Search and Rescue Helicopter ‘Handover Ceremony’
A Sea King Mk 5 helicopter, which was involved in numerous rescues around the Cornish coast, now serves as a permanent reminder of the role of 771 Naval Air Squadron and their bravery of its personnel. The aircraft, XV673 - call sign 827, is situated just inside the fence at RNAS Culdrose opposite the Cottage Hospital. RNAS Culdrose held a special ceremony to officially ‘hand over’ the custodianship of the aircraft. The aircraft’s engineering ‘log book’ and a ‘Haynes Manual’ were handed over to Commander Air, whose team will now be responsible for looking after it.
The Royal Navy’s Sea King aircraft have been an intrinsic part of the Cornish skies for decades, therefore one of the helicopters will now be on public display at RNAS Culdrose. It will be a lasting tribute to the enormous contribution made by Sea King helicopters to both Royal Navy operations and to the Search and Rescue service, including those personnel who have risked their lives in aid of others. RNAS Culdrose has been working on the project with many partners to get the aircraft ready, move it to its new home and to ensure that the position of the aircraft is both highly visible and safe.
Lieutenant Commander Steve Ivill, currently serving on 824 Naval Air Squadron led the project and tells us about the process of getting the helicopter to its new home:
“I proposed the idea of having a Sea King helicopter in 771 Squadron colours as a ‘Gate Guardian’ here at RNAS Culdrose almost a year ago - with the aircraft being retired from service and the Squadron disbanding it seemed to be the ideal time to provide an appropriate tribute to both their roles here at the Air Station. RNAS Culdrose has a very long and proud history operating the Sea King helicopter with the aircraft being involved in operations around the globe from the Falklands Conflict in 1982 to recent operations in Afghanistan. Additionally, 771 Squadron has provided Search and Rescue cover since 1974, for the Western Approaches, across the Cornish peninsula, Isles of Scilly and the Atlantic/Channel to a distance of 200 nautical miles. Its personnel have risked their lives in aid of others and have received many awards and honours in doing so.”
The project has been a bit of a challenge, as Steve points out: “During the project we have faced a number of significant challenges – the main one being that we had to deliver the whole venture at ’zero’ cost. Consequently I have had to call on the ‘good will’ of several companies, station departments and individuals, to enable the project to come to fruition. I would like to express my extreme gratitude to Mr Chris Page MBE (Sea King Project Team), Steve Boden (Boden Group Facilities), Colin Archer and Fraser Cocks (Carillon Amey), James Lockyer Associates and additionally to the excellent support provided by the following RNAS Culdrose departments: Spray Bay, Mechanical Workshops, Crash and Salvage and 771 Squadron engineering team, all of whom have played an outstanding and significant part. It has been a privilege to lead the project and everyone involved can be justifiably proud of their achievements, without their innovation, ‘can do’ attitude, dedication and commitment we would not have succeeded.”
However, the hard work was worth it in the end, and Steve is proud to see the helicopter in its new home near the Cottage Hospital roundabout. He said: “Whilst the aircraft’s distinctive red and grey Search and Rescue colour scheme and the Squadron’s Ace of Cubs logo have been a familiar sight around the South West Peninsula they will of course be sadly missed. However, preserving our Naval Aviation Heritage is not just about the aircraft, it is also about remembering the outstanding calibre, selflessness and commitment of the people who serve and have served in the Naval Air Service. A Sea King Mk 5 in 771 Squadron colours will not only help to reinforce the Station’s links with the Cornish community, but it will also be a fitting and enduring tribute to the RN SAR Community, and a fine addition to Fleet Air Arm and Royal Navy heritage.”