Culdrose Merlin becomes first aircraft to land on HMS Queen Elizabeth
A Merlin helicopter from RNAS Culdrose has landed on HMS Queen Elizabeth's enormous flight deck - the first aircraft to ever touch down on Britain's biggest warship.
It fell to 26-year-old pilot Lieutenant Luke Wraith from Yorkshire to set the 14-tonne helicopter safely down on the aircraft carrier, just days after she left Rosyth to begin trials in the North Sea.
He had a four-acre flight deck - almost the size of three football pitches - to aim for, where experienced aircraft handlers were waiting to guide him safely in and then lash the helicopter firmly down.
"I was pretty nervous - not about making a safe landing, but knowing that every other pilot in the Navy would watch the footage and critique it," said Lt Wraith, of 820 Naval Air Squadron.
"I'm actually quite surprised it ended up being me because I only got my flying wings 18 months ago - I was expecting it to be someone much more senior."
Watching the historic landing from the ship's 'aircraft control tower' - called the Flyco - in the rear of HMS Queen Elizabeth's two islands was the man in charge of all her flying operations, Commander Mark Deller.
His team trained around the world - on simulators, on US Navy carriers and on a mock-up flight deck at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall - to ensure they were ready for the first helicopter.
"I sense all my team are pleased to be off the wall and back at sea, doing what we do best, Cdr Deller said.
"There are smiles everywhere on deck and that's a good sign. Operating live helicopters adds another dimension to our understanding of how our flight deck behaves.
"We've proven our initial ability to operate aircraft safely. Now our focus is getting the ship and all her systems fully tested and set to work ready to commence full fixed wing flying trials next year."
Also observing was Captain Jerry Kyd, Queen Elizabeth's first Commanding Officer. He said: "It's an exciting and historic event which marks the beginning of the ship's life as the nation's flagship and the future of carrier-based aviation.
"It's been a demanding but proud and exciting week for us, the ship is bustling with activity and it's been fantastic to see this extend now to the flight deck just four days after sailing."
The squadron will be assigned to HMS Queen Elizabeth throughout the carrier's 50-year lifespan, protecting the ship against any submarine threats, and flying personnel and equipment on and off.
Normally based at Culdrose, the squadron is currently operating from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. It has been training for more than 18 months for its mission with the 65,000-tonne warship. Back to back overseas deployments operating from ships off the coast of Sierra Leone, the Mediterranean, the Gulf and the Middle East, has helped them to refine their flying skills and get ready to protect HMS Queen Elizabeth.
For the historical record, there were five people in the first aircraft to land on the new carrier. Lt Wraith was joined in the cockpit by his squadron's senior pilot Lt Cdr Steve Moseley, observer Lt Chris Bugg and aircrewmen Petty Officers Nigel Stockdale and Jonathan Holding.
"To have a 'first' in your log book is very special, but to have the first landing on the largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy is something very special indeed," said Lt Cdr Moseley, a graduate of the US Navy's Test Pilot School.
"We were the final link in the chain in a process that has involved thousands of people all working very hard towards this iconic occasion.
"The challenge for us was to be prepared for any eventuality, but also to have faith in the team whose job it has been to ensure that carrier aviation is as safe as possible."
Stepping back and letting his team get on with the task in hand was 820's Commanding Officer Cdr Jon Holroyd.
"For me, it's a very humbling moment, filled with pride - pride leading a team of such capable individuals, from the maintenance team who ensure the aircraft are prepared and ready, the survival equipment team who ensure the aircrew are best supported and the logistical effort that makes the team work."
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