820 Naval Air Squadron has embarked on-board aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.

HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed recently for the first phase of trials that will ultimately see the carrier declared safe to fly Chinook, Merlin, Wildcat and Apache attack helicopters in addition to F-35 jets later in the year.

The aim of the trials say the Royal Navy is to ‘work out the conditions that the aircraft can operate in while at sea on the carrier’. They will collect data about the landings, take-offs and manoeuvres in different wind and sea conditions, before processing the information and ultimately declaring that the ship can safely operate the aircraft.

Until yesterday, 820 Squadron’s aircraft, equipment and personnel have been based ashore and simply flown on and off the ship according to the Royal Navy who say:

“Today marks the first time that any Squadron will embark the ship, that is, move their people, kit and helicopters on-board to live and operate there 24 hours a day. Whilst it is normal for 820 NAS to be operating from sea (having done so from HMS Ocean for seven out of the previous 12 months), it will be a new experience for HMS Queen Elizabeth to have a whole Squadron on board.

For the duration of the embarkation, 820 NAS will be using their Merlin helicopters to provide the carrier with aviation assets to train and to test their equipment with. The Mk2 Merlin helicopters are also fully capable of providing search and rescue cover 24 hours a day from the ship.”

The Squadron’s Senior Pilot, Lt Cdr Steve Moseley, was very much looking forward to embarking:

“For us as maritime helicopter pilots, it has been an amazing experience being the first to work with our new aircraft carrier from the beginning. We have been itching to get on the ship rather than operate with her from ashore. We all joined the Fleet Air Arm to operate aircraft at sea, and to be the first to do it on-board HMS Queen Elizabeth is very exciting.”

LAET Chris Lewis is an engineer on 820 NAS. He added:

“Maintaining aircraft at sea is always challenging. We have to work in confined hangar spaces on a pitching and rolling deck – you can’t even put a screwdriver down without it rolling away and getting lost!

But having just joined HMS Queen Elizabeth, I’m gobsmacked at how good our facilities are on here. There’s so much space, it makes our lives significantly easier.”

35 COMMENTS

      • Andy-in answer to your question I think the Canadian experience tells the story. Canada’s Armed Forces were merged in the 1960’s and over the following 50 years each former branch struggled to retain some individual identities. There are very good reasons why army,navy and air forces should occupy distinct spaces the main one being that they live in different geographical environments. It is self evident that special skills and equipment are required to operate on the sea and in the sky. In addition there is the very real issue of ‘Esprit de Corps’. All wearing the same uniform greatly diminishes that. So back to Canada whose Forces have dis-integrated into the formerly 3 distinct branches and belying Diefenbakers charge of “Creeping Republicanism” once again we have the Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force.

  1. Is it me or is Merlin an absolutely fantastic helicopter…

    Sometimes we do things that are just amazing and I think wildcat and merlin are tow of those things…

    • Agree on Merlin, mainly the ASW version. Good looking and very capable ( So I read )

      Problem is we have 30 left out if the 44 acquired and it is now expected to cover the ASCS task with 849 NAS as well replacing the Sea Kings when these should have had dedicated replacements, ideally the 8 other Merlin not upgraded.

      As for Wildcat, well we could have had equal number of Black Hawks for a fraction of the cost, which can carry more as well, and saved the defence budget for things like another escort for the 1 billion plus we paid.

      But jobs for the boys at Westlands, or Leonardo or whatever it is called these days won out.

      As has been said so many times, not just by me, one of the ways to avoid a gold plated armed forces with tiny numbers at ruinous prices, sound familiar, is to SOMETIMES buy off the shelf.

      As it is we have replaced 100 plus Lynx plus Gazelles with a mere 34 WIldcat. ( Army variants )

      The 28 Wildcat for the RN is more do able as we have so few escorts left we did not need the 88 odd Lynx Mk3 we originally acquired.

      Does Wildcat have Martlet yet? I know FASGW is some way off and Sea Skua has retired.

      But your original comment, yes Merlin looks great!

