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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    started a topic Fleet Air Arm News

    Fleet Air Arm News

    New CO for 814 NAS

    It’s all change at the top for one of Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose’s leading frontline Merlin Squadrons.

    On 07 January 2014 Commander Stuart Finn assumed command of 814 Naval Air Squadron ‘The Flying Tigers,’ gratefully acceptingthe honour from his predecessor Commander Chris Stock. He takes over the reigns as the Sqn begins a busy year which will see their Merlin MK1’s replaced by Merlin MK 2.

    Coming from a Warfare background he has so far enjoyed a varied naval career including ‘Bridge Watch Keeping’, Navigating Officer duties as well as qualifying as a Ships Diver. Cdr Finn transferred to flying duties as a Royal Navy Observer and was streamed onto the Merlin Maritime Patrol Helicopter.

    Aviation appointments have included service on the Frigates HMS Cumberland, Chatham, Monmouth and the Destroyer HMS Exeter including service in Sierra Leone. He has also operated on the ‘Invincible class Aircraft Carrier’. During his time at Sea Cdr Finn has taken part in operations in the Mediterranean, Middle East and Far East as well as instructing new Aircrew in how to operate the aircraft. Having been directly involved in UK Enhanced Boarding Capability and conducted Counter Piracy Operations off the Somali coastline, he brings with him the essential experience to ensure 814 NAS continues to deliver Maritime Security Operations afloat.
    Cdr Stuart Finn has served previously at RNAS Culdrose on 820 NAS as the Senior Observer and Executive Officer. Prior to assuming Command of 814 NAS he was Executive Assistant to Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Aviation & Carriers) in Navy Command Headquarters in Portsmouth.

    On joining Cdr Stuart Finn said. ‘My initial focus for 2014 is to ensure we continue to support our long-standing commitment to Maritime Security Operations within the Gulf Region and assist our Coalition partner’s efforts in countering illegal activities on the high seas. As Merlin Helicopter Force transitions from Merlin MK1 to MK2 the intention is for 814 NAS to convert to MK2 toward the end of 2014. With the enhanced Operational Capability the MK2 will bring it proves to be an exciting time for my Command’.

  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    RN 'SAR King' Requires Rescue!

    A Royal Navy Sea King which has rescued many casualties from the Scottish highlands and islands had to be rescued itself after suffering a mechanical fault during a search on Ben Nevis.

    The search and rescue Sea King, call sign "Rescue 177" based at HMS Gannet at Prestwick Airport, had to be dismantled and placed on two lorries to be transported back to its base for repairs.

    The aircraft developed a fault while on a mission to airlift members of the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team to the CIC Hut on Ben Nevis who were searching for two climbers reported missing when they failed to return from a day out on the 4,409ft peak.

    Another Royal Navy helicopter, "Rescue 178", was brought in to complete the operation on Sunday. The two climbers were found safe and well walking out of Observatory Gully, totally unaware that they had been reported missing.

    Mountain rescue team leader John Stevenson said: “The demanding conditions when dropping off team members at the CIC Hut unfortunately caused a technical failure to Rescue 177. Thanks to some great airmanship, they were able to land at the team base in Glen Nevis safely.”

    A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “The helicopter was grounded due to a mechanical fault that occurred during the rescue on Sunday. “It is being transported by road to Prestwick, where it will be serviced and returned to service as soon as possible.” He added that HMS Gannet was able to continue to provide search and rescue cover while Rescue 177 was out of action using a back-up helicopter.

    It is understood that the rotor blades dipped sharply while the helicopter was landing in poor weather conditions, causing the outside of the blades to strike an air intake.

    The MoD spokesman added: “It is a rare occurrence. It is not unusual for them to have faults – all mechanical engines can develop faults – but we can normally get a road crew to repair the helicopter where it is. On this occasion, they were unable to do this. The only other time this has happened was in October 2013 when a helicopter developed a fault in Glencoe.”

    Photos of Rescue 177 being dismantled and loaded onto a truck at Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team base in Fort William prior to be 'roaded' to HMS Gannet:


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    Rotary Wing Aviation talk being given in Penarth, Wales

    Edward Oliver, a former Chief Petty Officer who spent 28 years in the Fleet Air Arm working as an engineer/technician, will be speaking about his Naval flying experiences at a meeting of the Penarth Aviation Society to be held at the Penarth Conservative Club on 9th January.

    A Westland Wasp from Edward's days at sea

    Edward's service in the Fleet Air Arm saw him aboard numerous ships including HMS Intrepid, Hydra and Hermes as well as expeditions to the Arctic and warmer climes.

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    Wings on the Hoof!

    A Royal Navy pilot from West Lothian has been awarded his Wings in the first ceremony of its kind in over 30 years.

    Lieutenant Barry Barkey (29) from West Calder, took part in a presentation with four fellow trainees.

    And the event took place while they were on active operation – the first time this has happened since the Falklands War.

    The five helicopter pilots, normally based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, were due to round off their intense training course on Royal Fleet Auxiliary aviation support ship RFA Argus.

    Lieutenant Barry Barkey receiving his wings

    However, at the last minute, the ship was redeployed to Sierra Leone by the Department for International Development (DfID) and the Ministry of Defence to help tackle the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

    With only a few weeks of training left, a decision was taken to send the five pilots with the ship and now that all are qualified they are expected to begin operational duties within days.

    Captain David Eagles, commanding officer of RFA Argus, described it as a “unique situation”, one that had not been witnessed in over 30 years.

    As a result a formal Wings parade was held on the ship’s flight deck attended by RFA, Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel with embarked members of the Royal Marines Band Service adding to the occasion.

    Captain Eagles said: “It was an absolute privilege to carry out this presentation on Argus. This training was scheduled to take place onboard but under very different circumstances and conditions. I believe that this is the first time since the Falklands War that we have carried out training en route to an operation, so this is a unique situation. The conditions out here are quite challenging so these five men, and the training team, have done remarkably well and I wish them every success in their future careers.”

    Lieutenant Barkey said: “Prior to deployment we all spent a lot of time training both in the air and in the helicopter simulators at Culdrose, but nothing beats flying in an operational environment. The night time deck landings en route to Sierra Leone were very challenging, however our training prepares us to be ready to react to whatever the day gives us.”

    RFA Argus sailed from Falmouth on October 17 to provide logistical support in the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone.

    Onboard are three Merlin Mk2 helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron that have begun working around the clock to provide rapid transportation for British medical teams and engineers as well as moving equipment and stores. The five new pilots will now begin flying operations in support of this mission.

    Commander Ross Spooner, Commanding Officer of 820 Naval Air Squadron said: “It was a rather surreal experience to host a Wings Parade on board a ship off the West coast of Africa instead of at Culdrose, but I must acknowledge the effort and challenges they overcame to receive their wings and thanks need to be given to the excellent training team that guided them every step of the way on this journey.Then there is the support of their families and friends back home who couldn’t be with us on the day of the parade but know the valuable role they will have to play here in Sierra Leone.”

