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Culdrose Sailor commended for efforts in the Middle East

Published: 25 May 2019

THE Sea King may be retired, but that hasn’t stopped Lieutenant Sam Leahy being commended for working on the Fleet Air Arm’s legendary workhorse.

The air engineer was singled out by the senior Royal Navy officer in the field for his efforts to ensure the veteran helicopters were up to the challenges of their final deployment.

Chief Naval Engineer Officer Rear Admiral Jim Higham presented a commendation to Sam at the annual gathering of the branch’s senior practitioners, hosted in his current place of work: HMS Sultan.

For four and a half months last year, Sam was in charge of a team of technicians, engineers and avionics experts responsible for two veteran helicopters on front-line operations in the Gulf region.

For the final few years of their operational careers the Sea King Mk7s of 849 Naval Air Squadron, based at RNAS Culdrose, were used extensively in the Middle East and over the Indian Ocean keeping an eye on any suspicious traffic.

The two helicopters were expected to be ready for 100 hours of flying operations every month, whether operating from land, or from RFA Fort Victoria, where his team toiled in hot, sticky conditions (Sam described them as “arduous and harsh”) with temperatures regularly hitting 50 degrees Celsius.

On top of that both Sea Kings were more than four decades old (one helicopter celebrated its 47th birthday during Sam’s tenure as detachment engineer officer), with all the problems, airframe cracks and engine faults expected of an ageing aircraft.

He became a naval engineer for the satisfaction of seeing the equipment he oversaw used on the front line to effect.

And according to his citation: “It is difficult to overstate the complexity of the challenge in providing 100 flying hours per month from an airframe that is over 40 years old in climatic conditions that reach in excess of 50 degrees centigrade.

“His outstanding leadership, combined with his exceptional professional knowledge make him a prime contender for recognition.”

He attributes his success during two tours in the Middle East supporting the Sea Kings of Normandy Flight to the skill, dedication and hard work of the men and women under him who pulled out all the stops time and again and often came up with ingenious solutions to problems, especially as they were at the end of a lengthy supply chain.

Sam is now working at the Royal Naval Air Engineering and Survival Equipment School, HMS Sultan, and was one 350 people attending Admiral Higham’s conference, where the senior officer underlined the importance of his branch to everything the Senior Service does.


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