The entire Commando Helicopter Force is back in the bosom of its spiritual home with the arrival of the last Merlin of 845 Naval Air Squadron.
For the past few years the wings of the Royal Marines have been split between Somerset and Oxfordshire while Sea Kings crew converted to battlefield Merlins transferred from the RAF.
Pictures: LA(Phot) Dan Rosenbaum, RNAS Yeovilton
THE wings of the Royal Marines are all finally home as the last of its new Merlin helicopters flew into Yeovilton.
After a few years ‘in exile’ at RAF Benson, the Commando Helicopter Force family has been reunited.
The very last battlefield Merlin to be transferred from the air force – airframe number ZJ131(P) – appeared in dark and ominous Somerset skies today after a 35-minute flight from Oxfordshire, marking the final chapter in 845 Naval Air Squadron’s long-awaited and meticulously-planned move.
The squadron re-formed in July 2015 after it completed its shift from the veteran Sea King to its much more modern and powerful successor.
845 couldn’t return to CHF’s long-standing home, however, until the last Junglie Sea King squadron had stood down (end of March) and vacated its hangars and office block (June).
A mixed RN and RAF crew flew the last 845 Merlin into Yeovilton – RN pilots Lts Tom Burrows and Tom Morris, both former Sea King fliers who’ve completed a 12-month conversion course, and aircrewman RAF Sgt Adam McLeish, who was making his very last flight in the helicopter.
“It was our privilege to fly the last Commando Helicopter Force sortie from RAF Benson,” said Lt Burrows.
“The Merlin is a very capable aircraft and I am looking forward to getting to grips with it in our core role – operating from a warship’s deck in support of 3 Commando Brigade.”
Waiting on the standings for ZJ131’s arrival was CHF’s CO Captain Niall Griffin who’s overseen much of the move from Benson to Yeovilton – first by 846, now by 845 squadrons – before he hands over command shortly to Royal Marine Col Lenny Brown.
“This is a very special occasion. I’m proud to see all elements of the Commando Helicopter Force back together at the home of the Fleet Air Arm and the spiritual home of the ‘Junglies’,” Capt Griffin said.
Although his force is now back together – 847 Naval Air Squadron equipped with new battlefield Wildcats completes the trio of CHF squadrons – the transformation isn’t yet complete.
The Merlins themselves need an upgrade to the Mk4 to be fully ready for operations at sea (25 Mk4s with folding rotor blades and tails will be delivered between 2017 and 2020), while air and ground crews need to re-learn the art of operating at sea having spent much of the past 15 years flying over the sands of Iraq or Afghanistan.