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk

    Kingfishers Celebrate 10th Anniversary

    829 Naval Air Squadron "The Kingfishers" are celebrating their 10th anniversary since recommissioning as a squadron in 2004. But they are not waiting for a party to start with such a full programme ahead to keep them occupied.

    Over the past 10 years the squadron is known for being one of the busiest at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, they are continually on the move; whether at Sea, returning from Sea or preparing for Sea.

    The squadron provides helicopters for operations across the Globe on some of the Royal Navy’s Type-23 Frigates and Type 45 destroyers.

    They operate around a Flight system consisting of a Headquarters for continuation training & administration and six independent Flights. They each have a single Merlin helicopter with two pilots, an observer and an aircrewman for flying duties and seven engineers to maintain the aircraft.

    A Merlin Mk1 from 829 Naval Air Squadron, based at RNAS Culdrose, flies along the Cornish coastline

    Whilst Merlin’s primary role is Anti-Submarine Warfare the versatile aircraft often finds itself engaged in a wide variety of roles, reacting to tasking often at very short notice.

    Due to its size, speed and proven capability Merlin is also used in Maritime Security Operations. It is large enough to carry Royal Marines for sniper operations and boarding via fast roping, both which are vital to counter the threat of pirates. It is also fitted with a heavy machine gun as well as thermal imaging equipment and a variety of other sensors.

    "829 Squadron has a proud history of service on frigates and destroyers over the past decade" said Lieutenant Commander Philip Beacham, Commanding Officer 829 Naval Air Squadron, adding “A Royal Navy Ship along with its Merlin helicopter is a proven, potent and effective fighting force.”

    The 10th Anniversary also co-insides with the final flight for The Kingfishers last Merlin Mk 1, before being replaced by its updated brother and making the squadron fully Merlin Mk 2 equipped.

    “Operating from a pitching and rolling flight deck on the back of a Royal Navy ship somewhere in the North Atlantic can be very challenging,” said Lt Cdr Amy Gaunt, 05 Flight Commander who are attached to type 23 frigate HMS Westminster.

    “Being integral to the Ship’s Company and working closely with the Ship’s Ops room can be very rewarding and satisfying. The Merlin performs well on several levels. Soon 05 Flight will lose its Mk 1 for an upgraded Mk 2.

    "From the outside they look pretty much the same, apart from a few aerials and sensors, but a glimpse inside reveals a totally new world of awe!”

    The vastly upgraded avionics of Merlin Mk2 brings an awful lot to future operations whether sub-hunting or as was proven last year when an 829 NAS Merlin was deployed on Cougar 2013.

    Embarked with HMS Illustrious 01 Flight was reaching the final stages of its deployment, when they were re-tasked to support the UK efforts on Operation Patwin in the Philippines.

    Within hours of arriving in the area they were airborne carrying out reconnaissance flights over the Islands hit by Typhoon Haiyan. Assessing the devastation and deploying response teams to isolated villages, in some cases being the first to arrive.

    CO, Lt Cdr Phil Beacham added, “In some ways the loss of our last Mk 1 Merlin on 829 is a little sad, however, what it really denotes is the start of a really exiting and rewarding era for the Squadron and Merlin Force. 829 is an immensely capable Squadron and we relish the challenges and opportunities which Merlin Mk2 will allow us to fulfil in the future.”

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    HMS Argyll: The Drug Buster!

    HMS Argyll has seized cocaine worth at least £10 million from a yacht in the Caribbean - just 24 hours after helping in the aftermath of a hurricane (see post #40).

    HMS Argyll effortlessly switched from conducting relief duties in Bermuda, where she had been assisting authorities with damage caused by Hurricane Gonzalo,
    to patrolling against narcotics trafficking.

    While on patrol the crew of the ship’s Lynx helicopter spotted a 'suspicious' yacht in the Atlantic and alerted HMS Argyll which then intercepted the craft.

    The crew of HMS Argyll's Lynx helicopter spotted this yacht and reported their suspicions of possible narcotics trafficking

    A search by the US Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment, working from HMS Argyll, uncovered 10 bales of cocaine.

    10 bales of cocaine, with a street value exceeding £10m, were discovered aboard the Lynx-sighted yacht

    The drugs, which had a wholesale value of £10 million, were confiscated before the two crew members were taken into custody.

    Sailors from HMS Argyll carrying the seized drug bales following a successful counter narcotics operation​ by HMS Argyll (Faces have been blurred by the UK's MoD)

    Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: “This is yet another clear demonstration of the flexibility and versatility of the Royal Navy. “HMS Argyll and her crew are playing a key role in disrupting the drugs trade which blights the UK. The British people should be proud of the work that they undertake on our behalf.”

    The bust was HMS Argyll’s second in two months, having seized £21 million in cocaine in August.

    The Type 23 frigate, based in Plymouth, is operating as part of a 15-nation collaboration to deny criminal organisations access to regions of Central America.

    The focus of the collaboration is to prevent the illegal movement of drugs from South America to the western world.

    HMS Argyll

    HMS Argyll’s Commanding Officer, Commander Paul Hammond, said: “I am extremely proud of my ship’s company; we put in a significant effort to assist the citizens of Bermuda and to sail and immediately conduct a slick interception of a drug smuggling vessel demonstrates dedication and the utmost professionalism.”

    Able Seaman Specialist Alex “JR” Hartley added: “Life on board is hectic at the moment, I was involved in working ashore to help the locals in Bermuda after Hurricane Gonzalo and the next day I drove one of our boats out to intercept a yacht with drugs on it.

    “This is just typical of our deployment to be honest, life is challenging but rewarding onboard HMS Argyll right now.”​

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    Merlin Mk2 Trains with HMS St. Albans

    For the first time since emerging from a £25m revamp in her Portsmouth base, HMS St. Albans a Type 23 frigate, has been training with the Merlin Mk2.

    The helicopter joined the warship for three days of training off the south coast as the frigate readied herself to return to frontline duties after being out of action for a year.

    Beneath gloomy skies Petty Officer Nicole Mackie guides a Merlin Mk2 to the flight deck of HMS St Albans

    Commander Catherine Jordan, the commanding officer of HMS St Albans, and a former Lynx helicopter navigator and weapons specialist said: ‘It’s apt to have the upgraded Merlin on board what is now the most up to date Type 23 in the fleet. ‘As a former Lynx observer I understand the additional capability a helicopter and its team bring to a frigate. ‘The Merlin Mk2 is a very versatile aircraft keeping us at the forefront of tactical development.’

    The Royal Navy says the pairing represents the ultimate combination of submarine hunters, combining the warship’s upgrades with the technology of the new helicopter.

    Helping to ensure the 14-tonne helicopter touched down safely on the flight deck were PO Mackie and Engineering Technician (Weapon Engineering) Matt Briggs.

    ET Briggs normally looks after the ship’s hi-tech weapons and sensors but is also earning qualifications to become one of the flight deck team. He said: ‘Working with such a large aircraft was fantastic. ‘It only just fits on the flight deck and it is so powerful. ‘I have seen plenty of deck landings of the Lynx but this was just awesome.’

