Two Lynx aboard HMS Dragon in the Gulf
HMS Dragon doubled her effectiveness for two months flying not the usual one, but two Lynx helicopters from her sprawling flight deck.
The destroyer, on her maiden deployment, left Portsmouth in March with one the nimble helicopters from 815 Naval Air Squadron aboard.
But she also carried a spare air and ground crew – ready to look after HMS Monmouth’s when Dragon relieved the frigate to take over on Gulf patrol duties.
Monmouth’s helicopter – still bearing the charging Black Duke knight decal on her nose – was flown across and safely stowed in Dragon’s hangar, large enough to swallow up the two aircraft with room to spare.
Before the ship could begin double operations, Monmouth’s helicopter – callsign Flametrap 415 – needed maintenance after her six months of exertions in the region, work typically carried out back at home at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset.
The engineers and technicians toiled in temperatures now regularly over 40°C during the day.
“Dual aircraft operations has been a busy time for all,” said maintainer PO(AET) Matt Ferris. “The maintenance hours have been triple that of a normal flight due to 415 staying in theatre, and keeping up with the high flying tempo whilst having two aircraft.”
Facing the prospect of operating two aircraft to tactical advantage, Dragon adopted the ‘crawl-walk-run’ plan – aided by the fact that the destroyer’s Flight Commander, Lt Cdr Paul Ellerton, has done this before from ice survey ship HMS Endurance which carried two Lynx on her Antarctic missions.
What having two Lynx has allowed above all is the ability to carry out the ‘day job’ of surface searches and support to board and search operations, while the second helicopter carried out training with the Royal Marines sniper team, rapid roping, passenger transfers and, most importantly, picking up mail to bolster morale among the 235-strong ship’s company.
And when a call came from minehunter HMS Quorn that she needed equipment, vital to sustain her mission, flown in from Bahrain – the hub of the RN’s east-of-Suez mission – simultaneously with the need to return a group of American junior officers to the destroyer USS Higgins when rough seas prevented them going back by boat, both Lynx were scrambled.
Within two hours the helicopters were both back in the hangar being prepared for the next days tasking having completed their double mission.
Amid all the serious high-tempo operational flying – and in true Fleet Air Arm fashion – the aircrew managed to squeeze in some ‘fun’ by conducting formation flying; a skill rarely exercised in this part of the world.
“It was a great opportunity to actually apply the training we receive in the UK and put it into practice – dual operations in an operational theatre,” said pilot Lt Rob Gleave as the two months aboard Dragon came to an end.
As far as Dragon’s principal warfare officer Lt Cdr Jason White is concerned this double helicopter experiment has been well worthwhile.
“Having two Lynx aircraft embarked on Dragon for this short period has allowed valuable experience to be gained and lessons learned throughout the ship which have been captured for the future,” he added.
Photos L(Phot) Dave Jenkins
You tube video of two Lynx aboard HMS Dragon