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Wildcats' flypast over stunning gathering of naval strength in Indonesia

A Royal Marines Wildcat helicopter flies past more than two dozen warships gathered in waters between the Indonesian islands of Bali and Lombok, the ceremonial curtain-raiser to one of the biggest naval exercises in Asia this year: Komodo.

More than 40 nations committed equipment or personnel – or both – to the workout, including Australia, China, the Philippines, Indonesia and France.

The French involvement was spearheaded by assault ship FS Dixmude, leading her nation’s annual amphibious deployment to the Asia-Pacific region, Jeanne d’Arc.

Aboard throughout are two Wildcats from 847 Naval Air Squadron – which typically act as the eyes of the Royal Marines on the battlefield – and their 30 or so crew and engineers, providing aerial support just as a couple of Commando Helicopter Force Merlins did 12 months ago aboard Dixmude’s sister Mistral.

The flypast was a striking display of modern aviation from a great number of nations working together.

Lt Olly Leisk RN

Once again the detachment to a foreign ship has given the commando fliers experiences beyond the ordinary realm of purely working with British forces.

So big was the flypast which accompanied the Komodo ‘fleet review’ that it was split into three parts, with the helicopters decamping to an abandon over the 37 ships massed for the exercise.

The two Wildcats shared Indonesian airspace with a Royal Australian Navy Seahawk, two Indonesian AW109s, three Philippine Navy Hueys and a Chinese Navy Z9. It had all been meticulously planned by the host nation – though there was no time for rehearsals.

“The aircraft moved to their holding areas over the golden beaches and turquoise waters of Lombok and stood by for the ‘go’,” said pilot Lt Olly Leisk. “Exactly on time, the aircraft moved away, reduced height and tipped in for the flypast.

“Flying in formation with aircraft from so many different nations is something that the Fleet Air Arm and its personnel doesn’t regularly take part in.

“The view from the air was an impressive spectacle given the massive number of ships involved – and from the sea the flypast was a striking display of modern aviation from a great number of nations working together.”

The four-day-long exercise is held every two years by the Indonesians with the emphasis on getting navies which operate in the Pacific region to work together, particularly on humanitarian projects, from civil engineering to combined rescues and providing medical aid for civilians.

There’s also a busy sporting diary with fun runs, crossfit competitions and team events.

“Exercise Komodo was an incredibly unique event. We were privileged to be involved in such a large formation from such a wide range of aircraft and nations we wouldn’t normally get to operate with,” said Lt Paul Melling, the 847 detachment’s training officer.

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