UK — Last training on the Navy’s Merlin Mk1 helicopter

The final batch of Mer­lin air­crew are now com­plet­ing years of ardu­ous train­ing off the Cor­nish coast on the Mer­lin Mk1 heli­copter before the Fleet Air Arm gets the next-gen­er­a­tion ver­sion of the heli­copter.

A 824 Naval Air Squadron Mer­lin Mk1 heli­copter [Pic­ture: LA(Phot) Dave Ster­ratt, Crown Copyright/MOD 2012]
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Eigh­teen trainee pilots, observers and air­crew­men from 824 Naval Air Squadron at Roy­al Naval Air Sta­tion Cul­drose are spend­ing five weeks fly­ing on, off and around avi­a­tion train­ing ship Roy­al Fleet Aux­il­iary ves­sel Argus. They are the last crews to train on the Mk1 vari­ant of the air­craft before the Mer­lin Mk2 joins the Fleet Air Arm lat­er this year. 

The trainees have com­plet­ed between two and four years of train­ing and instruc­tion both on sim­u­la­tors and on the gen­uine article. 

But their stint on the 28,000-tonne train­ing ship — which dou­bles as the Navy’s casu­al­ty treat­ment ves­sel in times of war — is their first taste of oper­at­ing the Mer­lin, which is the main­stay of the Roy­al Navy’s anti-sub­ma­rine and counter-pira­cy oper­a­tions around the world. 

See the Gallery at Relat­ed Links for more images of naval per­son­nel train­ing on Mer­lin heli­copters on board RFA Argus. 

Aboard Argus, the trainees go from the basics of land­ing on and tak­ing off from a flight deck at sea to prac­tis­ing search and res­cue drills, then on to tac­ti­cal mis­sions such as hunt­ing sub­marines or sur­face ships. 

Stu­dent pilot Sub-Lieu­tenant Will Legge said: 

“You learn so much more in the real world than you do on a sim­u­la­tion. The real world pro­vides 100 times more vari­a­tion, things that you can nev­er plan. 

“And if things go wrong, you can­not just press ‘reset’.

“Com­plet­ing the first deck land­ing is a mile­stone. You are pret­ty ner­vous before­hand, because the deck looks tiny.” 

Sea Flight Com­man­der and senior 824 Naval Air Squadron instruc­tor aboard RFA Argus, Lieu­tenant Com­man­der Mike Cur­rie, said of the five-week train­ing spell: 

“This is where we put into prac­tice all that has been taught pre­vi­ous­ly — it is almost the final hurdle. 

“You have to have a cer­tain tem­pera­ment to suc­ceed, a cer­tain Fleet Air Arm ethos, but the pilots, observers, air­crew­men, they are all indi­vid­u­als. There’s no one trait and we’re cer­tain­ly not try­ing to pro­duce car­bon copies of ourselves.” 

Com­man­der Gavin Richard­son, 824 Naval Air Squadron’s Com­mand­ing Offi­cer, added: 

“The embarked peri­od is what the squadron team effort works toward. 

“It is the crown­ing glo­ry of a long and ardu­ous road for our stu­dents which pro­vides the oppor­tu­ni­ty to show the invest­ment was worth­while and that they have meta­mor­phosed into naval avi­a­tors, able to oper­ate and fly from that most demand­ing envi­ron­ment — the sea.” 

If the stu­dents come through the train­ing, they will earn their wings in June and go on to join one of three front line Mer­lin squadrons based at Culdrose. 

In doing so, they will be the last of scores of Mer­lin crews to pass through the squadron and the impres­sive sim­u­la­tor and train­ing com­plex at the air sta­tion on the Lizard Penin­su­la since the late 1990s. 

Mer­lin was orig­i­nal­ly intro­duced as a sub­ma­rine hunter to replace the ven­er­a­ble Sea King. It has since grown into a gen­er­al pur­pose heli­copter capa­ble of inter­dict­ing pirates and drug run­ners, sav­ing the lives of strick­en mariners, and deliv­er­ing stores and peo­ple, as well as ful­fill­ing its orig­i­nal anti-sub­ma­rine mission. 

The first next-gen­er­a­tion naval Mer­lin, the Mk2, arrives in Corn­wall this sum­mer. Although out­ward­ly the heli­copter is almost iden­ti­cal, inside the cock­pit and the com­mand con­soles are entire­ly new: 

“There is no com­par­i­son with oth­er air­craft out there,” said Lieu­tenant Com­man­der Cur­rie, who has 1,800 Mer­lin fly­ing hours under his belt. 

“It’s pret­ty awe­some when it comes to what it can do — espe­cial­ly the variety. 

“Things have moved on since the Mk1. It has served us well — and still serves us well — but it’s time to move on.” 

824 Naval Air Squadron will learn the ins and outs of the new heli­copters first before the rest of the Mer­lin com­mu­ni­ty gets to grip with them and it begins front line deployments. 

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK 

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