UK: Apache Gunships Practise Strike Power from Sea Aboard Newly-Refitted Helicopter Carrier

Apache helicopter pilots have found their sea legs on the unfamiliar setting of HMS Illustrious.

The newly-refitted helicopter carrier – fresh from her £40m refit – has swapped Harrier jets for the imposing outlines of the Army gunships.

Crews from 664 Squadron, 4 Regiment Army Air Corps, took the chance to bump neatly into position on Lusty’s flight deck during a week of exercises in the Channel, just days after the famous carrier returned to Portsmouth following her 18-month ‘exile’ in Rosyth.

The Apaches are heavily in demand right now off Libya, where they’ve been repeatedly called upon to strike at government targets ashore from HMS Ocean.

Illustrious will take over as the nation’s helicopter assault carrier from Ocean when the Mighty O enters refit, so there’s a demanding work-up ahead for Lusty.

“It’s a fantastic training package for us to be operating Apaches in this way,” said Capt Jerry Kyd, Illustrious’ Commanding Officer.

“It’s not the first time that Apaches have flown from a carrier – they’ve flown from Ark and obviously Ocean over the past five years.”

“It’s very important that we can show we can integrate and offer that power projection to the government if they need it.”

“It’s not our judgement that counts on the question of where we operate, but it is our job to be as ready as possible.”

As well as seeing the thermostat plummet during a cool, wet British summer, army fliers used to Afghan heat have had to cope with high winds.

One pilot from 664 Sqn, who did not want to be named for security reasons, said: “It’s very different from the desert but it should still be within our range of skills to fly from HMS Illustrious.”

“The landing space is obviously smaller and it’s a moving target that we are returning to from our flights, but we are confident that we can manoeuvre in most weathers.”

While Apaches were flying from her decks, amphibious assault personnel were working below on another of Lusty’s rarer roles.

As a newly-converted helicopter carrier, the ship must be able to embark an assault group and deliver them complete with heavy Bergens to the flight deck.

Capt Kyd said: “Illustrious has served as helicopter carrier before but we are now looking in more detail at the routes and processes we use to get troops ready to go.”

“It’s very exciting to be working on varied roles at such a busy time – there are 750 naval and army personnel here doing a great job.”


Source: royalnavy, July 22, 2011;