CULDROSE SEA KINGS SUPPORT FRENCH CARRIER OPERATIONS AGAINST DAESH
Sea King helicopter crews from RNAS Culdrose are showing off their surveillance skills, scouring the sea and sky in the Gulf.
The distinctive Sea King Airborne Surveillance and Control Mk7 helicopters of 849 Naval Air Squadron, also known as the Royal Navy’s ‘eyes in the sky’, are working with the French Aircraft Carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, as it launches airstrikes against Daesh targets. The crew use the aircraft’s powerful radar to search the sea and skies around coalition ships and aircraft, to provide early warning of any potential threats.
It’s a mission the Sea Kings, normally based at Culdrose in Cornwall, were designed for and glad to return to. The personnel from 849 Naval Air Squadron are back at sea having spent many years high above Afghanistan, flying 800 missions, tracking the movements of insurgents and terrorists, helping ground troops make 150 arrests and seize tonnes of drugs, weapons and bomb-making ingredients.
The eyes of the crews are also looking towards the future and the return of Royal Navy fast jet operations, when HMS Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales enter service with F-35 stealth fighters. To that end, as well as carrying out surveillance, the Sea King crews have been directing French NH-90 helicopters and Rafale fighter jets to maintain their fighter controller skills – vital with the F-35 coming into service.
“It’s great to see how the French operate,” said Lt Jonathan Duke, one of three pilots on Okinawa Flight, the detachment from 849 Naval Air Squadron which is using supply ship RFA Fort Victoria as its launchpad for operations. “With our own carriers on the way, there are lots of lessons that we can learn to ensure that we are ready for them.”
“This has been a fantastic opportunity for Okinawa Flight to put their training into practice,” said Lt Cdr Simon Wood, 849’s senior pilot. “With the exceptional support of RFA Fort Victoria, flying in support of the Charles De Gaulle Carrier Battle Group has provided a unique opportunity to work with our French counterparts.”
By the end of March, all of the other Royal Navy Sea King helicopters will have been decommissioned (the red and grey Search and Rescue units at HMS Gannet and 771 Naval Air Squadron at Culdrose, and the green ‘flying cavalry’ of the Royal Marines in the Commando Helicopter Force at Yeovilton), and 849 Naval Air Squadron will fly the only Sea Kings within the UK armed forces.