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Checkmate for drug-runners as Navy's new helicopter begins seven-month crimefighting mission

The Navy's new helicopter is weighing into the fight against drug-running in the Caribbean - and life-saving should natural disaster strike between now and Christmas.

Wildcat ZZ530 - callsign Checkmate - has been transported from 815 Naval Air Squadron in Yeovilton to the USA with a dozen-strong team of air and ground crew to support two British naval vessels on the North Atlantic Patrol.

After a week's training with HITRON - the US Coast Guard's Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron - in Florida in preparation for the counter-narcotics patrols and a brief introduction to Wildcat for the staff of the US military's Southern Command in Miami, the helicopter flew aboard tanker RFA Wave Knight.

The training and operational flying we will do over the next seven months will help realise some of the huge potential held by the aircraft and her sensors.

Lt Amy Gilmore RN

She'll be the Wildcat's home until later this month when another RFA, amphibious support ship RFA Mounts Bay, arrives in theatre to relieve her after a year-long stint in the Atlantic.

It's the task of the Atlantic Patrol Ship to support British territories, fly the flag for the UK, support the international fight against drug trafficking.

Wildcat has been out here before - chiefly on its maiden deployment aboard HMS Lancaster - but never for such a sustained spell in the Caribbean, and with aircrew increasingly learning how much more powerful the helicopter and its sensors are compared with its Lynx predecessor.

"People are becoming increasingly aware that Wildcat represents a significant capability shift from the trusty Lynx Mk8, but this deployment will help us to determine exactly what she is capable of out here on operations," said Flight Commander Lt Amy Gilmore, the helicopter's observer (navigator/weapons and sensors specialist).

"The training and operational flying we will do over the next seven months will help realise some of the huge potential held by the aircraft and her sensors."

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