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Air Force officers join carrier to pave way for 50 years of joint RAF-RN operations

Flt Lts Chris Smith and Hayden Rose on HMS Prince of Wales with HMS QE in background
3 June 2021
Two air force officers have joined Britain’s biggest warship to pave the way for 50 years of joint Royal Navy-Royal Air Force operations on the UK’s aircraft carriers.

Flight Lieutenants Hayden Rose and Chris Smith are spending three months aboard HMS Prince of Wales to look at the best way for air force personnel to integrate seamlessly with the hundreds of sailors aboard.

Although the carriers fly the White Ensign, both are regarded as national assets and will always sail with an RAF contingent embarked – either to support F-35 fast jet operations, or working alongside RAF Chinooks.

Big sister HMS Queen Elizabeth has air force pilots and ground crew embarked from the mixed RAF/Fleet Air Arm 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) for her maiden deployment.

And Prince of Wales’ has been carrying out training off the South Coast with RAF Chinook helicopters as part of her lengthy work-up to become the nation’s second operational aircraft carrier.

Both flight lieutenants are logistics officers and are keen to understand how the Royal Navy operates, and how the Royal Air Force can integrate – both to support front-line operations and day-to-day as part of a ship’s company of up to 1,600 men and women.

“The Queen Elizabeth class carriers are going to be used, part-manned and supported by the RAF – the next 50 years will see the Navy and RAF working side-by-side,” said 28-year-old Hayden from Wiltshire.

“We’re embedded for three months to show that this is possible and to prove the concept.”

His RAF shipmate is a former physical training instructor who was commissioned as a logistics expert three years ago.

The 36-year-old from Monmouthshire joined Prince of Wales having deployed to Lithuania supporting NATO’s aerial policing mission in the Baltic, and commanded the Mobility and Medical Supply Flight, supporting the RAF’s global operations from Brize Norton, including evacuating casualties where necessary.

While there are obvious differences between the Royal Navy and RAF, there is far more that unites us than divides us: Unwavering support for our colleagues and deep pride to serve and close-to-the-cuff humour

Flight Lieutenant Chris Smith

The airmen say that the lived experience of their time aboard HMS Prince of Wales has proved to be more enjoyable than expected as the ship’s company have embraced their air force comrades – with a bit of light ribbing on both sides.

“While there are obvious differences between the Royal Navy and RAF, there is far more that unites us than divides us: Unwavering support for our colleagues and deep pride to serve and close-to-the-cuff humour,” said Chris.

Hayden added: “I have thoroughly enjoyed my time on board. It is a completely different working environment to get used to and understand. Once I got past the plethora of whistles and pipes and began to understand the routine it was easy to adapt and get used to ship’s life.

“I have particularly enjoyed experiencing each of the sections and understanding the vast amount of roles and responsibilities that each of the ships company hold in order to keep the ship at sea and running effectively and safely.”

He says the food on board is “fantastic”, a Saturday night at sea is “an experience I won’t forget” and a trip around Torbay in one of the carrier’s Pacific 24s gave a full insight into the size and scale of the nation’s two new carriers.

Both have found the working day in the RAF is much less structured – the Navy rigidly follows Daily Orders.

The airmen say the easiest way to compare life in the two services, is for the air force to consider time at sea as a deployment… whether the ship is training or on exercise. Because when 4-4.30pm comes around, there’s no going home.

“You’re at work 24/7,” said Chris. “Unable to just get in the car at the end of the day for a change of scenery, for down time, you’re limited by your shipmates, resources to hand and imagination.”

He’s found it strange to wake up to a whistle, has found it challenging navigating the 65,000-tonne leviathan with her myriad compartments and passageways, and enjoys Navy acronyms and Jackspeak (Royal Navy slang)… even if he is baffled by some it (such as CUMDAFFER – Clear Up Mess Decks And Flats For Evening Rounds).

Hayden added: “It has been a pleasant surprise to be a part of the wardroom and also to meet the rest of the ship’s company. Matelots aren’t as weird as I thought they were going to be!”

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