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David follows dad as Commando Helicopter Force aircrewman

Published: 17 Nov 2022

A HANDSHAKE from Dad for Leading Hand David Gardiner.

And he has big boots to fill, following in his father’s footsteps as an aircrewman with the Commando Helicopter Force.

Dad George – now a Warrant Officer – joined Commando Helicopter Force back in 1988 when they were still flying venerable Wessex alongside the fabled Sea King.

In more than 5,000 hours in the skies of the world – that’s more than six entire months airborne – George has extensive experience, including serving with 846 NAS in the Second Gulf War (2003), returning to the squadron after a spell Naval Flying Standards, the name Gardiner is already well known.

His son joins the same squadron’s Operational Conversion Flight, learning to operate as a crewman in the Merlin Mk4 – crucial to delivering Royal Marines and their kit safely to their destinations in peace and war, in any environment: desert, shoreline, jungle, Arctic. 

“My first flight at 846 Naval Air Squadron was a significant moment in my career for more personal reasons,” said David. 

“My dad had his first flight here on his Commando Helicopter Force conversion in 1988. At the time of my initial flight, it may not have seemed that significant, but looking back it feels like a big moment and one myself and my dad are both proud of.”

“My dad’s career has definitely inspired me. I feel like he’s left very big shoes to fill, which is a challenge I’ll gladly take on. My biggest regret was probably not listening to my dad’s advice to join the aircrewman branch sooner. I think he’s definitely jealous of me beginning my aircrew career and, if he had the chance, he would probably do it all over again.”

David and fellow trainees learn the fundamentals of their job as well as a general understanding of flight at RAF Shawbury in Shropshire.

From there the successful rookie aircrewmen like David move on to specialist roles in either maritime Merlins (at Culdrose, operating anti-submarine warfare kit), or the Mk4 battlefield variant flown by CHF at Yeovilton.

The Merlin Mk4 Operational Conversion Unit teaches the skills required to fly and fight the commando Merlin in any environment.

Working as a crew, the two pilots and two aircrewmen in every Merlin Mk4 learn everything from landing on Royal Navy warships to moving troops and equipment. On completion, aircrew gain their coveted Wings, a proud moment for any naval aviator – allowing them to move on to front-line ops.


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