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Navy helicopter crews receive their Wings in milestone parade

13 January 2023
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Five trainee pilots and flight observers will now conduct front-line operations with the Royal Navy after earning their coveted ‘Wings’.

The personnel from 825 Naval Air Squadron have spent the past 40 weeks learning about the Wildcat and what it takes to embark the cutting-edge helicopter on Royal Navy warships and Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships.

And in a milestone moment for 825 NAS, the cohort of three pilots and two observers – who act as navigators, sensors and weapons specialists – will be the first to go straight from training to learning how to operate the new Martlet anti-ship missile.

The lightweight multi-role missile has been used by Wildcats for the past two years. But those who received their Wings this week will be the first trainees to learn about it immediately after their initial training as part of their time in 825.

A pass-out parade was held at the squadron’s RNAS Yeovilton home in Somerset to mark their graduation and highlight their hard work.

Lieutenant Dave Guest, a trainee pilot, said he was thrilled to have reached the end of his training and graduate.

“I am delighted to have finished as there’s been lots of challenges but we have dealt with and overcome them,” he said.

“We were pushed to our limit on mental resilience, skillset and intellect. I am looking forward to getting on the frontline and start deploying on frigates and destroyers.”

For their course, the squadron embarked on HMS Queen Elizabeth during the aircraft carrier’s deployment to the High North. Operation Achillean saw the flagship and her task group carry out fast jet trials with allies and partners in icy Norwegian fjords.

They also joined frigate HMS Westminster on her patrols around UK waters.

Lieutenant Guy Warry, also a pilot, added: “Embarking on HMS Queen Elizabeth was definitely a highlight.

I am really proud of them and now they are ready to deploy on the frontline in our Wildcat helicopters.

Commander Hugh Saltonstall

“There was an F-35 landing vertically right next to me on my second day flying on the carrier. You realise in that moment you are part of something quite amazing.”

Around 80 families, friends, distinguished guests and senior navy leaders attended the ceremony at RNAS Yeovilton, including Rear Admiral Fleet Air Arm and Royal Navy Director Force Generation Rear Admiral Steve Moorhouse.

As well as seeing the trainees receive their wings and other awards, there was also a show of helicopter aerobatics by the Navy’s Black Cats display team.

The demonstration showed the skills and knowledge of flying the pilots and observers have learnt during their 40 weeks of training.

Commander Hugh Saltonstall, Commanding Officer of 825 NAS, said: “This parade marks the end of a long journey for the students.

“It is a challenging course and we want everyone to pass it. We go through the highs and lows with them and it’s a long time they are with us – we get to know them and their families well.

“I am really proud of them and now they are ready to deploy on the frontline in our Wildcat helicopters.”

He added: “The Martlet aspect of their training starts now, in a first for 825 NAS and a special moment for the squadron.

“It’s the first time they have delivered Martlet to trainees like this and it’s a key change in terms of bringing back the strike capability so we can call ourselves a maritime attack helicopter squadron.”

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