    Training with the helicopter began after HMS St Albans was involved in rescuing a stricken yachtsman in the Channel. Her ship’s company chanced upon the trimaran 18 miles south of Portland.

    Lieutenant Commander Lauren Hulston, the Merlin’s flight commander, said: ‘The time with St Albans has given the flight the opportunity to integrate with a Type 23. ‘I am very much looking forward to working up with HMS St Albans and delivering a potent war fighting capability with a very capable anti-submarine warfare frigate and Merlin Mk2 operating together.’​

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    Osprey Lands On HMS Bulwark During Exercise Cougar Voyage

    Royal Marines were carried into ‘battle’ by a new steed when they tried out the US Marine Corps’ stunning Osprey as Britain’s task group trained with the Americans and Kuwaitis in the Gulf.

    It was the first time for the tilt-rotor aircraft to set down on the deck of Britain’s flagship, HMS Bulwark, and which happened during Exercise Cougar Voyage as UK and US amphibious task forces linked up.

    A US Marine Corps V-22 Osprey lands on HMS Bulwark during Exercise Cougar Voyage

    Bulwark is heading the UK Response Force Task Group on its annual Cougar deployment involving 3 Commando Brigade, while USS Makin Island is the flagship of Amphibious Squadron 5 and the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

    Three times the size of HMS Bulwark, the 42,000-tonne Wasp-class assault ship is the home to a dozen Ospreys – the world’s first tilt-rotor aircraft, it can land, take off and hover like a helicopter, then can fly like a traditional propeller-driven aircraft at speeds over 300mph and heights above 25,000ft once airborne.

    Royal Marines board the Osprey during the exercise

    "It is an amazing aircraft and to be able to see it land on our flight deck for the first time was fantastic" said Naval Airman Brent Richardson.

    The unique aircraft has paid infrequent visits to Royal Navy aircraft carriers over the past decade – but never before to Bulwark, so its arrival drew a lot of attention from the ship’s company.

    “It is an amazing aircraft and to be able to see it land on our flight deck for the first time was fantastic,” said Naval Airman (Aircraft Handler) Brent Richardson.

    HMS Bulwark

    “The downwash from a Merlin helicopter is pretty strong but this was off the scale!”

    As part of the week-long ground, air and amphibious Cougar Voyage exercise, US Marines joined their Green Beret counterparts from the Royal Marines aboard support ship RFA Lyme Bay for combined training.

    “Cougar Voyage has been an ideal opportunity to demonstrate and practise the ability of our forces to work together and deliver training between us and our partners involved in the exercise,” said Royal Marine Lieutenant Colonel Martin Collin, deployed with HMS Bulwark as part of the staff of Commander UK Task Group.

    “Operating with unusual aircraft like the Osprey also enhances the capabilities of our task group.”

    Mid-exercise, Bulwark hosted some 150 students from Kuwait’s Mubarak al-Abdullah Joint Command and Staff College whilst at anchor off Kuwait City.

    Arriving by landing craft, the staff and students were able to witness a variety of amphibious demonstrations and listen to a series of briefings during their visit.

    “There is a traditionally strong relationship between the British and Kuwaiti Armed Forces so it is a real privilege for me to welcome our Kuwaiti colleagues on-board HMS Bulwark,” said the flagship’s Commanding Officer Captain Dean Bassett.

    “By exercising together and sharing our knowledge and experience afloat, our ability to work together in the future can only benefit as a result.”

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    Argyll's Lynx Involved in Post-Hurricane Recovery Ops

    A Lynx from HMS Argyll has been involved in post-hurricane recovery operations in the wake of Hurricane Gonzalo after it hit Bermuda.

    Video shows the departure and return of a Navy Lynx from the helideck of HMS Argyll while moored in Port Bermuda:

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    SAR King Pops In To Polwhele

    Polwhele House Preparatory School in Truro held a ‘People Who Help Us' day, on Friday 19thSeptember, as a chance for its Pre-Prep students to learn about members of the community who provide help to others.

    Visitors included the Royal Navy's Search and Rescue Sea King helicopter. Both the Pre-Prep and Prep pupils were able to explore and learn about the role of the helicopter and its crew when it landed on the school's tennis courts.

    Polwhele pupils Poppy and Jacob with Lieutenant Alex Stevenson

    Other guests included representatives from the RNLI, a local GP, a vet, a dentist and a Police Community Support Officer.

    Talks outlined the visitors' roles in the surrounding area and the way in which their jobs can have an impact on the lives of those within the community. There were many demonstrations from the speakers who showed their specialist equipment for the children to see and handle.

    Helen McCullough, Year 2 teacher at Polwhele House, arranged the day, saying: "It is fantastic that our pupils will get the chance to learn about the role of these community services through the ‘People Who Help Us' day, as it is really important that they are recognised and appreciated. We feel that even our very youngest children should be aware of the people in our community ‘who help us', as well as the services they might potentially encounter in our coastal community."

    Four out of the six visitors were parents of pupils at Polwhele House, meaning that the event was a real community effort, coming together for the benefit of the children.

    Other hosted events at the school include cake sales, parent cocktail evenings and school productions - the proceeds of which go to local charities such as South West Equine Protection, Truro Food Bank and Cornwall Air Ambulance.

    Alex McCullough, Headmaster of Polwhele House, was delighted with the event and was pleased to see pupils interacting with members of the community. He commented: "We want to connect with our local community in order to enhance our children's understanding of the world around them. We are keen to continue with events like the ‘People Who Help Us' day in order to strengthen this link.”

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    HMS Clyde Passes Flight Deck Inspections

    September and early October have been a busy five weeks for the smallest ship in the Royal Navy with a flight deck.

    September kicked off with a visit from the ‘Trappers’ – the Flag Officer Sea Training Aviation team, who provide the external assurance that HMS Clyde is safe to conduct aviation operations.

    The ship had her Aviation facilities inspected, routines checked and the worst case scenario of a crash on deck was put through a ‘Table Top Tactics’ exercise, before a full crash exercise scenario was run out on a September afternoon.

    A BIH S-61N prepares to land on HMS Clyde

    Two procedural flying exercises were then conducted, including night flying, giving Clyde the all important ‘Safe’ assessment.

    With the tests successfully passed, Clyde’s busy programme has seen her flight deck visited by British International helicopters who provide a lift-and-shift facility for military personnel and stores around the Falkland Islands.

    Clyde also saw frequent overflights by ‘Albert’ the RAF C130 Hercules that conducts Maritime Reconnaissance Patrols for Commander British Forces, and took part in exercises with a Lynx flight from HMS Iron Duke.

    One of Clyde’s most important capabilities to assist the Search and Rescue flight is that of Helicopter In Flight Refuelling (HIFR).