        • Will have a read thanks Paul. Good news as I thought the heavier missile was much delayed by the usual French wrangling.

      • I read somewhere online that the 12 Merlin that were not upgraded have been cannibalised for parts and the fore are no-longer salvageable.

      • Preservation of sovereign capably is very important and rotor is one area we can keep this. Westlands could have easily delivered an off the shelf medium lift (Leonardos have a number of them) cheaper than a lot of other options but the navy wanted wildcat and it is expensive because of the capability the RN required, the army got it because the navy wanted it and ordering two types would have been a bit bonkers unless they got rid of PUMA and went for a single new medium lift for the army.

        The simple truth is that because our Order numbers for maritime rotor is so small the army always seem to get the same as the Navy even if they are both the wrong size (wild cat and merlin) and over engineered and costly.

        • Picking up on the sovereign technology point. Designing and building military helicopters is a circus act not a commodity and is a capability we should protect as a nation wven if it means a premium on the price and army, navy, RAF using a common design. You see this strategy in CAMM/ FLAADs/ Sea Ceptor and where you can make it work it is preferable to Anglos French projects.

          • Paul P – Absolutely spot on again. My hackles do rise when I see people happily exporting our manufacturing future to the USA (or France or wherever). I wouldn’t mind but we get diddley squat in return. Except Invoices. We should at minimum build whatever we do buy abroad under licence here. Or we don’t buy.

            We MUST retain the areas where we can do as well as, and often better than, what is available from foreign companies.

            And even if there is a ‘premium’ to be paid for building here at least we are spending UK taxpayers money on UK jobs and communities. And that is worth some ‘extra’ 40% given how that money is recirculated back directly into the UK economy. Sadly the number crunchers on their laptops in the Treasury know the price of everything but the cost of nothing.

      • Daniele – Can I gently disagree with your comments about ‘jobs for the boys’. Personally I think its great we are creating ‘jobs for the British boys (and girls)’ by building here rather than the (apparently) easier option of ‘buying off the shelf’ from foreign (mainly American) manufacturers.

        In Westlands (OK I know its called Leonardo now but I am old fashioned) we have a magnificent capability that should be encouraged and nourished and given every order possible. I won’t rehearse my thesis that taxpayer money spent here in the UK has better and multiplying value by some 40% against that same money spent abroad but disregarding that the Blackhawk is no Wildcat. Its not even a Merlin.

        But I will rehearse my other argument that when Boeing went to war over Bombardier and threatened UK jobs and investment we should have IMMEDIATELY cancelled all Chinook orders and replaced them with twice the number of Merlins. That would give us a bigger force in total, bigger overall internal lift capability and the very many Chinooks we already have could be directed at more specialised heavy unit lift operations. It would have fired a very clear warning shot across the bows of Boeing (and the USA) that we do not take kindly to being threatened. OK so Boeing have lost the Bombardier battle but don’t think they consider the war is over. We spend far too much taxpayer cash with Boeing and US suppliers. It is utterly scandalous.

        And don’t even get me started on the 2,747 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles costing $ Bn in a deal with Oshkosh…….

        • You can, of course Chris. I knew I would be gently shot down….

          While all you say is true, we cannot then complain about numbers if we buy at home all the time. I was suggesting SOME of the time we buy OTS.

          My comment was purely concerned at getting as much for the forces in the greatest numbers for the best price.

          As you have pointed out, industry will always win out, and I do not disagree that having sovereign capability is vital.

          Sadly we see the military getting smaller in part because of it.

  2. are the lifts big enough to get the chinooks in the hanger? how do you secure a chinook to the deck in a rolling, pitching sea….the mind boggles

    • the top picture has a Chinook secured to a deck. Effectively a marginally more high tech version of guide ropes on a tent. 4 straps pulled tight will keep it still.

      • If you look closely the aircraft is lashed to the deck via the undercarriage. The ropes you see on the blades are to stop the blades moving. The Chinook unlike the Merlin has a fully articulated head (1960s tech), so gusts will effectively lift the blades and generate a phenomenon called blade sail, hence the ropes.

