While her sister pumps hundreds of tonnes of fuel into Britain’s new aircraft carrier, RFA Tidesurge is proving the £113m ships are more than mere tankers.
The third of four large, fast tankers – built specifically to support the UK’s two Queen Elizabeth-class flagships – is carrying out trials with the largest helicopter on the UK Armed Forces’ books, the Chinook.
Those trials, conducted off Portsmouth and in the Navy’s South Coast Exercise Areas, will help to write the operators’ manual for the Tide class, allowing all four ships to launch and land Chinooks on the front line.
Tidespring, Tiderace, Tidesurge and Tideforce are all intended to be at the heart of carrier strike groups, providing fuel and other supplies to Queen Elizabeth and her escorts – as the lead vessel in the class is doing right now.
But it’s also possible that the 39,000-tonne vessels could be deployed independently, or with Royal Navy/Royal Marine detachments on board, and an embarked flight.
RFA Fort Victoria served as the launchpad for Sea King intelligence-gathering missions in the Indian Ocean, while RFA Mounts Bay is carrying out anti-drug running patrols in the Caribbean, and is on standby to provide help should a hurricane barrel through the region.
The ability to use a Chinook means heavier loads – such as humanitarian aid – can be carried, or more troops (up to 55, with kit) put on the ground, allowing more to be achieved than with the Fleet Air Arm’s Wildcat or Merlin helicopters.
A specialist team from the MOD’s home of aviation testing and trials at Boscombe Down are operating Chinook, recording countless readings on how the helicopter handles in various weather and sea conditions for what are known as First of Class Flying Trials.
“This is another step on the journey into service. RFA Tidesurge’s officers and crew are now looking forward and ahead to the service of dedication and being welcomed into the RFA flotilla family,” said Tidesurge’s Commanding Officer Captain Miles Lewis RFA, from Portsmouth.
Once work with the Chinook is complete, Tidesurge will continue her trials and training ready to join Tidespring and Tiderace on operations.
The final ship in the quartet is in Falmouth being fitted with weaponry, sensors and communications equipment ahead of beginning her trials.