In 2006, the government of the time announced controversial plans to effectively privatise provision of search and rescue helicopters in order to replace the aging Sea Kings currently in use, although they have suggested that crews may, at least partially, still be made up of military personnel.
In 2013 the Department for Transport announced that it had a signed a contract with Bristow Helicopters Ltd to provide search and rescue helicopter services in the UK with operations will commencing progressively from 2015. The new service is expected to be fully operational across the United Kingdom by summer 2017 and will utilise AgustaWestland AW189 and Sikorsky S-92 based at ten locations around the UK.
In the early 1950s, helicopters began to replace fixed wing aircraft in the search and rescue role with their ability to hover giving them an ability to recover survivors that fixed wing aircraft did not have.
The three squadrons that perform the valiant role are 22, 202 and 203.
No. 22 Squadron of the Royal Air Force operates the Sea King HAR.3 and HAR.3A at three stations in the southern United Kingdom. The squadron was originally formed in 1915 as an aerial reconnaissance unit of the Royal Flying Corps serving on the Western Front during First World War.
No. 202 Squadron was formed on 1 April 1918 by renumbering No. 2 Squadron RNAS. It was originally formed as one of the first aeroplane squadrons of the RNAS on 17 October 1914. It served on the Western Front during the First World War, carrying out reconnaissance and bombing missions from bases in Belgium and France.
No 203 Squadron was formed as No. 3 Squadron RNAS on 1 September 1914 at Saint-Pol-sur-Mer. In March 1915, the squadron, under the command of Commander Charles Samson, moved to the island of Tenedos, and began operating 18 aircraft in support of the Gallipoli Campaign. In the first weeks of the campaign they took over 700 photographs of the peninsula, and conducted other ground support tasks including spotting for naval gunfire, and reporting the movements of Ottoman troops.
Squadron leader 202 Squadron Iain Macfarlane said:
“Obviously it is tinged with sadness because we have come to the end of a very long career of looking after the people of the North East.
But also there is also an element of pride in there as well because we haven’t stumbled towards the finishing line today, we have marched proudly towards it as much as we possibly can, we have maintained our very high standards to the end and we have been there for the community right up until the very last minute.”
202’s final shift clocks off at 9.20am today.
The Sea Kings based at Boulmer, the period 1983 to last year had attended an incredible 4,856 call outs, helping 3,934 military personnel and civilians.
The Search and Rescue Forces will be remembered for their tireless provision of life saving assistance and professionalism, if you at any point were part of this, thank you on behalf of the citizens of this country.