Busy time for 829 NAS
With three separate deployments of helicopters and personnel setting off for training exercises this week, it’s a very busy time for Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose based 829 Naval Air Squadron. Especially as one of the aircraft being deployed is the first Merlin Mk 2 helicopter to embark on a Type 23 Frigate.
The deployments are provide vital training, helping 829 NAS to prepare for future helicopter operations at sea, something which will happen even more frequently once the Royal Navy’s new Aircraft Carrier, the Queen Elizabeth is launched later this year.
829 NAS is different to the other Culdrose based Squadrons in that rather than embarking ‘en-mass’ to one exercise or operation, it supplies a ‘Flight’ consisting of one Merlin Helicopter and a team of around 16 people (including aircrew and engineers) to one of the Royal Navy’s Type 23 Frigates or Type 45 Destroyers.
An 829 Flight joined HMS Lancaster to help it prepare for operations. This is the Squadron’s first Merlin Mk 2 embarkation with one of its ‘newest’ aircraft. Further Mk 2 Merlin’s will be deployed from 829 in future as the squadron continues to transition from Mk1 to Mk 2. It will be an ideal opportunity for the Squadron to try out the upgraded version of the Merlin which has undergone a £750m technology revamp. The team will help the ship to train for deployments through a variety of aviation and maritime exercises including practising a variety of helicopter operations which are always particularly challenging at night or in poor weather.
Another 829 Flight has joined HMS Kent before taking part in the multi-national Joint Warrior Exercise (a maritime exercise which brings together amphibious, surface and subsurface warfare). A third Flight has gone to Scotland for Adventurous Training, following demanding, back to back training serials with Royal Navy ships.
Type 23 Frigates are the core of the front-line Fleet, and together with a Merlin helicopter, they make a powerful team. The helicopter is called upon to carry out a wide range of duties including maritime surveillance missions, ant-submarine warfare, searching for pirates, smugglers and drug-runners. The versatile Merlin can also provide support for disaster relief missions, as well as carrying passengers, load lifting and search and rescue sorties. This was clearly demonstrated during the recent disaster relief operations in the Philippines where an 829 Flight made a significant contribution to the operation.
“Training Exercises and embarkations that 829 flights are currently undertaking are pivotal in providing a potent ship and aircraft combination”, said Lieutenant Commander Philip Beacham, Commanding Officer 829 Naval Air Squadron. “829 Flights are fully integrated within RN Ships and work together to maximise the full capability which is required. Protecting our nation’s interests is central to our ethos and embarked Merlin’s in frigates and destroyers provide an incredibly effective way of achieving this. As we continue to upgrade our aircraft with the new version of the Merlin, the Squadron will take part in several other exercises to help hone our submarine hunting skills and prepare us for embarked operations. We are looking forward to a major anti submarine exercise during the summer called ‘Deep Blue’, when a large number of aircraft from Culdrose will go to sea on an aircraft carrier to hunt submarines in the Western Approaches and practice the intense and demanding role of major embarkations. Nine Merlin helicopters will join HMS Illustrious to practise skills which are traditionally the mainstay of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier operations.”
Commander of the Merlin Force, Commander Ben Franklin said: “Royal Navy helicopters have been tremendously successful during recent years in a wide variety of roles including anti-piracy, anti-trafficking operations and maritime security. However Exercises that Merlin Force will be embarking on during the coming months will help us to get back to our core maritime role and practicing skills and capabilities needed for Maritime operations from Aircraft Carriers.”