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Naval squadron re-forms after 60 years to test cutting-edge weaponry

14 November 2018
There’s an old name back on the roster of Fleet Air Arm Squadrons to test cutting-edge weapons and sensors for Britain’s air power.

744 Naval Air Squadron will be instrumental in introducing the Navy’s new ‘eyes in the sky’ – Crowsnest Merlin – to front-line service over the next 18 months, plus the RAF’s upgraded Chinook Mk5s and Mk6s.

Pooling 15 of the best aircrew and aviation engineers from the three Services, the new unit – based at Boscombe Down on Salisbury Plain – formally stood up at a ceremony attended by the head of naval aviation, Rear Admiral Keith Blount.

He arrived for proceedings in a 1914 12HP Rover Tourer, owned and driven by Flt Rich Rogers, a Flight Test Engineer who is employed as a Weapons Integration Officer.

744 Squadron brings together the operational experience from the majority of defence’s front-line aircraft types and weaponry

Commander Jonathan Bird RN

The Reverend Monsignor Andrew McFadden blessed the new squadron, with music at the re-commissioning ceremony provided by Amesbury Volunteer Band.

For 62 years the squadron has been hibernating, disbanded at RAF St Mawgan in Cornwall at the end of October 1956 where it had spent two years helping to develop anti-submarine warfare tactics.

Before that it pioneered helicopter search and rescue duties with Dragonflies between 1952 and 1954, trained aircrew in anti-submarine warfare at RNAS Eglinton in Northern Ireland, provided fliers for wartime Merchant Aircraft Carriers (tankers/cargo ships which doubled up as small carriers on convoy duties), and fed the front-line Fleet Air Arm with trained personnel, first out of Lee-on-the-Solent, then while based in Canada.

It’s the squadron’s later role in testing, evaluation and development which was prompted its 21st Century rebirth under the motto ‘nemo solus satis sapit’ – no one individual knows enough on their own.

The re-formed squadron’s first Commanding Officer Commander Jonathan Bird said 744 Squadron “brings together the operational experience from the majority of defence’s front-line aircraft types and weaponry, to ensure that new aircraft, weapons and upgrades to existing platforms are safe and as fit for purpose as possible.

“It is an even bigger privilege to be at the helm when the squadron re-commissions – exactly 62 years to the day that the previous commanding officer flew his final squadron sortie before the unit was disbanded at RAF St Mawgan.”

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