    The vessel can refuel an aircraft if it is too rough to land on deck. Clyde’s flight deck team can connect a fuel hose to the aircraft winch which is then winched and fitted into the fuelling point on the aircraft. The flight deck team then pumps fuel from the ship to the helicopter’s tanks without the aircraft setting down on the deck. This capability is practiced regularly and is of vital importance in poor weather conditions.​

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    One of the Royal Navy Merlins due to depart on the RFA Argus (see story above) for Sierra Leone was seen yesterday in Falmouth Bay practicing a hovering manoeuvre. The over-water sortie was filmed at sunset and with Pendennis Castle just visible in the background:

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    RFA Argus Off To Sierra Leone

    The Falmouth based hospital ship Royal Fleet Auxiliary Argus and three Merlin helicopters from RNAS Culdrose are being sent to West Africa to help deal with the Ebola outbreak.

    The RFA Argus hospital ship is soon to leave for Sierre Leone

    The RFA Argus is expected into Falmouth in the next couple of days to stock up with supplies before leaving for Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, and could be used to evacuate British casualties.

    She will be carrying 250 military personnel who will support the helicopters, aircrew and engineers and provide transport support to medical teams and aid experts.

    A Royal Navy Merlin prepares to take off from the RFA Argus. Three Merlins will be aboard the Argus for the West African operation

    The Prime Minister made the decision to send the Argus and helicopters after chairing a meeting of Cobra.

    The latest figures show 3,879 people have died in the West African epidemic. The vast majority of deaths have been in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where 879 have died.​

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    Culdrose Crew Honoured

    The crew of a search and rescue helicopter from RNAS Culdrose have received an award for bravery at a national awards ceremony hosted by the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society. It follows the rescue of five fishermen from a sinking French trawler off the Lizard coast last year.

    The crew from 771 Squadron are to be presented with the Edward and Maisie Lewis Award by the Society’s patron Princess Ann, The Princess Royal.

    The crew members are pilot Kapitänleutnant Steffen Volkwein (on exchange from the German Navy), co-pilot Lieutenant Paul Smalley, observer Lieutenant Commander Paul Robertson and aircrewman Petty Officer Mark Richardson.

    On November 3 last year, 2013, the crew took part in the gallant rescue of five fishermen from sinking French trawler Panamera. The boat began sinking in atrocious conditions, with high winds and in near complete darkness and with no visible horizon.

    Honoured: Steffen Volkwein, Mark Richardson, Paul Robertson and Paul Smalley​

    This was made worse by the failure of their aircraft’s floodlights and a language barrier between the French fishermen and the English speaking air crew.

    Despite these problems and with only seconds remaining before the boat sank, the crew managed to get all five fishermen safely to shore.

    Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society Chief Executive, Commodore Malcolm Williams, said: “This incident epitomises the unique mixture of leadership, teamwork, skill and bravery that enables these crews to effect such amazing rescues.

    “Despite technological advances, we still rely upon the bravery of rescue crews and individuals to help those in danger around our coast. We are proud to be able to reward the gallantry of those who risk their lives for the safety of others.”

    At the same awards ceremony, another member of 771 Squadron, Russell Adams was also to be presented with a commendation by the princess for his role in a separate rescue in February.

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    Admiral Zambellas Inspects Wildcat

    The First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir George Zambellas has taken his first flight in the Navy's latest helicopter over the Somerset skies.

    He was visiting Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, home of the Maritime version of the Wildcat helicopter, and home of the new Wildcat Training Centre, yesterday.

    First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, with Lieutenant Simon Wilson at RNAS Yeovilton on 3rd October 2014 after completing a flight in the Royal Navy's new AW159 Wildcat helicopter

    Sir George joined pilot Lieutenant Simon Wilson and Lieutenant Commander Mike Wingfield, observer, on a demonstration flight. The aircraft is, like its predecessor the Lynx, made by AgustaWestland just five miles away at Yeovil.

    After the sortie, the First Sea Lord said: "That was a fantastic experience. I've flown many hours in the Lynx and, while the airframe of the Wildcat looks like that of a Lynx; that is the end of the similarity. The Wildcat is our newest maritime helicopter and the capability advance offered to the Fleet is immense. I look forward to seeing 825 Squadron develop the full range of capabilities and deployment of the helicopter to front-line operations in early 2015."

    It is envisaged the Wildcat will provide the aerial eyes of the Royal Navy's frigates and destroyers for the next 25 years.​

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    New Heliport Planned for Devonport Naval Base

    Royal Navy officials are spending £4million on a new city helipad – after losing the one they used when Plymouth City Airport closed.

    Since the airport’s closure in 2011 Flag Officer Sea Training (FOST) has been forced to fly between Newquay Airport and HMS Raleigh in Torpoint.

    Defence chiefs say this has caused “significant complication” to training schedules, and could easily have effected the efficiency of the entire Royal Navy fleet.

    Now in a bid to save time and money, the Royal Navy has submitted plans for a new purpose-built site in Devonport Naval Base.

    A single-spot helipad, a passenger and staff facilities, a refuelling facility, and parking provisions are all included in the plan for Kinterbury Point.

    ​A Royal Navy Dauphin (operated by BIH) on FOST duties

    The site will be used by the Fleet Helicopter Support Unit (FHSU) which supports Operational Sea Training transporting personnel to, from and between ships at sea.

    “By providing helicopter landing and take-off facilities within easy reach of FOST HQ in Devonport, the service provided can be restored to its former standard,” it states in a report supporting the application.

    The report states that training chiefs at FOST are losing about 350 hours of the 1,500-hour working programme by simply transiting to HMS Raleigh twice a day.

    “This is clearly sub-optimal and an inefficient use of a valuable resource and clearly not sustainable in the medium to long term,” it adds.

    As well as replacing facilities previously available at Plymouth City Airport, the new site will also replace other helicopter landing facilities at Weston Mill Lake which closed in April 2012.

    “In the interim helicopters have, as a temporary measure, been using a pre-existing helicopter landing site at HMS Raleigh as a Forward Operating Base coupled with an aircraft maintenance facility that has been established at Newquay Airport,” the report goes on to say.

    “Flag Officer Sea Training (FOST) South is the lead for collective training for ships of the Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and many foreign navies.

    “Training takes place across a wide range of activities from basic sea training to full blown mission rehearsals to prepare ships and their crews for operations worldwide.

    “FOST South is an essential part of ensuring that the units deployed overseas for operations are ready to fight and win.”

    The report states that the “effective delivery” of FOST is a “fundamental building block upon” which the operational effectiveness of the Fleet is based.

    “Any erosion of the efficiency in how ships are prepared for their operational tasks directly effects the efficiency of the fleet,” it adds.

    Ecological concerns associated with the operation of FOST from HMS Raleigh due to its proximity to Special Protection Areas at St John’s Lake and the Tamar and Lynher Estuary Complex are also highlighted.

    Other sites at Ernesettle, Bull Point and Scraesdon Fort were also considered but Devonport Naval Base was selected.

    A spokesperson for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation said: “Should planning permission be granted, the project would be due to start on site early in 2015, with completion anticipated around August 2015.

    “The estimated cost is approximately £4million.”

    The spokesperson several buildings will need to be demolished to allow the scheme to take place, as well as a brick-built bunker.

