New Fliers Go to Sea
A month at sea blooded 14 new aircrew in the art of naval aviation as they hunted down submarines and ships around the UK.
An 88-strong detachment of air and ground crew from 824 Naval Air Squadron took three Merlin Mk2 helicopters aboard RFA Argus for four weeks of flying, first off the Cornish coast, then in the wilder waters off the Hebrides.
The goal was to qualify five pilots, four observers (navigator/weapons specialists) and five Aircrewman (weapons specialists/winchmen) in the art of landing and taking off at sea, refuelling without touching down on the deck of the aviation training ship, shifting loads slung beneath the 14-tonne helicopter, before moving on to 40 hours of submarine hunting and three dozen hours of tracking down surface ships.
The latter two strands of the training were greatly assisted by Argus’ presence at the autumn Joint Warrior exercise, the twice-yearly UK-led war games staged in Scotland and off its west coast.
The latest incarnation of the fortnight-long exercise gave the trainee fliers 35 ships, aircraft and helicopters to play with – and allowed the crews to develop some of the skills and tactics they’ll be required to use to protect new aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales.
824 is the training squadron for the entire ‘grey’ (submarine hunting rather than ‘green’ commando carrying) Merlin force, providing qualified pilots, observers and engineers for squadrons assigned to the UK’s aircraft carriers and Type 23 frigates.
The four weeks with Argus are essential for aircrew earning their wings; qualifying them to fly on front-line duties, giving them real assets and conditions to train in rather than the hi-tech simulators at Culdrose, and giving rookie engineers and technicians their own baptism of fire, learning how to look after a state-of-the-art aircraft in a pitching, rolling ship with limited facilities compared with a hangar on land.
“The embarkation in RFA Argus has been a resounding success for the squadron’s Sea Flight,” said Lt Cdr Roger Angliss who led the 88-strong team of men and women.
“We’ve had the pleasure of completing student aircrew training to progress future Fleet Air Arm aviators in preparation for their intended front-line flying roles – be that Pilot, Observer or Aircrewman.
“Along the way, the aircrew have encountered the full range of sea conditions from the benign to Sea State 7 – waves of up to 30ft – and above in storm force weather conditions.
“I’m very proud of the flight’s achievements – from the staff and student perspectives yes, but especially from my Engineers who’ve kept the Merlins available for over 150 hours of flying throughout the entire four-week spell.”