EIGHTEEN pilots and aviation crewmen from 847 Naval Air Squadron and 652 (Wildcat Fielding) Squadron Army Air Corps, based in RNAS Yeovilton have been awarded their Conversion To Type training completion certificates and Wildcat AH badges, marking a historic occasion for both the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) and the Army Air Corps’ Aviation Reconnaissance Force (ARF).
The Conversion To Type (CTT) training began on the 14 July 2014 with the start of the ground school phase. The ground school syllabus and courseware was developed by 652(WF) Sqn AAC in the preceding year and delivered by the Wildcat Integrated Support & Training contract. Once ground school was complete, the course progressed on to the Wildcat Full Motion Simulator (FMS) to carry out the rudimentary aspects of emergency handling and systems learning.
During the flying phase of CTT, 847 NAS carried out Forward Air Controller currency training with 100 Sqn RAF flying Hawks with live ordnance (3kg) and 9 Sqn RAF flying Typhoons. Naval Gunfire Support, conducted with HMS Dauntless was also carried out in addition to Air Observation Post training, calling in artillery fire from the aircraft.
WO1 Tony Cooke, 652 (WF) Sqn AAC Trials officer and Qualified Helicopter Instructor, said,
“Having been involved with the Wildcat programme for over seven years, to reach the point where we have delivered the first full conversion course is the pinnacle of my flying and instructional career.
The students generally found the pure flying aspects of the Wildcat course straight forward. The steep learning curve to the conversion was understanding and learning the complex avionics and mission systems. Most aspects of operating the wildcat involves digital manipulation of various systems such as selecting radios, setting up the digital maps correctly and optimising the displays. As with most computer systems, there are several ways of doing one function. What we are trying to teach the student is to operate the systems in the most efficient manner. By doing this, they release valuable capacity to enable them to holistically operate the aircraft as a highly capable platform.”
The aircrew of both 847 NAS and 652 (WF) Sqn have previous experience on many different types of aircraft including Sea King Mks 4,5 and 6, Lynx Mk3,7, 8 and 9A, Apache, Chinook and even the USMC AH-1W Cobra flown by Maj Morgan Smyth USMC, who is on exchange with CHF.
The operational experience of the aircrew is vast, encompassing operational deployments in Northern Ireland, Belize, the former Yugoslavia, Libya, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan. The flying experience levels of the pilots are just as varied with a 652 (WF) Sqn average of 3000 hours. The highest having over 6000 hours and the most junior with over 1800 hours. To date, some of the instructors have already achieved nearly 600 hours on Wildcat with the first to 1000 hours on type not far away. Lt James Nottingham of 845 NAS achieved his 1000 total flying hours milestone during the last flight of the CTT.
All 847 NAS and 652 (WF) Sqn pilots successfully completed their Final Handling Test and Instrument Rating Test at the end of January 2015. The FHT consisted of pairs tactical formation flying utilising Night Vision Goggles conducting Nap of the Earth (extreme low level, contour following and terrain masking throughout the flight profile) flying and crossing under power lines.
Colonel Mike Smith AAC, Commander of the Aviation Reconnaissance Force presented the awards and remarked on the tremendous effort both 847 NAS and 652 (WF) Squadron AAC had made getting to this point. A total of eighteen students graduated including eleven pilots and seven aviation crewman.
847 NAS are now the first operational squadron to receive the AW159 Wildcat AH1. The next stage for 847 NAS is to conduct Conversion To Role training which will teach them to exploit the tremendous capabilities of the Wildcat AH Mk1.
Looking ahead, both the pilots and crewmen of 847 NAS will now focus on generating an embarked capability to provide UK Defence with the first deployable Wildcat Squadron able to effectively support the Royal Marines anywhere in the world. Whilst 652 (WF) Sqn will be preparing for the next CTT course.