    “Prior to submission of the planning application, an environmental assessment was carried out and English Heritage, which was consulted due to the presence of a Scheduled Ancient Monument nearby, has approved the plans,” the spokesperson added.

    On average, 60 flights a month will take off and land at the site.

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    Trio of Sea Kings Reach 45 Years Service

    In true Naval fashion a small glass has been raised at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in celebration of the remarkable careers of three of its legendry Sea King helicopters.

    The trio have each clocked up over 45 years of Fleet Air Arm service and were among the first batch to arrive on 700 (Sea King) Naval Air Squadron (700 (S) NAS at RNAS Culdrose in August 1969.

    Built by Westland Helicopters at Yeovil, these Sea Kings was originally designated Helicopter Anti-submarine Mk 1s (HAS Mk 1) and have morphed through several configurations over their long and distinguished careers. Two are now Sea King Mk 5s, XV 647, and XV 648 with 771 NAS for Search and Rescue duties and XV 649 has been modified into a Mk 7 ASaC, the Airborne Surveillance version of the Sea King. All three are still operational and still pulling their weight on the flight-line.

    XV648 landing trials on RFA Engadine

    700 (S) NAS with Lieutenant Commander Vic Sirett as Commanding Officer took delivery of six Sea King HAS 1s for trials and development. Each aircraft went on to achieve over400 hours flying in their primary Anti-submarine role in addition to load lifting, Search & Rescue, deck landings, troop carrying and the use of the general purpose machine gun. By the beginning of 1970 the Sea King had started to enter operational service. 706 Squadron received the new aircraft in January to replace its Wessex Mk 3s and the first front line squadron to operate the type, 824Squadron reformed on 24February.

    The Sqn disbanded in May 1970 shortly after Vic Sirett demonstrated in XV 649 the Sea King’s long range capability, flying non-stop from Lands End to John O’Groats, a distance of nearly 700 miles in 4 hours and 19 minutes. For the flight and the successful introduction of the Sea King into RN Service, Lt Cdr Vic Sirett was awarded the Boyd trophy for 1970. By June 826 Squadron reformed with the Sea King and 824 Squadron embarked HMS Ark Royal for the aircraft’s first operational deployment.

    Aircrew of 700 Squadron in 1969​

    The service histories of these particular Sea Kings are testament to the versatility of the aircraft over the years. Beginning as HAS Mk 1’s they were upgraded to HAS Mk2s in the 70s and then two were converted to HAS Mk5s and XV 649 to an Airborne Early Warning asset then a Sea King ASaC Mk 7, the final variation of Sea King.

    “These aircraft were built from 1950s technology, the hydraulic systems are as reliable today as they were in 1969, which could these days be considered simple technology, however if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, said Warrant Officer Ian Mitchell ,WO Engineer with 771 NAS and has worked on Sea Kings for most of his Naval career. “XV647 and XV648 have stood the test of time well, they’ve transformed from Mk 1s to Mk 5s having all sorts of modifications fitted and removed, even to this day we are still fitting new equipment”.

    MaritimeSeaKing Commander at RNAS Culdrose, CDR Vee Dale-Smith, herself a Sea King pilot has flown them at Culdrose and on Operations in the Middle East. “As the Sea King comes to the end of its service with the Fleet Air Arm, these three Aircraft typify the excellence of the original concept and design. Over the past 45 years these three in particular have served all over the world on operations and embarked on all Royal Navy’s capital ships. Without doubt, everyone who has had the privilege to work with the Sea King over the years has developed a unique bond and loyalty to this fabulous helicopter and will have many an interesting tale to tell of their experiences”.

    Sea King XV649 performs a crew transfer with a Polaris submarine in the South Western approaches

    Between the three they have nearly amassed 50,000 flying hours which has seen them flown across the world where ever the Fleet Air Arm has ventured; from Carrier Task Group tasking in the Falkland’s during 1982 to providing “Over-watch” during 2014in Afghanistan, flying in temperatures that range from minus 35 degrees in the Arctic to over plus 50 degrees in desert conditions.

    Sea King helicopters will be decommissioning over the next two years from the Fleet Air Arm and replaced by New Merlin Mk 2s and “Merlin Crowsnest” - which will take over the Airborne Surveillance task for the Fleet, serving on the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers.

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk

    Royal Navy Westland Sea King HU5 XZ920 24 of 771 Naval Air Squadron as seen during a SAR display at the Dawlish Airshow on 23rd August 2014 (Photo: Mark Kwiatkowski)

    Editor's Note:
    So sad that the days of the Sea King are all but done. And sadder still that the British government have elected to privatise UK SAR ops thus excluding the armed forces from gaining valuable (some would say necessary) experience and disallowing them from delivering what was one of their finest public services.

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    New CO for Maritime Sea King Force at RNAS Culdrose

    On 07 July 2014 Commander Victoria Dale-Smith assumed command of the Maritime Sea King Force based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose.

    Cdr Dale-Smith takes command of the Sea King Force at a crucial time that sees within the next two years, a drawdown of the much respected aircraft from its traditional Search and Rescue role at the West Cornwall Base and Prestwick in Scotland.

    Cdr Andrew Rose hands over the reigns of the Maritime Sea King Force to Cdr Victoria Dale Smith​

    Victoria joined the Royal Navy in September 1992 as a Warfare Officer. On completion of Officer of the Watch course in 1994 her first assignment was to HMS Inverness as Gunnery Officer followed by HMS Manchester as the Communications Officer. In 1998 she sub-specialised as a pilot and qualified on the Sea King Commando Helicopter, passing out as a “Junglie” and serving on 845 Naval Air Squadron at RNAS Yeovilton. During her time on the Commando Helicopter Force squadron she took part in a variety of amphibious exercises including embarkations in HNLMS Rotterdam and HMS Illustrious as well as a detachment to Exercise Clockwork in Northern of Norway, 170 miles inside the Arctic Circle.

    In 2003 she sailed with HMS Ocean as part of Operation Telic and flew with the Initial Assault Wave of40 Commando Royal Marines, (40 Cdo RM) and the United States Marine Corps, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, (15 MEU), onto the Al Faw Peninsula. During a second tour as the Operations Officer, Victoria returning for subsequent operational tours to Iraq and the Former Yugoslavia, before embarking in HMS Invincible in support of the UK Amphibious Task Group Staff for Exercise Joint Warrior. After promotion to Lieutenant Commander, she joined the staff of Equipment Capability (Air Littoral Manoeuvre) in the MOD as a Desk Officer followed by assignments to the Admiralty Interview Board and Captain Naval Recruiting. On completion of a busy assignment at Naval Command Headquarters in Air Manoeuvre of the Littoral Manoeuvre Capability Integration Group, (LMCIG) she joined RNAS Culdrose as Senior Pilot of 849 NAS flying the Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC) Mk 7 variant of the Sea King.

    Cdr Victoria Dale Smith, RNAS Culdrose Sea King Force Commander​

    “It is with enormous pride that I assume Command of the Maritime Sea King Force, especially at such a critical point in the history of the Force”, said Victoria. “I am blessed to have a wealth of talented personnel with diverse operational experience who contribute so much to the success of our daily operations, both in UK Maritime Search and Rescue and operationally in the Gulf.”

