Three days since leaving Toulon and the two Wildcats from Commando Helicopter Force’s 847 Naval Air Squadron are getting used to life at sea and earning the relevant flying qualifications needed to be at the heart of a five-month deployment to Southeast Asia.
The Wildcats share the deck of the Dixmude – a hybrid helicopter carrier/amphibious assault ship (think part HMS Ocean/part HMS Albion) – with French Army Gazelles and, later in the Jeanne d’Arc deployment, Spanish Cougars.
Joined by the French frigate Surcouf, Dixmude spent her first two full days at sea in the Mediterranean, conducting flying trials to give the aircrew ‘deck currency’ by day and night… which both British and French fliers have achieved.
At the same time, it’s allowed the CHF engineers to begin to develop their understanding and relationship with the les chiens jaunes – the flight deck officers who rule the Dixmude’s deck.
Their Yellow Dog nickname comes from the bright surcoats they wear to stand out on a busy flight deck by day and night… and the ability to bark orders and instructions above the noise of the wind and aircraft engines.
A 40-strong detachment of air and ground crew are supporting the Joan of Arc deployment alongside 50 US Marines, the two Spanish helicopters and their crews, and 133 French officer cadets who are beginning their operational training.
The task group will sail as far east as Tahiti - a journey of a good 15,000 miles from Toulon - and New Caledonia, 900 miles off the east coast of Australia.