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727 NAS takes on extra training role to pave way for Lightning II stealth fighters
18 January 2017

Fleet Air Arm pilots and observers of tomorrow will learn the fundamentals of flight at the home of naval aviation – for the first time.

To meet the demands of training extra pilots for the F-35B strike fighters, 727 Naval Air Squadron is now providing elementary flight training, relieving the burden on RAF Cranwell and 703 NAS where it has been taught to date.

Lt Hamish Coles-Hendry points out some of the key controls on the nimble Grob trainer to Sub Lts Andrew Graham and Richard Shilton on the standings at Yeovilton.

A normal day at the Somerset air station?

Well no, because the two junior officers in the cockpit are the first to go through basic flight training at Yeovilton, rather than Barkston Heath in Lincolnshire – part of a programme to swell the number of pilots needed for the new F-35B.

727 Naval Air Squadron has traditionally provided ‘grading’ training – assessing whether a would-be pilot possesses ‘the right stuff’ to make it as a military aviator on the front-line.

From Somerset, successful candidates move to RAF Cranwell – the spiritual home of the RAF officer corps (and a former naval air station…) – to learn the fundamentals of flight with 703 NAS at nearby Barkston Heath.

With the advent of the F-35B Lightning II and the return of aircraft carrier operations with HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Fleet Air Arm and RAF need additional pilots.

To ease the burden on Cranwell, 727 is now providing what the military calls ’elementary flight training’ – the first time it has been taught at Yeovilton apparently.

By the end of the course the students will be expected to be able to fly their Grobs solo, fly in formation feet from another plane, and safely navigate at low level.

Based on their performance, they will then either go on to fly one of the Fleet Air Arm’s helicopters – the Merlin or Wildcat – or train to fly fast jets (Hawk trainers and ultimately the new F-35 stealth fighter).

“Elementary Flight raining for all three Services has until now been conducted at Cranwell, but with F-35 aircraft on the way, both the Navy and RAF need to train more pilots,” explained Lt Cdr Jim Ashlin, 727’s CO.

“727’s role is to ease some of that burden on our RAF colleagues and allow the Fleet Air Arm to grow in size and prepare for the new aircraft carriers’ forthcoming introduction.”