FLEET AIR ARM OPENS RNAS MERRYFIELD TO THE LOCAL COMMUNITY
UNDER CLOUDLESS SKIES, the Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) at Merryfield, near Ilminster, opened its gates to the local community for the evening of Wednesday, 10 June.
Over 2,300 people (twice as many as in 2014) took up the invitation to visit and find out what happens at RNAS Merryfield, and why. RNAS Merryfield is the satellite airfield for the main Fleet Air Arm base, RNAS Yeovilton, 13 miles away, near Ilchester. Much of Yeovilton’s procedural helicopter flying training takes place at Merryfield but many people don’t know where the base is, or what it is used for. Once a year - resources permitting - Merryfield stages an Open Evening to ‘tell all’.
Claire-Louise Hutchinson from Ilminster was with her two sons Cameron (7) and Fraser (4). Claire said,
“We are used to seeing the aircraft flying over our home and we like to come and support the military efforts every year”.
As Fraser and Cameron patiently joined the longest queue of the evening to get in the static Sea King Claire added,
“It’s a great evening and so nice for the boys to get up close to the aircraft“.
Becky Hoare from Chard was at Merryfield with her son Kaleb Morris (5); his two friends Benjamin Doel (5) and Owen Lee (4) and their mothers. Becky said,
“It’s our first time at Merryfield and the boys are having a great time, they are really excited it’s hard keeping up with them. We saw the poster on Facebook and thought we would come along and take a look, I’m glad we did”.
Abi Bond, Mum to Owen (4) said,
“It’s a brilliant evening the kids are loving it and proudly wearing their Black Cat stickers and face paints”.
RNAS Yeovilton currently has aircraft deployed around the world. In addition to the more obvious tasking, they are involved in operations ranging from counter-narcotics and counter-piracy to a contingency presence in areas such as the Arabian Gulf, the South Atlantic and theMediterranean. The military’s flying training requirement to support this front-line activity is intense. Merryfield accommodates much of the Commando Helicopter Force, Aviation Reconnaissance Force and Maritime Lynx and Wildcat Force training that cannot take place at Yeovilton because it provides a full fixed wing flying capability. Many years of experience show that intensive helicopter flying training and fixed wing operations do not mix.
Maintaining flying skills and readiness for operations is a demanding and exacting task and, as many who live in the Merryfield area know, it is sometimes noisy. The Community Relations Officer, Jeremy Greenop said,
“We acknowledge the impact our operations at Merryfield has on the local community and we do all we can to minimise the disturbance while maintaining the operational effectiveness of our aircrew. Having visited many parishes in the area, I believe we have the overwhelming support of the people in the local community but it is inevitable that some people are not as enthusiastic about what takes place at this airfield, but it is worth remembering that we have been operating helicopters at Merryfield since 1971.
Other than the aircraft, one of the main attractions was the Royal Navy Presentation Team’s ‘Fit for Life’ caravan in which Royal Marine Colour Sergeant Chef Mike Beaton (43) demonstrated simple but healthy cooking options while describing the importance of good food for keeping the men and women of the Royal Naval Service fit for life (a message for us all) and – for the Royal Naval Service – fit to fight.
At the start of the evening, the Ilminster Model Flying Group provided an exciting flying display with an impressive variety of aircraft. The ‘ground displays’ included: the Yeovilton fire station’s exhibits with an example of the largest RN fire fighting vehicle (the MFV), regular RN Fire vehicles and a fire prevention display; a Royal Marine Commando field equipment display including a field hospital and weapons display; the Royal Navy Aircrew Survival & Evasion Section’s equipment; the Royal Navy Presentation Team; the British Horse Society; Somerset Road Safety; the Taunton Vale Cycle Racing Club that, as well as their ultra modern carbon fibre racing bicycles, displayed some Classic Cars from the 30s. In addition, 2381 (Ilminster) Squadron Air Cadets gave invaluable assistance to the Merryfield staff throughout the evening.
AgustaWestland, whose helicopters regularly use RNAS Merryfield, provided 3 aircraft in the static line-up including an Italian Military Search and Rescue EH101, a Wildcat HMA Mk2 and an AW 109E. The finale flying displays showcased, a Chipmunk from the Royal Navy Historic Flight and the highly acclaimed Black Cats display team flying, for the first year, the Wildcat HMA Mk2 helicopter.
On completion of the flying displays, the static aircraft dispersed in front of an enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd with a stunning sunset backdrop.