Aircrewman branch 40 years old
Serving and Veteran Aircrewmen from across the Naval Service are celebrating the birthday of their Branch from its formation 40 years ago at Portland, in Dorset.
On 1st April 1974 the Aircrewmen Branch came into being. Up until that date rating aircrew were a hotchpotch group of volunteers taken from within the Navy. After their tours of duty with squadrons they were returned to their source branch for promotion and trade training. During the Second World War there were many rating Pilots, Observers and Telegraphist Air Gunners (TAG’s) who were the forerunners of the Aircrewmen, but it wasn’t until 1974 that it was decided to create a more professional body that would act as a nucleus of aviation expertise.
When the branch was formed the flying jobs open to Aircrewmen were; SAR Winchmen, Sonar Operators, Commando Aircrewmen, SAR Divers, AS12 Missile Aimers and Communication Aircraft Aircrewmen flying in the Navy’s small fleet of passenger aircraft between Naval Bases at home and abroad.
As the most highly decorated branch in the Royal Navy, Aircrewmen have proved themselves in many ways over the intervening 40 Years, none so more than by the awarding of 4 George Medals, 15 Queens Gallantry Medals, 4 Air Force Crosses, 10 Air Force Medals, 3 Distinguished Service Medals as well as 4 MBE’s and 4 BEM’s.
Nowadays, Royal Navy and Royal Marine Aircrewmen serve in a variety of roles from duties onboard the Red and Grey Search and Rescue Sea Kings alongside Maritime Grey Merlin’s, at RNAS Culdrose to the Junglie Commando Sea Kings at RNAS Yeovilton, (soon to be replaced by the Merlin Mark 3 and 4.)
Commando Aircrewmen have seen action over the years on Operations in Africa, The Far East, Northern Ireland, The Falklands, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Primarily supporting the Royal Marines 3 Commando Brigade and now as part of Joint Helicopter Force; most Army Brigades have been thankful for the Junglies ‘Can-do’ attitude.
Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Aircrewmen also have been busy over the past four decades. Manning Sea Kings and Merlin’s either as whole Squadron formations on the HMS Invincible class carriers or small Flights on the backend of the Navy’s Frigates, Destroyers and Royal Fleet Auxiliaries around the world. Today their helicopters are the Merlin Mark 2: the multi million pound war-machines that are undoubtedly the best Anti-Submarine Hunters in the world, and their Aircrewmen the most highly trained.
Sending the Aircrewmen birthday greetings, the First Sea Lord has worked closely with the Branch as a Wasp pilot onboard HMS Rothesay and with ASW Sea Kings on 814 Naval Air Squadron.
“I have had the great privilege and pleasure to have served with many aircrewmen”, said Admiral Sir George Zambellas KCB DSC DL. “I can say from experience that their judgement is as important to the safety of the aircraft and those on board as that of any other member of aircrew. The professionalism and skill of this select band of aviators is often overlooked but I am delighted that they are recognised here and it is my great pleasure to wish the Aircrewmen’s branch a very Happy 40th Birthday and many more to come”.