        The Merlin from experience is not a very good battlefield helicopter compared to a Chinook for two reasons, the ramp is too steep and becomes really slippery when cold and wet. Also, the aircraft’s main upper structure is constructed from composites. The Chinook is all Aluminium, which is a lot easier to repair, i.e. a bit of speed tape over a bullet hole and it’s good to go unlike the Merlin!

        The Merlin however, is an excellent ASW helicopter as it has a very smooth ride and has a long duration.

    • If you’re referring to the Wildcat then officially it was supposed to replace the lynx and has done this for the navy. But in terms of the army it is more of a gazelle replacement then anything else.

      • Harry, I think I get what you are saying if you are referring to mission, not aircraft.

        Wildcat was procured to replace our remaining Lynx, now out of service.

        Back in the day the AAC’s regiments operated Gazelle for recc and Lynx for AT with TOW.

        The AT mission was taken by Apache leaving a much reduced fleet of Lynx to take the Gazelle mission.

        So technically you are correct. But the 34 Wildcat for the army in reality have replaced Lynx, not Gazelle, which was discarded decades ago with few left.

        Gazelle has for years remained in a few places, BATUS flight in Canada, and a squadron in Northern Ireland.

        8 Flight were supposed to have a couple too, intriguing, and understandably no open info available on these.

        5 Regiment AAC who operated it were always likely to get the chop and finally have done.

        You could also argue that Watchkeeper has taken some of the Gazelle’s mission.

  3. “Later this year” – it feels as if we’re almost within touching distance of seeing the first F-35B operating off her deck. OK, only test aircraft I know but it’ll still be, at least for me the pivot-point milestone in the whole work up.

    Does anyone know what release date they are targeting for the documentary on the carrier that I believe is being filmed? Presumably after the first F-35 tests but hopefully not waiting right up until the time she is declared fully operational before releasing it.

  4. Chris,

    Unfortunately your argument for cancelling ALL Chinook orders for more Merlins is just plain…..dumb.

    The Merlin as great a helicopter as it is, simply can’t come close to the capability of the Chinook in terms of internal and external lift. We also can’t really afford to get into a pissing contest with Boeing and the USA and pull orders and stamp our feets.

    • Agree. LOVE the Chinook!

      Would like the MoD to find the money to stand up a 4th Squadron with the extra Chinooks they bought to compensate the RAF for the loss of the 28 Merlins to the CHF.

    • raftastic – Well thank you for the insult. Disagreement is fine but ‘dumb’?
      As I have written I do not in any way ascertain the Merlin can lift as much as a Chinook. Indeed if you had read my words more carefully you will see I made exactly that point for large indivisible unit loads. And, as I said, we have a large fleet of Chinooks capable of doing just that. Indeed the last of 15 new ones were delivered in 2015 bringing the inventory to some 60 aircraft.

      As for comparing internal lift of the two aircraft:
      The Merlin can deliver some 6,000 Kgs and the Chinook some 10,800 Kgs: 2 x Merlins = 12,000 Kgs.
      The Merlin can deliver 27 fully equipped troops and the Chinook 33: 2 x Merlins = 54 troops

      https://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2011/04/a-quick-comparison-of-helicopter-lift/

      My argument was also founded on two points:
      1. We should be providing any and all support fro the UK manufacturing base. Especially aerospace companies. So if we have (say) a need for 10 Chinooks we buy maybe 15 or 20 Merlins which will actually provide a far more flexible and a bigger overall lift capability for multiple non-indivisible loads as described above

      2. And confronting an aggressive supplier who is seeking to damage your home aerospace industry is not ‘stamping feet’ or having a ‘pissing contest’. WE are the customer. THEY are the supplier. My experience as both of those in large business transactions was that the customer is always right and the supplier hacks off the customer at great risk.

      You infer by your attitude we should be begging Boeing to look after us and pat them on the corporate head for trying to destroy Bombardier? Do correct me if I am wrong but I think you are VERY wrong if this is the case. We MUST defend our home people before all others. Surely isn’t that why we have a defence capability?

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