Heavy metal thunder is forecast for the next few weeks around the UK as Apache gunships get their sea legs for their first time on HMS Prince of Wales. Apache helicopter and soldier on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales Apache helicopter and HMS Prince of Wales Apache helicopter, air traffic controller and soldier on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales Apache helicopter pilot sat in cockpit Apache helicopter and soldier on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales Apache helicopter and HMS Prince of Wales.
The Army Air Corps’ ‘flying tank’ is conducting extensive trials with the Portsmouth-based carrier as the two services learn how to integrate the fearsome helicopter with the nation’s new flagships. The Apache has been in service for nearly two decades and has operated sporadically at sea, notably on HMS Ocean from where they conducted strikes against military targets in Libya during that country’s civil war a decade ago. It’s spent some time conducting trials on Queen Elizabeth, but the spell on her sister – which the three gunships joined in harbour last week – is more concerted.
The trio hail from the Army Air Corps’ dedicated maritime unit 656 Squadron, 4 Regiment AAC, and are supported by 100 personnel from Wattisham Airfield in Suffolk. The training with Prince of Wales will include qualifying new pilots in the art of deck landings and take offs, but also ensure that ground crew from both the Army Air Corps and Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers can perform their aircraft handling and maintenance roles at sea. The soldiers will rapidly learn the labyrinth of passageways in the massive aircraft carrier as well as naval slang or ‘Jackspeak’ and the nuances of daily life at sea with the Royal Navy.
For the carrier, Apache is another arrow to her quiver, joining anti-submarine/troop-carrying Merlins and anti-ship Wildcat maritime attack helicopters, as well as F-35 Lightning jets when they begin training with the ship. It’s armed with a chain gun capable of spewing out a hail of 30mm lead at 600 rounds a minute, CRV rockets to knock out buildings and tank-busting Hellfire missiles. The ship sailed from her home port yesterday morning to resume her spring work-up, which has already seen extensive training with RAF Chinooks off the south coast.