845 NAS Come Home
THE LAST 845 NAVAL AIR SQUADRON MERLIN HELICOPTERSRETURNS TO ITS ROOTS AND THE SPIRITUAL HOME OF THE COMMANDO HELICOPTER FORCE
From out of the dark and angry Somerset skies, Thursday 16 June saw 845 Naval Air Squadron’s final Merlin Mk 3 helicopter, airframe number ZJ131 (P), delivered to Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton by a mixed RN and RAF crew. The thirty-five-minute flight marked one of the final chapters in the Squadron’s long-awaited and meticulously-planned move from RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, where it last stood-up in July 2015.
Having returned to the spiritual home of The Commando Helicopter Force or ‘Junglies’, ‘845 has joined her sister squadron ‘846, which re-located from Oxfordshire in March last year. Indeed, ‘845 has taken-over the buildings and hangar from which she formerly operated the Sea King Mk 4, which retired from service earlier this year.
ZJ131 was delivered by Lieutenants Tom Burrows and Tom Morris, both former Commando Helicopter Force Sea King pilots, having completed the year-long Merlin conversion in April this year. For RAF Sergeant Aircrewman Adam McLeish, this was a poignant day, being his final flight in a Merlin. Lieutenant Burrows commented that “it was our privilege to fly the last Commando Helicopter Force sortie from RAF Benson. The Merlin is a very capable aircraft and I am looking forward to getting to grips with it in our core role, operating from a deck in support of 3 Commando Brigade.”
845 Naval Air Squadron’s relocation also represents an advanced milestone in ‘Merlin Transition’; transferral of the Merlin Mk 3 from Royal Air Force to Royal Navy ownership, where it will ultimately be modified to become the maritime-optimised Mk 4. Crucially, both ‘845 and ‘846 will continue to operate as frontline squadrons throughout the transition period.
To mark the occasion, ZJ131 and her crew were met by Captain Niall Griffin RN, Commanding Officer of the Commando Helicopter Force. Having overseen the critical mass of Merlin transition, Captain Griffin will shortly relinquish command to Colonel Lenny Brown Royal Marines.
Captain Griffin said that it was a very special occasion and that he was proud to see all elements of the Commando Helicopter Force back together at the home of the Fleet Air Arm and the spiritual home of the “Junglies”.