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Naval fliers to get the Olympic flame going on its epic journey
12 May 2012

Aviators of 771 Naval Air Squadron will carry the Olympic flame on its first journey in the British Isles when it arrives in the UK next weekend.

Four fliers and their Sea King have the task of flying the symbol of the Games from RNAS Culdrose to Land’s End on Saturday morning to begin its epic relay around Britain.

Pictures: PO(Phot) Paul A'Barrow and LA(Phot) Dave Sterratt, RNAS Culdrose

STRIDING away from their distinctive red and grey helicopter, these are the four Royal Navy aviators who will set the Olympic flame off on its historic journey around the UK in seven days’ time.

Pilots Lt Cdr Martin Shepherd and Lt Chris Whittington, observer Lt Cdr Richard Full and aircrewman Cpl Justin Morgan RM of 771 Naval Air Squadron have the momentous task of delivering the abiding symbol of the Olympics to Land’s End from where it will begin an 8,000-mile journey around the UK before igniting the flame in London’s Olympic Stadium on the evening of July 27.

The flame, which was ignited by the rays of the sun in a traditional ceremony in Greece on Thursday at the Temple of Hera in Olympia where the ancients once toiled, and is currently being carried around the Peloponnese, is due to arrive at RNAS Culdrose on Friday night.

After an overnight stay at the Cornish air station, the flame will be flown to Land’s End by the 771 team in their Sea King early on Saturday morning.

Lt Cdr Richard Full, the man charged with delivering the Olympic flame, leans out of the side door of his Sea King

On landing, Lt Cdr Full will jump out of the aircraft and take the flame to the start of the torch relay at the westernmost point on the mainland, where it will light the Olympic torch and three-times gold medalist Ben Ainslie will begin the relay.

The flame will then travel 8,000 miles across the UK – passing within ten miles of 19 in every 20 of the nation’s 62 million inhabitants.

Some 8,000 torchbearers will carry it for approximately 300 metres each, passing the flame from torch to torch until it reaches the stadium for the opening of the Games.

“This is most definitely a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity as I doubt whether I, or many of my fellow West Country men and women, will see the Olympic Flame pass through their towns and villages again during their lifetimes,” said 43-year-old Lt Cdr Full from Totnes in Devon.

“As an avid sportsman and a firm believer in the ethos of the Olympic Games, I am extremely proud and honoured to be invited to carry the Olympic flame on its short journey from one of our Search and Rescuer aircraft to the starting point for London 2012.”

771 NAS' Commanding Officer Lt Cdr Martin Shepherd at the controls of the red and grey Sea King

As the Olympic flame is classified as a symbolic flame it is permitted to be carried on board an aircraft following special authorisation from the Civil Aviation Authority.

The flame will travel in a ceremonial lantern that is secured in a specially designed cradle which is, in turn, firmly fixed to its seat on the helicopter using a secure holding device.  The lantern has been designed so the flame can burn safely for the duration of the journey.

It’s due to arrive at Culdrose between 6.30 and 7.30pm on Friday aboard a British Airways, gold-liveried Airbus, ‘BA2012’, flying in from Athens.

Capt William Entwisle, Culdrose’s Commanding Officer said: “We are honoured to be able to help the Olympic flame at the start of its very special journey around the United Kingdom.

“Our personnel – be they part of the Search and Rescue Squadron who will be giving the Olympic Flame a ‘lift’, those training for front-line operations or even those who are currently supporting the Royal Navy across the globe – are very proud that our Air Station has been chosen to play a part in the build up to the London 2012 Olympic Games.

“We are delighted to be playing such an important role in this once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Observer Lt Cdr Full studies the radar picture in the back of the Sea King

Lord Coe, chairman of London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, added: “It is a fitting tribute to the hard work and bravery of the Search and Rescue Squadron at Culdrose that they have been chosen to carry the Olympic flame to Land’s End for the start of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay. The arrival by Sea King helicopter will be the first of many alternative modes of transport which will be used to carry the Flame as it makes its 70 day journey around the UK.”

The flame’s arrival at Culdrose as well as its 20-mile flight to Land’s End for the lighting of the torch is due to be broadcast live by the BBC.