Royal Navy accepts Merlin Helicopter from RAF
Yesterday marked the end of an era for the Royal Air Force and the start of a new one for the Royal Navy as the official handover of the Merlin helicopter took place in a formal ceremony at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire.
The formal Royal parade marked the next stage in the transition of the Merlin helicopter from the Support Helicopter Force to the Commando Helicopter Force, a move that was introduced in the Strategic Defence and Security Review.
Since 2012, aircrew and engineers from the Commando Helicopter Force of the Royal Navy have been integrated into the Merlin Force at RAF Benson; working alongside their Royal Air Force counterparts to absorb over a decade of experience of operating and maintaining the technologically advanced aircraft.
The ceremony was attended by Their Royal Highnesses The Duke of York, the Commodore-in-Chief of the Fleet Air Arm, and Prince Michael of Kent, Honorary Air Marshal of Royal Air Force Benson.
Having been successfully employed on RAF operations in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan and capable of carrying up to 24 fully equipped troops, the Merlin is ideally placed to transfer to the littoral role undertaken by the Commando Helicopter Force.
The transition programme saw 78 Squadron RAF disband and 846 Naval Air Squadron stand up. 846 NAS will remain at RAF Benson until Spring next year when they and several of the Merlin aircraft will return to the home of the Commando Helicopter Force, Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset.
Transition will continue at RAF Benson when 845 Naval Air Squadron will stand up in place of 28 (Army Cooperation) Squadron RAF later in 2015. When fully operational, 845 Squadron will also return home to Yeovilton to reunite the fleet.
This incremental transition programme ensures that the capabilities the Joint Helicopter Command brings to Defence are fully maintained with the uplift of the Chinook, upgrade of the Puma, retirement of the Sea King and marinisation programme for the Merlin progress.
Admiral Sir George Zambellas said: “Today is a time to look forward. Not just to the next chapter to be written by the re-formed 846 Naval Air Squadron but also to the ongoing contribution of all Navy and Air Force helicopter forces.
"And, today, we in the Navy wanted to recognise our partnership with the Air Force, both here at Benson and beyond.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford said “Today we say farewell to No 78 Squadron. Rather than mourn this occasion, we should use it as an opportunity to celebrate the partnership between our two Services.
"I have been truly impressed with the manner in which both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force have worked together in order to tackle the significant challenge of transition, and I know that we will continue to work equally well together in the future.
"I offer my congratulation to the personnel of No 78 Squadron for all they have achieved over recent years, and I pass on my best wishes to 846 Naval Air Squadron for the future.”
His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent said: “I am honoured to be here to pay respect to the men and women of 78 Squadron as they formally disband today. The Squadron has served with courage and fortitude for almost a century; giving so much to our country and society at large.
"It is only fitting that 78 Squadron’s disbandment is marked by such a stunning ceremonial event, with airmen and officers proudly parading the Squadron standard for the final time before it is retired.
"I thank each and every one of you for your Service and your sacrifices and I know that you will continue to serve our country in the finest traditions of the Royal Air Force.”
Captain Niall Griffin RN, Commanding Officer of the Commando Helicopter Force said: “I’m genuinely thrilled; it’s a real honour to take on the capability from the RAF. They have done an amazing job over the last few years to get them ready to hand over; it’s really exciting to be able to take the Merlin Force forward. It’s been interesting working with the RAF; we’ve been working together for the last couple of decades, whether in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Iraq or Afghanistan. The anti-submarine version of the Merlin has been in Service with the Royal Navy for a long time; we’re now looking ahead to the carrier era. The transition will continue for another 2 to 3 years. Over the last few weeks, the guys and girls here have worked tirelessly to make today’s handover such a success – it was just outstanding.”