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Merlin squadron's Gulf deployment prepares for HMS Queen Elizabeth's first flight operations

9 December 2016
From one flagship to another, a Merlin Mk2 from 820 NAS lands on HMS Ocean in the Gulf.

Next year the squadron – known as the Flying Fish – will fly the first aircraft to land onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth as she sails from Rosyth to make her debut in her home port of Portsmouth.

As well as 820 NAS, a Merlin Mk2 from 814 NAS, AKA the Flying Tigers, also provided support to Ocean.

Both crews will spend Christmas in the Gulf supporting Commander Task Force 50, Cdre Andrew Burns.

The squadrons are no strangers to the Gulf, having operated in the region over the last ten years in a number of roles. 

The aircraft and crews are familiar with HMS Ocean having spent time training with her on several occasions over the last six months preparing for the deployment. 

For a number of the squadron though this is their first time living and working at sea which brings its own challenges.

My training has really helped though. Don’t get me wrong, sharing a mess deck with 30 other lads is something you have to get used to, but the banter makes it all right and I’ve realised just how little space I really need for my kit..

AET Alex McGeorge

AET Alex McGeorge said: “Being at sea is completely different to being at Culdrose and it took a little while for everyone to find their sea legs.

“My training has really helped though. Don’t get me wrong, sharing a mess deck with 30 other lads is something you have to get used to, but the banter makes it all right and I’ve realised just how little space I really need for my kit. 

“We live together in the same mess deck, and work together in the hangar and on the flight deck to make sure the helos are ready for flying.”

The Flying Tigers embarked with pilot Lt Nick Grimmer (he of the rescued cat fame), who was keen to build on his operational experience.

“The deployment of the Flying Tigers has been a brilliant experience for our engineers and aircrew,” said Lt Grimmer.

“It has taken them from a land base in the Middle East, on to RFA Fort Victoria and then onto the UK’s Fleet Flagship HMS Ocean.

“The training and operational opportunity is second to none. This is what we joined up for.”   

Ocean’s Air Group is being commanded by 820’s Lt Cdr Edwin Cooper, who said: “820 NAS are proud to serve on board the Fleet Flagship.

“With our two Merlin multi-mission helicopters, we are at a high level of operational readiness to assist CTF50 and protect our national interests.

“Our embarked time will also prepare us well for the first helicopter operations from the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth.”

Pictures: LPhot Ben Shread.

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