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Admiral Blount wreath laying
1st Deck Landing
Admiral Blount unveiling the memorial
Merlin Lands on HMS Queen Elizabeth


Published: 09 Aug 2017

To mark the centenary of the first aircraft landing on a moving ship at sea, a Merlin helicopter from RNAS Culdrose has landed on the flight deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth.


Marking 100 years of carrier aviation, RNAS Culdrose pilots Lt Greg Weal and Lt Nick Allen flew their 14-tonne Merlin helicopter onto the carrier’s four-acre flight deck.


“Ultimately this is the same as any other landing, but it is nice to have in the back of your mind the history of today,” said Lt Allen. “In those days, not having done it before, landing an aircraft on a ship was dangerous. Now we do it all the time.”


The flight was one of several acts of commemoration to mark Squadron Commander Edwin Dunning’s landing on the flightdeck of HMS Furious at Scapa Flow on August 2 1917.


Dunning, 25, a member of the Royal Naval Air Service, launched his Sopwith Pup from the carrier, then flew around in a circuit as the ship steamed some 26 knots into the 11 knot wind.


Dunning lined up on finals and ‘blipped’ his engine to slow his approach. The deck crews gathered under his aircraft and successfully hauled him to the deck. Dunning attempted to repeat the feat five days later but his engine failed and his aircraft toppled into the sea and he drowned. The young aviator was buried at St Lawrence’s Church in Bradfield, Essex.


The Merlin from 820 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) then took off for a flypast, joined by a 736 NAS Hawk, as a new plaque marking the centenary was unveiled at Scapa at 11am by Rear Admiral Fleet Air Arm Keith Blount, Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Aviation, Amphibious Capability and Carriers).


The Hawk, also from RNAS Culdrose overflew the memorial at low level from north to south and then made a second pass in landing configuration - with wheels and wing flaps extended - simulating an aircraft carrier landing approach.


Lieutenant Commander Barry Issitt, Commanding Officer of 736 Naval Air Squadron, said, "The event itself was of particular significance to the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm as it marked the first successful landing of a fixed-wing aircraft on a ship underway at sea; a moment that would be the genesis for the establishment of the pre-eminence of aircraft carriers.


"It is all the more poignant considering the current regeneration of the UK's carrier capability, with HMS Queen Elizabeth currently conducting sea trials not far from the location of Dunning's landing, with Merlin helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron operating from her flight deck."


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