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The Navy’s ‘eyes in the sky’ swap Helston for Landivisiau

Published: 13 Mar 2017

The Navy’s ‘eyes in the sky’ recently flew 120 miles from their home near Helston to Landivisiau, home of the French Navy’s carrier strike jets.


They went to share the Breton skies with Rafale strike fighters, practising skills which will be crucial when HMS Queen Elizabeth and her F-35 jump jets enter service.


849 Naval Air Squadron sent two Sea King Mk7s across the Channel for Exercise ‘Skinner’s Gold’, only for one to develop a serious gear box oil leak – luckily within sight of the French coast. The crew set it down on the outskirts of Brignogan-Plages, 20 miles northeast of Brest and a dozen from its destination, slap bang in a field where holidaymakers are warned not to camp.


Far from admonishing the fliers, locals, led by the mayor, were quickly on the scene, offering the crew food and drink, before French commandos guarded the site overnight while spare parts were flown over from RNAS Culdrose. 849’s engineers had the helicopter fixed and ready to take her place in the exercise within 24 hours.


The Baggers serve both as the Navy’s airborne early warning against air attack, and the long-range eyes helping to direct friendly aircraft on to targets, be they enemy fighters or armour and troop concentrations on the ground. This capability will shortly pass on to the new Crowsnest Merlin capability, so any opportunity to practise is seized, especially as the French pilots have just returned from a front-line deployment, flying from the deck of their nation’s flagship and attacking ISIS targets in the Middle East.



Their pilots and crews were able to impart invaluable knowledge about live operations and current tactics. With the Queen Elizabeth and F-35 Lightning now looming large on the horizon, these are vital preparations for the Royal Navy,” explained observer Lieutenant Ben Selwood. 


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