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Royal Navy CPO AH on the Flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson
Royal Navy CPO AH on the Flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson
Cdr Steve Thomas CO 824 NAS presenting the Special Endeavour award to NA Karen Fletcher
Cdr Thomas and NA Fletcher with Vic Murphy
Aircraft Handlers Association at the Passing-in parade.

Safe in Our Hands

Published: 28 Jul 2015

"Safe in Our Hands”

(Nostris in Manibus Tuti)


This year marks the 70th Anniversary of the Royal Navy Aircraft Handlers Branch, who was formed to meet a need in 1945 to launch and recover aircraft from the navy's large carriers.


The first Aircraft Handlers (AH) were intrinsically involved with operations at the latter part of World War 2, that saw them fighting in the Far East against Japan and working the decks of the Carrier Force of the British Pacific Fleet. Bi-planes like the Swordfish had been replaced by American aircraft on loan that would effectively take the war to the doorstep ofJapanand eventually see an Allied victory. Royal Naval Aircraft Carriers throughout the following three decades moved onto more powerful and agile aircraft which all needed the skills of the branch to get them airborne and recovered. Many pilots were eternally grateful to the rescue proficiency of handlers who cut them free from the wreckage of a crash landing.


Today the AH Branch provides the Royal Navy with an embarked Maritime Aviation support capability that delivers flight deck management, coordination of aircraft movements both launch and recovery as well as crash fire rescue and post-crash salvage. 


Aircraft Handlers "passing-in" at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose recently were reminded of their illustrious forbearers, after finishing their intense 17 weeks Naval Airman’s qualifying course.


“I was a warfare specialist before transferring to the Aircraft Handlers branch,” said Naval Airman Karen Fletcher, who picked up the Special Endeavour award for the course. “It’s been a tough and challenging course but very worthwhile with a great bunch of people. I can’t wait to get to Sea and serve hopefully on the new HMS Queen Elizabeth.”


There are currently Handlers on exchange with the United States Navy as part of the ‘Long Lead’ Specialist Skills programme, providing the Fleet Air Arm with a cadre of personnel with Fixed Wing aviation experience. The goal for them all has been to qualify as a ‘Yellow Shirt’ onboard a US carrier in a nine month window; no mean feat when it can take up to twice that long for some of their US counterparts.


“The branch is in a period of transition in the run up to the official handover of the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft carriers,” said Warrant Officer Paul Moonan AH Branch Warrant Officer. “We’re not sitting back and catching the rays like “Roof Rats” of old; we are heavily involved in the development of operating procedures for this new class of ship.”


Representing the Aircraft Handlers Association and presenting the Special Endeavour award was Vic Murphy, who joined the Royal Navy in 1962. He completed his AH course at RNAS Culdrose and went onto serve with HMS Victorious, Eagle and Hermes. “I worked with many types of fixed wing aircraft during my time on carriers, Phantoms, Sea Vixens and Gannets to name a few. I loved it all, it was an exciting time and very rewarding. I’m quite


sure these youngsters will equally really enjoy the excitement of a busy flight deck with the HMS Queen Elizabeth class carriers.” 


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