    On promotion to Commander, she took up her current assignment as Maritime Sea King Force Commander based at RNAS Culdrose and is responsible for Royal Navy SAR, Sea King Airborne Surveillance and Control and the Sea King Simulator. Victoria enjoys all outdoor activities especially coastal path running and keeps very busy with her two children, Clara and Anna.

    On taking up her appointment CDR Victoria Dale-Smith added: “I have served for 22 years and time has literally flown by. Despite challenges to the Armed Forces over this period, as well as a significant reduction in Royal Naval personnel and equipment, I have still been afforded great career opportunities and huge diversity of employment by the Royal Navy.”​

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    700 Naval Air Squadron Decommissioned and Becomes 825 NAS

    On 30th July 700 (W) Naval Air Squadron (NAS) was decommissioned following 5 years of hard work, diligence and dedication at Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Yeovilton.

    Last week saw all seven Royal Naval Wildcat helicopters from 700(W) NAS into the sky simultaneously for the first time and today the decommissioning marks a significant change in the Lynx Wildcat Maritime Force (LWMF).

    Formation of six Wildcat HMA.2 aircaft of 700(W) NAS, taken from the seventh aircraft, to mark the disbanding of the unit and re-commissioning of 825 NAS

    700W's decommissioning is in preparation for their assimilation into 825 NAS with the mission of training both aircrew and engineers as well as standing-up the first deployable Wildcat flights as the Lynx Mk 8 begins its drawdown over the next few years.

    Commander (Cdr) Simon Collins has been the Commanding Officer of 700W during their last year and departs from the squadron as it decommissions today 2014.

    Wildcat HMA.2's of 700W NAS

    Cdr Collins said; “Today’s Decommissioning of 700(W) NAS marks the culmination of just over 5 years hard work and dedication; having started out as only 4 people strong we now find ourselves with a complement of over 100 people and with 7 aircraft on the Sqn.

    "Taking Wildcat from an idea to one that has embarked in RN Warships 3 times for various trials, taken part in a huge multinational exercise and is now ready to send its first flight to sea for Operational Sea Training is a great achievement and one that we should all be proud of.”

    The entire squadron was on parade for a formal decommissioning​

    Cdr Collins added “The previous two Commanding Officers, Lt Cdr Rob Dowdell and Lt Cdr Rob Taylor, also take equal credit for this. As we look to the future and the Squadron becoming 825 NAS on 1 August 2014 I am sure that Wildcat will continue to deliver and will be an asset to the Royal Navy and Defence.”

    There will be a ' transition' from Lynx to Wildcat until 2017 with all Force elements establishing at one location at RNAS Yeovilton in 2016. The Wildcat HMA Mk 2 will offer a lightweight, versatile helicopter capable of operating in all weathers delivering exceptional military capability in support of maritime, littoral and land manoeuvre, force protection and maritime strike.

    700W decommissioning ceremony

    Cdr Simon Collins ended his speech in front of 700(W) personnel with “Sadly today is the end of 700 (W). All the hard work and past success achieved will now shape the future for Wildcat. Thank you for the honour of Commanding you.”

    700(W) NAS became 825 NAS on 1st August.​

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    RN Sea Training Praised by Secretary of Defence

    The Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has praised the Royal Navy’s professionalism after witnessing the advanced sea training which prepares British, allied and partner warships for operations.

    Mr Fallon flew on 24th July to the Royal Navy’s newest Type 45 destroyer, HMS Duncan, in the English Channel near Plymouth, from where he observed the rigorous training ships’ companies go through.

    The intense training simulates flood and fire emergencies, as well as air attacks from fast jets and submarine and missile engagements. It also tests each crew’s ability to deal with the pressure surrounding a series of potential setbacks.

    Defence Secretary Michael Fallon experiences 'Action Messing' on board HMS Duncan (Photo: Leading Airman Ben Shread)

    Escorted by Rear Admiral Ben Key, Flag Officer Sea Training, Mr Fallon also witnessed ‘action messing’, the emergency distribution of meals in the ship’s mess, which was used to feed hundreds of British citizens for real during the evacuations from Libya in 2011.

    Michael Fallon said: "It is has been deeply impressive to witness the professional and intense training that takes place here to prepare the Royal Navy for operations around the world. It has been a pleasure to see the Type 45 destroyer class in action, which along with the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers shows we have world-leading maritime capability."

    His visit coincided with a milestone for Royal Navy operations. In Camp Bastion, Sea King helicopter crew members from 854 Naval Air Squadron witnessed the lowering of a White Ensign, marking the final contribution of the last fully-formed Royal Naval unit on operations in Afghanistan.

    The Defence Secretary said: "I am pleased to be able to pay tribute to the contribution made by 854 Naval Air Squadron, which has played an essential role in supporting troops on the ground in Afghanistan."

    Joint Movements Unit (JMU) personnel work slowly and carefully to load a Sea King helicopter onto an RAF C17 aircraft to be sent back to the UK. With the end of Operation Herrick approaching the Sea King is no longer required in Afghanistan (Photo: Corporal Daniel Wiepen RLC)

    The squadron, along with 857 Naval Air Squadron, and supported by 849 Naval Air Squadron in the UK, played a vital role flying Sea King airborne surveillance and control (SKASaC) aircraft for more than 9,000 hours over 2,000 sorties to support troops on the ground as part of 903 Expeditionary Air Wing.

    The Royal Navy’s First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, said: "The contribution of the SKASaC force over 5 years has been magnificent, taking the fight to a determined enemy in a vastly unfamiliar environment. Their vital work saved many lives and proved the value of the aircraft over land."

    As well as the Fleet Air Arm, thousands of members of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines have previously served in Afghanistan in support of Operation Herrick.

    During Herrick 5 in 2006 and 2007 and Herrick 9 in 2008 and 2009, 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines headquarters, 42 Commando and 45 Commando were deployed. At those times Royal Navy personnel and Royal Marines made up around 40% of UK troops.

    Individuals from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines will continue to serve in Afghanistan until the conclusion of combat operations by the end of the year.

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    New CO for 824

    On 16 July Commander Steve Thomas took over command of 824 Naval Air Squadron from his predecessor Commander Nick Gibbons, who moves on to an appointment at Joint Headquarters in Northwood, London.

    Commander Thomas joins 824 NAS as development of Merlin Mk 2 continues and the important role of the Merlin Training Facility are crucial to feeding the three front line Merlin units with pilots, observers, aircrewmen and engineers based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose.

    Commander Steve Thomas (right) taking over the reigns of 824 NAS from Commander Nick Gibbons

    “It’s tremendously exciting, I can’t wait. It’s every boy’s dream to be in charge of their own Naval Air Squadron and I’m no different,” said Steve. “It’s fantastic to be back at Culdrose and really great to be taking over 824 Naval Air Squadron today”.

