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Lt Nick Bell and Commander Mike Smith on the Flight deck of HMS Somerset
Lt Nick Bell being congratulated by Cdr Mike Smith Captain of HMS Somerset
Merlin Mk 2 landing on a Type 23 frigate

Flight Commander clocks up 2000 hours

Published: 01 Dec 2014

The Merlin Flight Commander on board HMS Somerset has achieved a major milestone in his flying career while the ship was exercising off the UK coast. 

Naval Pilot Lieutenant Nick Bell of 04Flight, 829 Naval Air Squadron was taken by surprise when the Captain of HMS Somerset, Commander Mike Smith and the rest of the Flight crew arrived on the Flight deck to congratulate him. 

 “It was such a nice surprise to see everyone gathered in the hangar when I landed. I was shocked to see the Captain and the Flight standing there when the hangar door opened. 2000 hours is a small milestone in a flying career but I feel very lucky to do the job that I do and have been very privileged with some of the deployments I have had in my short career,” said Nick, who comes from Bicester on Oxfordshire. “To be one of the few Merlin HM Mk 2 Flight Commanders from 829 NAS doing this job, embarked in HMS Somerset is fantastic and something that I couldn’t without the support of a great team.”

Nick Bell attended Bicester Community College before Loughborough University where he graduated in 2001 with a BEng Hons in Aeronautical engineering. He joined the Royal Navy in 2002 following a family tradition – his father was a Petty Officer (Radio Supervisor) from 1967 to 1980 and his grandfather an Air Engineering Mechanic during the 1950s.

When not on embarked at Sea, Nick is based at Royal Naval Air Squadron Culdrose. He added: “Being a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm is a huge honour and has given me the opportunity to travel the world and experience some amazing things. The variety of roles that I have had to undertake flying the Merlin helicopter has made it all the more interesting. Landing a Merlin helicopter on a Type 23 Frigate like HMS Somerset in rough seas, at night is one of the hardest challenges you can get as a pilot.”

One of Nick Ball’s favourite deployments was on Op Telic in 2008 with 829 NAS 01 Flight in HMS Lancaster whereas his most rewarding appointment was as a Qualified Helicopter Instructor with 705 NAS at RAF Shawbury. “I taught the next generation of Naval, Army and Air Force pilots to fly helicopters at the Defence Helicopter Flying Training School (DHFS). It’s a very special and rewarding job, taking students who’d never flown a helicopter before through the course and seeing them pass.”

When not involved in flying duties with the Royal Navy Nick is a keen sportsman – and a lifelong supporter of Oxford United.


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