UK: Drug and Pirate-Busting Merlin Helicopter of HMS Westminster Returns Home

Drug and Pirate-Busting Merlin Helicopter of HMS Westminster Returns Home

The drug and pirate-busting Merlin helicopter of HMS Westminster is safely back home in Culdrose after seven months making a ‘tangible’ difference in the Indian Ocean. 02 Flight – callsign Red Bull – played a key role in three pirate busts and one drug smuggling take-down, four of the most eventful of the 150 missions the Merlin helicopter flew.

While hundreds of people lined the jetty in Portsmouth and the city’s famous old Round Tower, there was a smaller, but no less warm, reception for the ship’s helicopter.

Red Bull gives you wings – it certainly it did for HMS Westminster, for the Merlin of 02 Flight (callsign Red Bull) played a key role in four triumphs scored by the frigate during a seven-month deployment to the Indian Ocean.

The helicopter – with two pilots, an observer, an aircrewman, backed up by a team of nine maintainers/mechanics and a flight controller – took down three pirate action groups and drug runners’ dhow carrying £14m of heroin.

Those were the highlights, accounting for just a small percentage of the 270 hours the £40m helicopter spent airborne while attached to the ‘capital ship’.

In all, Red Bull clocked up 150 sorties, mostly carrying out security patrols in the Gulf and Indian Ocean monitoring shipping movements.

The ship (and Merlin) also paid goodwill visits across the region from Aqaba in Jordan to Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, and participated in numerous exercises with coalition and allied forces in the region, including Arabian Shark, a major sub-hunting war game – a mission at which the Merlin excels.

The last mission of the deployment was by far the most fun: to fly over Westminster as she returned to Portsmouth Naval Base.

And with that, the 14-strong ship’s flight could think about time with loved ones at home at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, home of the Flight’s parent squadron, 829 NAS.

“I am really proud of all that the Flight has accomplished during this deployment,” said pilot Lt Chris Suckling.

“Seven months is a long time to be away from home and we’ve faced numerous challenges along the way.

“To know that we have had a tangible effect in making the UK’s interests more secure in our areas of operation is a fantastic feeling.”

Naval Today Staff, August 16, 2012; Image: Royal Navy