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Culdrose Helicopter is the first aircraft to land on HMS Prince of Wales

Published: 24 Sep 2019

THE first aircraft today touched down on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales off the Scottish coast.

Not 24 hours after the second of the UK’s new aircraft carriers sailed into open waters for the first time, a Merlin helicopter was guided safely into land on the expansive deck.

“Hands to Flying Stations” echoed throughout the 280-metre-long warship and specialist aircraft handlers, who’ve spent the past year practising for this day on a replica flight deck on land at Culdrose, readied to welcome the helicopter.

At 1115am, Leading Aircraft Handler Stephen Ashcroft guided the helicopter – callsign Dolphin 14 – safely down on to four acres of sovereign British territory just off the east coast of Scotland.

At the controls of the Merlin Mk2 was pilot Lieutenant Rob Prior, assisted by fellow pilot Lieutenant Tim Wills, Observer (navigator/weapons and sensor specialist) Lieutenant Carl Davis, aircraft commander Lieutenant Commander Steve Ivill, aircrewman Chief Petty Officer Lee Elliott and photographer Leading Hand Alex Ceolin. 

Barely had the 14-tonne submarine-hunting helicopter been lashed to the deck by the handlers, than it was released to take off again. The Merlin landed and took off six times as various procedures were practised by the air and ground crew, while HMS Prince of Wales’ air traffic controllers guided the helicopter fliers in circuits around the aircraft carrier. 

Directing the inaugural landing from the second of HMS Prince of Wales two distinctive towers was the naval officer in charge of all flying operations conducted by the ship, Commander Air (aka ‘Wings’) Commander Phil Richardson.

He hailed “a momentous occasion” for the Royal Navy. “This deck landing represents a key aviation milestone in the hugely-successful HMS Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier programme,” he added.

“The ability to fly fast jets and helicopters from two fifth-generation Royal Navy aircraft carriers puts the UK at the very forefront of maritime aviation.”

HMS Prince of Wales left Rosyth dockyard in Fife, where she has been pieced together over the past eight years, on Thursday.

She will spend the next couple of months completing her initial period of sea trials ­– before debuting in her home base of Portsmouth, where she will be commissioned before Christmas in the presence of her Lady Sponsor, the Duchess of Cornwall. 

Lt Rob Prior of 820 Naval Air Squadron said: ‘”It was a huge honour to create history and become the first pilot to land on HMS Prince of Wales. A big highlight of my career, I look forward to working with the ship over the coming weeks as she progresses with her trials, and I hope to log many more deck landings before the carrier heads to Portsmouth.  None of this would have been achievable of course without the rest of the crew, squadron engineers and the hard work of the ships company.”


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