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Merlin Engineers onboard HMS Illustrious carrying a Sonobuoy rack
Using the dehumidifying hose in the under-deck hangar
Working on the engine
Working with the aircrew to check and secure the Sonobuoys

Naval air engineers get to grips with new Merlin

Published: 02 Apr 2014

Amidst the mêlée of Exercise Joint Warrior, which is currently being held off the West Coast of Scotland, Air Engineers from 820 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) are getting to grips with the recently upgraded Merlin Mk 2 helicopters onboard HMS Illustrious. 

Embarked on HMS Illustrious as part of the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group, the helicopters are taking part in the largest Maritime exercise inEuropethis year. 

The Merlins, which are normally based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose inCornwall, are proving their worth, and the Squadron engineers are playing their part too.  HMS Illustrious (or ‘Lusty’ as the ship is nicknamed) is the Royal Navy’s Commando Helicopter Carrier.  She is currently home to Merlin Mk 2s, Junglie Sea Kings and Chinook helicopters as well as Royal Marines from 3 Commando Brigade RM. 

Maintaining and sustaining these aircraft during their 24/7 routines are a team of 50 Air Engineers and a support force who keep the Airborne Submarine Hunters airborne.  Working as deck crews when the Merlins are flying and beneath the flight deck in the ships vast hangar carrying out aircraft roll-changes or engineering maintenance as part of scheduling routines, they work long hours often throughout the night. 

“It can get pretty busy up on the flight deck, with so many different helicopters about”, said Air Engineer Technician (AET) Joe Holman, who’s been with 820 Naval Air Squadron for only six months and is impressed by how it all works.  “The guys running the deck really know what they’re doing.  It’s a steep learning curve for everyone, but really enjoyable; it’s been great fun.” 

Joe is one of several AETs from 820 Naval Air Squadron who are finding their way around a ship of this size for the first time among the challenges that come with complex maritime exercises. 

Senior Maintenance Rating for the Squadron is Warrant Officer 2 Dave Baxter, who has the responsibility for all the Engineering on the Merlins during their deployment.  Dave said: “The most impressive thing I’ve noticed so far about our deployment is how well the junior rates and engineers have integrated into the ship, picking up really quickly on the operating regimes on the deck and more importantly in the hangar.” 

And it’s this ability to quickly get along with other helicopter forces that is crucial to embarked operations.  Dave continued, “It’s a unique exercise because we’re working along side several different helicopter types, but it’s all about talking to each other and understanding their challenges.  So far it seems to be working fine.  We’re learning things all the time.” 

820 NAS are going to be embarked on HMS illustrious for a great deal of 2014, on two major deployments.  WO Dave Baxter is also using this deployment to see what ‘Lusty’ has to offer.  As part of the planning team for these deployments, he knows how valuable working in this ‘exercise induced demanding environment’ can be.  He said: “I’ve indentified the areas we need to take a look at.  Exercise Deep Blue is coming up soon after we return from this exercise and we don’t have much time to iron out any problems.  From Exercise Joint Warrior I’ll have a core of people who will know what we need to achieve and make sure all our plans are flawless.”


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