    Steve Thomas joined the Royal Navy as a direct entry aviator in 1991. Completing flying training he joined 814 NAS in 1996 where he served as a Sea King Anti Submarine Warfare Pilot. He has since flown Merlin and Squirrel helicopters in a wide variety of roles as a Qualified Helicopter Instructor. He has served aboard Aircraft Carriers, Royal Fleet Auxiliaries and ashore across the globe fromScotlandto the Middle East, the Indian Ocean and thePersian Gulf. As an Officer of the Naval Flying Standards Flight between 2006 and 2008, he contributed to the oversight and assessment of aviation standards and practices across the Fleet Air Arm and the widerUKservice environment.

    Between 2009 and 2010 he completed a tour within Navy Command HQ as a staff officer with oversight of the Royal Navy Flying Training pipeline. Prior to attending Advanced Command and Staff Course, from September 2012 to July 2013, he was the Senior Pilot of 820 NAS. Briefly, before taking Command of 824 NAS he spent 6 months in HQ British Forces Gibraltar as Staff Officer Ops Support and held the honorary position of Commanding Officer Royal Navy.

    Speaking about his New Command with 824 NAS and the role his aircraft play, Steve said:

    “Merlin Mk 2 represents a really great leap forward in capability for the aircraft; it’s an exciting time across the Fleet Air Arm not just at Culdrose. New aircraft coming online, new Ships coming online there couldn’t be a better time to take over a squadron”.

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    Baggers Back to Sea

    RNAS Culdrose Sea Kings from the Royal Navy’s Airborne Surveillance Force are gaining their sea legs again after operating for the past two years over the deserts of Afghanistan.

    857 Naval Air Squadron, who fly Sea King Mk 7 Airborne Surveillance and Control helicopters, are affectionately known as “Baggers” because of the radar being held in a large Kevlar bag on the side of the aircraft. During their extended period on Operation Herrick duty in Afghanistan they completed in excess of 3,000 flying hours spread over 800 missions from Camp Bastion, the main operating Base for British Forces in the country. Swapping their Multi-Terrain Combats, they are getting familiar once again with traditional Naval Blue, and a return to Maritime operations.

    Sea King Mk7's from 857 NAS

    “It's a fantastic opportunity to be back at sea as part of our maritime training period. RFA Argus offers us exactly the right platform in her role as the Fleet‘s Aviation Training Ship, said Lieutenant Commander James Hall, Commanding Officer of 857 NAS. “Up to 70% of my people have not been at sea recently, for some the last time was during Operation Ellamy off the coast of Libya in 2011. However, team spirit, enthusiasm and professionalism have been fundamental to regaining the specialist skills required to safely and effectively integrate with the ship’s company. By the end of this embarkation we expect to have increased our preparations for any task we could face in the maritime environment”.

    The “Baggers” are embarked for two weeks and in that time they will be showing many of the newbie’s what life at sea is all about. Lieutenant Shaun Parker is the squadrons Air Engineering Officer (AEO) and he knows it’s a gradual training process to get fully up to speed. “Getting everyone to think about flight deck safety and operating on a pitching and rolling deck in all weathers is crucial. Some of the squadron are experiencing this for the first time. You don’t really need to lash things down in the desert, but you do when you’re at sea in the English Channel”.

    The onboard training includes many aspects the squadron needs to operate in the Maritime environment. Pilots are getting deck current again and Observers carrying out basic radar handling of the aircraft to intercept ships and aircraft in the South West Approaches off the coast ofCornwall. Adopting a “Crawl – Walk – Run” training philosophy, the squadron’s engineers are beginning once again to get to-grips with ship borne procedures. Starting with the basics and working together as a team on the flight deck and down below in Argus’s large hangar.

    “I’ve been on the squadron for about 18 months now, and completed three Afghan tours on Herrick, this is my first time onboard,” said Air Engineering Technician (AET) Martin Hetherington, one of the younger members of the squadron. “Everything takes longer and there’s a lot to learn, I’m really enjoying working the flight deck in all weathers, you have to be switched on and know what’s going on around you.”

    857 NAS return to Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose after their short deployment onboard RFA Argus and begin planning for future operations and exercises with the Fleet later on in the year. This will also offer a period of rest and recuperation for both Squadron personnel and their families and their important supporting role behind the scenes.

    Additional photos:

    Deck Landing on the RFA Argus​

    857 NAS Engineers fold the Sea King on the deck of the RFA Argus​

    Sea King Mk 7 into the hangar RFA Argus

    857 NAS engineering briefing aboard the RFA Argus

    The RFA Argus​

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  • Aviafora Newsdesk
    Wasp Down at HMS Sultan (But only a an engineering instruction airframe!)

    A classic Fleet Air Arm Westland Wasp helicopter has been knocked off a low-loader as it was being transported out of HMS Sultan in Gosport. The helicopter was knocked to the ground when when the driver hit the corner of a fence at the Royal Navy base in Gosport.

    The injured Wasp being lifted back onto the low-loader

    Lee-on-the-Solent resident Richard Harvey said he saw the accident from his car and said: "I was directly opposite at the traffic lights when it happened. ‘It just went smash. It hit it pretty hard. The helicopter had been pulled off its moorings by the looks of it."

    A spokesman from HMS Sultan said the helicopter suffered damage to one of its wheels, that no one was injured and that the accident had not affected activities at HMS Sultan.

    The Wasp helicopter had been used by trainee engineers at HMS Sultan.

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    HMS Ocean to Receive First Helicopters After Refit

    A DEVONPORT-based helicopter carrier which has undergone a multi-million pound refit is one step closer to being fully operational.

    The Royal Navy’s HMS Ocean will be conducting flying exercises this week to test its aviation facilities and ensure everything is ship-shape and in full working order.

    HMS Ocean

    HMS Ocean will undergo sea trials off the South West coast to ensure she can operate safely at sea having left Devonport Naval Base ten days ago after two years away from frontline duty.

    Naval Airman Tom Scott, one of HMS Oceans aircraft handlers, said: “It is fantastic that we are finally at sea, and I am really looking forward to getting stuck in when the first helicopters arrive for air exercises.

    “It has been a long journey to get here – but I know that when that first helicopter lands, we will all get excited about why we joined the Royal Navy to be a part of the elite aviation institution, the Fleet Air Arm, all over again.”

    HMS Ocean’s main capability allows her to launch an airborne assault of Royal Marine Commandos ashore using medium and heavy-lift helicopters. The ship has six helicopter operating spots on the deck, with hangar space for a further twelve large helicopters below.

    During the assault phase of an amphibious operation HMS Ocean is able to launch two waves of troop-carrying Sea King helicopters, as well as operating the smaller armed reconnaissance Lynx helicopter or the Apache attack helicopter.

    The regeneration of HMS Ocean’s flying capability gives the flying teams their first opportunity to see a helicopter land on her deck in over two years and is an exciting time for the 70 members of the air department.​

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    Royal Navy Commissions Merlin Mk2's

    The Royal Navy has commissioned its next generation of submarine-hunting Merlin Mk2 aircraft, four months ahead of their planned deployment.

