The final Wildcat has been delivered to the men and women who will operate it on the front line for the next 25 years.
ZZ530 was flown into Yeovilton from the Leonardo works in nearby Yeovil - bringing to an end a ten-year £1.7bn programme to replace the trusty Lynx which bows out of front-line service in March.
Pictures: LA(Phot) Dan Rosenbaum, RNAS Yeovilton
THIS is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
This is the very last of 28 Wildcat helicopters (yours for about £27m) to be delivered to the Fleet Air Arm, flown the short distance from its assembly works to its home for the next quarter of a century.
Just over a decade after the order for the successor with the Lynx – both naval and battlefield – was placed with AgustaWestland (recently renamed Leonardo), ZZ530 rolled off the production line ready for use with 825 Naval Air Squadron.
Helping deliver the aircraft from Yeovil to Yeovilton was Leonardo’s flight test engineer John Doherty, who was marshalled on to the standings at the Somerset air station by his 25-year-old son, AET Sam Doherty, who works as a technician maintaining Wildcats.
Leonardo's Wildcat flight test engineer John Doherty with his son Sam who works on Wildcat with 825 NAS
“I am so really proud of what my son has achieved, and as I am now 59, it is right that I hand over the aircraft to the next generation,” said Mr Doherty.
“I have met some of the fantastic young Royal Navy Engineers and aircrew – what I call the ‘PlayStation generation’ who can appreciate the new systems on the Wildcat and will really be able make it sing.
“I hope all the development work that I have put in over the years has produced something that they can also feel proud of. I flew on the first Wildcat flight on ZZ400 in November 2009 and now I have delivered the last.”
Accepting the new helicopter on behalf of the Fleet Air Arm was 825 NAS’ CO Cdr Simon Collins – the 15th Wildcat to be handed over to his care.
825 NAS’ Lt Cdr Rob Dowdell signs the flight log book to officially hand over the last Wildcat
“I’ve seen the Wildcat force grow from its infancy to the capable and highly effective unit it has become today, with Wildcat flights already currently deployed across the globe,” he said.
“This day marks the end of one chapter of the Wildcat story, and the beginning of the next which will undoubtedly be a long and illustrious career at the forefront of future naval aviation operations.”
As part of the £1.7bn Wildcat programme, the FAA has received 28 of the helicopters, the Army Air Corps (including 847 NAS of the Commando Helicopter Force) 34.
When the Lynx retires from service after nearly 40 years in March, 815 NAS will assume responsibility for providing frigates and destroyers with Wildcat flights while 825 NAS will act as the training and development unit for the helicopter and its air and ground crews.