Merlin Flight wins top award
The Merlin helicopter flight of the Royal Navy frigate HMS St Albans has been presented the distinguished Sopwith Cup. The presentation took place in June at 829 Naval Air Squadron, Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in Cornwall.
The trophy is awarded annually to the helicopter flight which achieves and maintains the highest level of operational capability for that year. It is the first time it has been awarded to a Merlin team.
The Sopwith Cup was introduced in 1967 to commemorate the first deck landing at sea which took place in Scapa Flow on 2nd August 1917.
A fitting coincidence therefore that HMS St Albans’ flight is under the command of Lieutenant Commander Edwin “Coops” Cooper who hails from Orkney. Edwin has been Flight Commander for 18 months.
The 35 year old Merlin aviator and former Stromness Academy pupil stated: “It has been an incredibly high tempo year for us with many challenging operations and exercises. I am very proud of the team. To receive a trophy with a direct connection to Orkney and only a few years away from the centenary of the first deck landing is also personally very memorable.”
Having grown up in Orkney, Edwin was fascinated by the military history that surrounds the islands. After studying engineering at the University of Strathclyde, he joined the Royal Navy and spent three years training as an Observer– the navigator and mission commander in charge of the aircraft.
Having served on the front-line since 2006, he has travelled much of the world and has taken part in operations in Africa, the Middle-East and all over Europe. He said: “The training was very tough, but to be awarded a set of ‘Wings’ on completion is a very proud moment. Whether flying from warships to protect our shipping and seas, to overland operations in support of troops on the ground, the Fleet Air Arm definitely offers a varied and exciting career packed with adventure and camaraderie.”
Edwin and his team are now based on board the Amphibious Helicopter and Commando Carrier HMS Illustrious, deployed on Cougar 13. The Merlin flight of four Aircrew, ten Engineers and one Aircraft Controller are certainly seeing things differently from their new larger home. “We are used to operating from a small flight deck by ourselves. Now we have to share a much larger flight deck with Lynx, Sea King, Apache and other Merlin Helicopters. It’s exciting stuff and demonstrates how capable and vital embarked aviation still is 100 years after those first landings took place in Scapa Flow!”
Having already exercised with the Royal Marines off the coast of Albania and Greece, the Response Force Task Group is now in the Gulf region.
Edwin finished by saying, “In a few years, the Royal Navy will operate the huge Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier along with F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and the next generation Merlin Mk 2 helicopter. For those wishing to have a career in the RN, I cannot think of a more exciting time to join up.”
The Cougar 13 deployment will operate in the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Arabian Gulf, and Horn of Africa. It involves exercising with partner nations, and will show the UK Armed Forces’ capacity to project an effective maritime component anywhere in the world as part of the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group, commanded by Commodore Paddy McAlpine OBE ADC Royal Navy.
The RFTG is the United Kingdom’s high readiness maritime force, comprising ships, submarines, aircraft and a landing force of Royal Marines, at short notice to act in response to any contingency tasking if required.