HMS Illustrious in the Philippines with 829 NAS Merlin
The Merlin helicopter of 01 Flight from 829 Naval Air Squadron has played a key role aboard HMS Illustrious during the carrier’s two-week mission to help Filipinos whose communities were devastated by Typhoon Haiyan last month.
It has been airborne daily throughout Operation Patwin – the UK military response to the natural disaster – flying sorties more typically carried out by their counterparts in the Commando Helicopter Force, carrying loads slung in giant nets beneath the aircraft and landing at unusual, otherwise inaccessible sites.
During the fortnight on station around remote islands fringing the Visayan Sea, the Merlin has been in the air every day, flying 75 hours – more than twice the monthly average – shifting those 100 tonnes of aid.
Thanks to its cargo and passenger-carrying ability, the Merlin was used extensively to lift aid – slung beneath the helicopter in 80ft ‘strops’ (a one-use-only bag which can carry a two-tonne load and can be dropped without requiring anyone on the ground to help) – and transport teams of specialists such as medics or teams of sailors and marines to carry out damage repair.
“The flying has been quite challenging,” said pilot Lt Jon Maumy.
“Trying to land such a big aircraft in small, confined areas is all about crew co-operation and patience; we need to ensure we don’t damage the aircraft or more importantly the surrounding areas we are here to help.”
His helicopter is the sole Merlin aboard Illustrious – the remaining helicopters aboard are Commando Helicopter Force Sea Kings and Army Air Corps Lynx.
With just one flight, there’s just one set of aircrew (two pilots, one observer and one aircrewman) supported by a dozen technicians and maintainers – although the latter have been bolstered by four engineers from HMS Illustrious and two from 829’s sister Merlin squadron 820 NAS.
And in Illustrious’ operations room, Leading Aircraft Controller Gillian Dowds was helping to safely direct the round-the-clock helicopter operations.
“Having the added manpower from 820 and the air engineering department onboard Lusty has allowed us to carry out maintenance at night – enabling us to fly all through the day,” said senior maintenance rating CPO ‘Rab’ Butler.
The flight was taking part in counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa – something for which Merlin is ideally suited thanks to its sensors – when the Prime Minister ordered Illustrious to assist with the international aid effort in the Philippines.
This video from HMS Illustrious in the Philippines sees some of the crew describe the ongoing relief effort.