    Joining the navy's Invincible-class, light-aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, Merlins participated in Exercise Deep Blue, demonstrating anti-submarine warfare, maritime patrol and casualty evacuation capabilities.

    Fleet Air Arm Merlin Mk2's aboard HMS Illustrious

    Built as part of an £800m programme to upgrade the navy's existing aircraft fleet, Merlins feature latest cockpits that provide improved night-vision capability for pilots and a modernised combat system with touch screen display.

    UK Defence Equipment, Support and Technology Minister Philip Dunne said: "The updated Merlin is one of the most technologically advanced and effective anti-submarine helicopters, and their entry into service is a real boost for the Royal Navy.

    "Delivering the Merlin Mk2 into service four months ahead of schedule and to budget is a real achievement and shows how MoD is working well with industry to deliver world-class equipment to our armed forces."

    The UK Navy is planning to deploy Merlin Mk2 helicopters on-board the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, in addition to operating from frigates, destroyers and Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships globally.

    In addition, the navy has yet to receive 15 aircraft at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in Cornwall over the following 18 months.

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    Merlin Mk2's Complete Exercise Deep Blue

    Nine Royal Navy Merlin Mk2 helicopters have taken part in Exercise Deep Blue in the Atlantic Ocean, simulating their anti-submarine warfare, maritime patrol and casualty evacuation capabilities.

    ​9 Merlins were engaged during the exercise

    Throughout the Exercise, the Merlin aircraft were embarked on HMS Illustrious. Aircrews and engineers worked round the clock alongside pilots and aircrew operating on a non-stop ‘sleep-eat-fly-sleep’ rotation to support three aircraft aloft at all times with two on ready status.

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    Did You Serve At Culdrose?

    Historians at RNAS Culdrose want to hear your stories of life at the Cornish air station over the past 67 years.

    The base’s heritage committee want to flesh out the official story with first-person accounts from those who have served there.

    DO YOU have a dit about Cornwall’s premier air station?

    If you do – and a good many of our readers probably will have – the RNAS Culdrose Heritage Committee want to hear it.

    Sea Kings over St Michael's Mount in 1970​

    They're looking to build up a comprehensive anthology of life at the Lizard Peninsula airbase, which has served the Fleet Air Arm since 1947.

    The history of the base is fairly well charted through official documents – but it’s the human stories the committee, which meets three times a year, is keen on receiving to bring the past to life.

    “It’s the personal experiences of people who’ve worked at or been associated with the base over the years that is the most interesting and needs to be preserved,” said Lt Helen Dobbs, Sea King engineering officer and chairwoman of the heritage committee.

    The duty SAR crew of a 771 NAS Wessex Mk5 in 1980​

    "Whilst we have a good deal of documentation and historical material in our archives both here and at the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton, we'd welcome stories and reminiscences from anyone who’s had a connection with Culdrose and who’d like to share those memories and experiences.”

    You can see some of the heritage committee’s work at Culdrose Air Day on Thursday July 1 when several historic airframes and displays will be on show.

    Anyone wishing to share their memories should contact Lt H Dobbs, Station Heritage Committee, RNAS Culdrose, Helston, Cornwall, TR12 7RH or email

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    UK’s Last Armed Forces Covenant Signed in Scilly

    Children from the Five Islands School watched as the Navy search and rescue helicopter from RNAS Culdrose landed on their playing field yesterday morning.

    It marked the start of two-days of events celebrating the signing of the Armed Forces Community Covenant by the Islands’ Council.

    Commander Tom Herman, the Deputy Naval Regional Commander for Wales and the West of England, says today’s ceremony on board HMS Mersey is an important moment for the armed forces.

    It’s the last covenant in the whole country to be signed, and he says it’s fitting that it should happen at its most south-westerly outpost.

    Commander Tom Herman at the Five Islands School​

    The covenants were started by former Prime Minister Tony Blair during the war in Afghanistan. Cmdr Herman says as the casualties were mounting, the government of the time realised the link between the forces and society was getting weaker.

    Tom says they’re voluntary and don’t commit the local authority to spending lots of extra money. But they try to focus attention on the special needs of service men and women, their families, reservists and veterans.

    Because service families move around often, they sometimes struggle with things such as medical waiting lists, housing or finding places in schools.

    In return, authorities that sign up to the covenant can access grants of up to quarter of a million pounds to help fund projects to support the armed forces in their areas.

    Tom says over £1m was handed out in the south west last year.

    Yesterday, all school children got a tour of the RNAS Culdrose helicopter, while Cmdr Herman spoke to the year 9 class about the covenant and careers in the military.

    He said it’s a chance to impress the youngsters, who will be the military personnel of the future.

    This lunchtime, a delegation of twenty people representing the Council, businesses and veterans’ charities will attend the signing of the covenant on board the patrol vessel HMS Mersey. The Navy’s flagship HMS Bulwark had been due to attend but got called away on operational duties elsewhere last weekend.

    At 5.30pm there’ll be a special sunset ceremony for the public at the Star Castle to commission the covenant, with prayers led by Canon Paul Miller and with buglers from 6th Battalion The Rifles.

    The signing will also mark a new relationship with our nearest military station, HMS Seahawk at Culdrose, the base for the Navy’s search and rescue helicopters. Representatives from there will now sit on the islands’ covenant panel.

    Cmdr Herman says it’s clear to him that we already have an “intimate” relationship with this base. He joked that within the first hour he’d been on the islands yesterday, he spoke to at least ten people who had been in the back of the Culdrose chopper, either unwell or giving birth.

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    Wildcat Makes Debut Landing Aboard HMS Illustrious

    The Royal Navy's new AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat maritime attack helicopter has made its debut landing aboard the Invincible-class aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious during an anti-submarine exercise, "Exercise Deep Blue" (see post #15 above), off Cornwall in the Atlantic.

    HMS Illustrious Air Commander Mike Ryan said: "As someone who was closely involved with bringing Wildcat into service, it was both a great pleasure and privilege to welcome this highly impressive new helicopter on to Illustrious for the very first time."

    The AW159 performing a deck landing

    Set to replace the aging Westland Super Lynx on the front line from 2015, the latest AW159 Wildcat helicopter maritime attack (HMA) Mk2 Lynx helicopter is based with 700W Naval Air Squadron and can also be deployed from smaller vessels.

    Built as part of a contract signed by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) with AgustaWestland in 2006, the navy aviation unit will take delivery of 28 Wildcats to assist in various maritime attack missions, while 34 aircraft will be delivered to the British Army.

    Scheduled to be commissioned next year, the naval version of Wildcat would continue training and trials at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset until the end of July, with the army version scheduled to enter service this year.

    Recently, Thales was awarded a contract to design and build future anti-surface guided weapon (light) (FASGW(L)) missiles for integration into the Wildcat helicopters, which would offer a versatile, rapidly deployable and highly effective capability to rise above the threat from small ships and inshore attack craft.

    In addition to Wildcat, the three-week war game was joined by nine Merlin Mk2 helicopters.

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