THE Royal Navy has taken delivery of its Merlin helicopter fleet.
The official handover of the aircraft from the RAF took place at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire and marks the next stage in the transition of the Merlin from the Support Helicopter Force to the Commando Helicopter Force.
Since 2012, aircrew and engineers from CHF have been integrated into the Merlin Force at RAF Benson; working alongside their RAF counterparts to absorb over a decade of experience of operating and maintaining the technologically-advanced aircraft.
The Royal Navy officially accepted the aircraft during the official standing up of 846 Naval Air Squadron, which was attended by The Duke of York, Commodore-in-Chief of the Fleet Air Arm, and First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas.
Prince Michael of Kent, Honorary Air Marshal of RAF Benson, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, Chief of the Air Staff, were also in attendance.
846 NAS have a proud history since their establishment in April 1943, undertaking operations across the world including Borneo (which earned the CHF the nickname ‘Junglies’), the Falkland Islands, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The squadron will remain at RAF Benson until Spring next year when they and several of the Merlin aircraft will return to the home of the CHF at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset.
Transition will continue at RAF Benson when 845 NAS will stand up in place of 28 (Army Cooperation) Squadron RAF later in 2015. When fully operational, 845 Squadron will also return home to Yeovilton to reunite the fleet.
Admiral Zambellas said: “Today is a time to look forward. Not just to the next chapter to be written by the re-formed 846 Naval Air Squadron but also to the ongoing contribution of all Navy and Air Force helicopter forces. And, today, we in the Navy wanted to recognise our partnership with the Air Force, both here at Benson and beyond.”
Capt Niall Griffin, Commanding Officer of CHF said: “I’m genuinely thrilled; it’s a real honour to take on the capability from the RAF.
“They have done an amazing job over the last few years to get them ready to hand over; it’s really exciting to be able to take the Merlin Force forward.
“It’s been interesting working with the RAF; we’ve been working together for the last couple of decades, whether in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Iraq or Afghanistan.
“The anti-submarine version of the Merlin has been in Service with the Royal Navy for a long time; we’re now looking ahead to the carrier era.
“The transition will continue for another two to three years. Over the last few weeks, the guys and girls here have worked tirelessly to make today’s handover such a success – it was just outstanding.”