All change at the top
On the run up to Christmas, a number of key staff at RNAS Culdrose are changing. Most people serve in a role for two to three years before moving on to a new job.
Leaving the Fixed Wing Force is Commander James Blackmore. He found the role ‘professionally highly rewarding’. He was in charge of four squadrons, three here at Culdrose, 736 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) and its Hawks, 750 NAS with the Avenger, 700X NAS, Unmanned Air Systems and at Yeovilton in Somerset, 727 NAS the home of the Grob Tutor. He was also the boss for all Fixed Wing pilots in the UK and the US. All of these squadrons focussed on the training and delivery of aircrew to the Queen Elizabeth Aircraft class of Aircraft carriers.
Away from flying, James’ family lived in Helston for the two years. Both daughters attended local schools in the area. James loved Cornwall:
‘Highlights include camping in the local area in our camper van, dancing at Flora day and eating the amazing local food, especially from the sea’
He departs Culdrose to join HMS Queen Elizabeth as Commander Air or “Wings”. He will be head of the Air Department at a pivotal time when helicopters from Culdrose and the new F-35B Lightning aircraft embark during 2018 to begin trials.
Taking over Fixed Wing duties at RNAS Culdrose is Commander Mark Sparrow Royal Navy. Mark joined the Royal Navy in 1997 and trained as a Harrier pilot. He has had a number of operational tours flying Harriers before flying the F18 in the USA.
As Commander Fixed Wing, Mark is looking forward to his new role, especially with the opportunities that have arisen as a result of the new aircraft carrier, Queen Elizabeth.
‘This is a very exciting time for the Royal Navy and Naval aviation. I feel honoured to be in charge of the fixed wing force and the challenges and opportunities this brings. I have a great team of people here at Culdrose and I am looking forward to getting stuck in.’
Mark is new to Culdrose and is looking forward to getting settled into the community.
‘I do not know the area that well, but I am really looking forward to getting involved in the local area, getting to know Helston and exploring Cornwall. I think it’s a great place to live and bring up a family.’
Also new in post is Commander Air and Training. Returning to Culdrose is Commander Steve Windebank. He was last here as the Commanding Officer of 829 NAS, leaving in 2014. He is delighted to be back at his Naval home and is looking forward to being in charge of aviation and training at Culdrose.
‘My main aim to ensure that we are ready to support Naval Aviation and in particular the new class of Aircraft Carrier for the next 50 years. That includes fully trained and highly motivated personnel. At the Air Station as a whole, we train around 5000 people per year. These days, most of the Naval qualifications that are awarded have civilian recognition, up to degree level’.
Commander Windebank has made Cornwall his home. While he has been working elsewhere for the Royal Navy, his family have remained in Cornwall. He is looking forward to enjoying again everything that Cornwall has to offer and getting involved in the local community. He has danced at Flora Day in the past and would love to have the honour again.
Commander Windebank took over from Commander Jason Phillips. Commander Phillips is now second in Command at Culdrose as the Executive Officer. He has operated at Culdrose for all of his 28 years of his career to date.
‘I first visited RNAS Culdrose on a Potential Officer Acquaint Course back in 1989, before joining here as an Observer student in 1990. I never dreamt of what my career might bring me, but I certainly never imagined being the second in Command of this incredible base. My jobs at Culdrose have primarily on the Front Line, being involved as an instructor, Commanding Officer and latterly as Commander Air and Training for the last three years. I know Culdrose, its history and how it ticks.’
Commander Phillips is looking forward to getting to know the people of Culdrose, especially those in a supporting role. But with 3000 personnel working on the base, he knows that this is going to be a challenge. He loves Cornwall, with fantastic scenery, beaches and walks and he says it has been an amazing place for his family to grow up. One aspect of local life he has not managed and that is dancing at Flora day, even though all of his children have danced. He hopes to break that duck in 2018.
Finally in the roundabout of Commanders changing at Culdrose is a new Commanding Officer at 814 NAS. Commander Brendan Spoors leaves the Squadron after a very busy period in charge. The highlight of his Command was receiving the Australia Shield. It is awarded annually to the Front Line Squadron achieving the highest degree of Operational Capability in that year. The Shield is a gift from the people of Australia. It is indicative of just how busy the Squadron has been. They have flown front line missions Oman, the Mediterranean and Baltic, often working as part of a multi-national force. They also hold a number of operational duties and flown from many different types of ship. Commander Spoors has loved the challenges of his Command.
‘The people are the greatest asset. I have asked so much of them as we have been given so many important tasks to perform. They have all spent long periods away from their families, but always shown that Tiger spirit. The Merlin Helicopter is the best in world, and with our highly trained people we have achieved a great deal ’
Commander Spoors and his family will be staying in his beloved Cornwall.
Taking over 814 NAS is Commander Sarah Birchett Royal Navy. She is very much looking forward to the role:
‘It’s a huge honour and a privilege. My first front line tour was on 814 and it’s always been a dream to return in Command; Culdrose feels like home as I’ve spent the majority of my career here. I live locally with my family and am looking forward to enjoying village life, walking our dog Monty around the local countryside and coast and maybe even finding time to play my violin.’
It is a busy time for Sarah and the Squadron; she is looking forward to getting to know the people as they are the real heart of the Squadron, making sure they enjoy coming to work and feel proud to be in the Royal Navy. The Squadron will be working hard with a number of commitments, nothing that the very capable Merlin helicopter cannot achieve in its stride.