RFA Mounts Bay Proves to Be Top-Notch Airfield
Amphibious support ship RFA Mounts Bay became one of the busiest airfields in the UK as she conducted flying training with four squadrons and four different types of helicopters. Her flight deck witnessed more than 350 deck landings – including 100 by the new Wildcat – during three weeks of intensive training off the south coast.
Defeating likely candidates such as helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious, the Bay-class Royal Fleet Auxiliary has been showing her class as a top-notch airfield.
The training helped to keep aircrew Sea Kings from the Commando Helicopter Force (848 Naval Air Squadron at RNAS Yeovilton), the rescuers of 771 Naval Air Squadron (from RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall), and the front-line Lynx fliers of 815 Naval Air Squadron (Yeovilton again) all made use of Mounts Bay, one of three amphibious ships built to support the needs of the Royal Marines around the globe.
The fliers used Mounts Bay to hone their at sea flying skills, while the ship practised its flight deck and aviation teams with ‘ship-controlled approaches’ (when a helicopter is guided safely in to land from the ship) and emergency low-visibility landings (ditto, but typically in fog or mist; it can lead to sailors throwing flares into the sea in extreme cases to light the way home).
The highlight of the training, however, was the debut of Wildcat, the successor to the Lynx, aboard the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship – appropriately it was her sister ship RFA Argus that conducted the first ever sea landing of Wildcat in 2012.
The trials squadron 700W from Yeovilton brought the new aircraft, which enters front-line service in just 18 months’ time, down on to the flight deck 100 times. In doing so all the squadron’s pilots were qualified – and can share their experiences with the rest of the Fleet Air Arm.
“We were very proud to be an integral part of a defining moment in the trials of this new aircraft,” said Chief Officer Tim Alderson, Mounts Bay’s Executive Officer. “As could be expected with shiny new pieces of equipment the first day of Wildcat trials saw delays but faults were soon ironed out. The ship’s company put in a sterling effort, working long and irregular hours.”
Press Release, July 9, 2013; Image: Royal Navy