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Published: 08 Sep 2019

Royal Marines and Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) have been testing their ability to rescue ‘downed’ pilots from aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. 

Around 80 elite marines from Lima Company of Plymouth-based 42 Commando were launched on CHF Merlins from Queen Elizabeth and headed for Dartmoor. 

There, under pressure from ‘enemy’ fire, the commandos used their search and rescue techniques to track down the stranded pilot in the undergrowth and bring them back to the Merlins and safely to the carrier.

The specialists in delivering these Royal Marines in to the thick of the action and quickly and safely extracting them is 845 Naval Air Squadron of CHF and their upgraded Merlin MK4 helicopters.  

CHF’s role on the carrier is to act as the wings of the Royal Marines but also in a search and rescue role, in addition to moving personnel and stores around the Carrier Strike Group or forwards on to land. 

Lieutenant Tom Lennon, who flies one of the three embarked Merlins from ‘Furious Flight’, highlighted how important the pilot recovery role is to Carrier Strike Group operations. 

“After many years of land-centric campaigns, 845 NAS is getting fully back into the business of specialist amphibious operations,” he said.

“We occupy a unique position, with a foot firmly in both the maritime and land camps, bringing ship-to-shore air manoeuvre expertise to the UK Carrier Strike Group.”

Lima Company’s main role on board Queen Elizabeth is to remain ready to recover pilots if they were to crash during trials.

They are also in place to be used as a force which can be put ashore – not only in a combat role but for hurricane or disaster relief, as is currently being seen in the Caribbean as a result of Hurricane Dorian.

This latest training came as Queen Elizabeth heads on her Westlant 19 deployment, which will see UK F-35B fighter jets tested on the carrier’s flight deck for the first time.

She is currently sailing across the Atlantic for the east coast of North America.


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