There has been another first for the Royal Navy’s Carrier Strike regeneration – a Naval Air Squadron (NAS) has embarked in the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth for the very first time.
The Merlin Mk 2 helicopters of 820 NAS have been working with the ship since she sailed for the first time from Rosyth in June last year.
Until today however, the Squadron’s aircraft, equipment and personnel have been based ashore and simply flown on and off the ship.
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.
As the Mark 2 is the fully marinised version of Merlin, 820 NAS is perfectly suited to provide force protection to the ship as well for the duration of her time at sea.
With one of the most modern and capable sensor suites fitted to any helicopter in the world, the crews of 820 NAS can send information back to the ship from hundreds of miles away.
They can detail exactly what is in the water space for thousands of square miles around HMS Queen Elizabeth, presenting the war fighting team on board with all the information they need to keep the ship safe.
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.”