo: © 2016 – Finmeccanica SpA.