The ‘flying eyes’ of the Royal Marines have touched down on Britain’s biggest warship – clearing them to join HMS Queen Elizabeth on front-line operations. A nimble Commando Wildcat from 847 Naval Air Squadron landed repeatedly on the vast deck of the Portsmouth carrier in the Channel. The multi-role helicopter with its three crew is typically found over land, performing tasks as varied as reconnaissance, close air support – directing air and artillery strikes on enemy forces – evacuating casualties, troop protection with its heavy machine-gun, and ferrying troops and equipment around.
Queen Elizabeth sailed from Portsmouth last week to begin the latest stage of her training in preparation for her maiden deployment leading a carrier task group next year. Pilots and a crewman from the Yeovilton-based squadron joined the carrier to ensure they remained qualified for operating at sea – requiring 24 safe landings by day and night (the latter with the aid of night vision goggles – and to ensure they’re ready for immediate operations if called upon. While landing a Wildcat safely on HMS Queen Elizabeth with a flight deck the size of three football pitches is considerably easier than on a much-smaller frigate or destroyer, there are other considerations to bear in mind for the crew.
847 Naval Air Squadron is a squadron of the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. It operates AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1 helicopters and provides armed reconnaissance and light transport support to 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines. Along with 845 and 846 naval air squadrons, it forms part of the Commando Helicopter Force. The squadron was re-formed from 3 Commando Brigade Air Squadron on 1 September 1995. In late 2013, it became the first front-line military squadron to receive the AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1, which enables the Squadron to continue providing Battlefield Reconnaissance as part of Commando Helicopter Force.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is the lead ship of the Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers, the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom. Capable of carrying close to 60 aircraft, she is named in honour of the first Queen Elizabeth, a World War I era super-dreadnought, which in turn was named after Queen Elizabeth I.Due to the absence of catapults or arrestor wires, Queen Elizabeth is designed to operate V/STOL aircraft. The air wing will typically consist of F-35B Lightning II multirole fighters and Merlin helicopters for airborne early warning and anti-submarine warfare.