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RN pilot completes US tour of duty ‘buzzing’ HMS Prince of Wales

24 October 2023
Now that’s a room with a view.

To starboard just a few hundred feet below Lieutenant Commander Rory Cheyne is HMS Prince of Wales.

For his penultimate flight in the cockpit of an F-18, the Fleet Air Arm officer – who’s spent six years on exchange with the US Navy – flew over Britain’s biggest warship, conducting fast-jet trials off the US Eastern Seaboard.

It’s as close as the 34-year-old from Somerset could get to the 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier.

Due to the Portsmouth-based warship being designed keel-up around the F-35B and its impressive short take-off/vertical landing capability, there are no arrestor wires/catapult aboard to host jets like Rory’s Super Hornet.

So fly-past it was.

Rory joined the RN ten years ago with the goal of becoming a helicopter pilot… but after completing basic helicopter training at RAF Shawbury he was selected for fast jets.

At the time, that meant joining the Long Lead Specialist Skills Programme – the unique link with the US military which kept the flame of fast-jet carrier aviation alive in the UK in the decade between the demise of the Harrier and the advent of the F-35.

I’ve learned a huge amount about how the US operate across the world and I'm looking forward to bringing this experience back to the Royal Navy.

below Lieutenant Commander Rory Cheyne

After completing advanced jet training on the T-45C Goshawk at NAS Meridian in Mississippi, Rory converted to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and a three-year tour of duty on Strike Fighter Squadron 34 – VFA-34 – known as the Blue Blasters (blue from their tail colours, blasters from carrying nuclear ordnance in a previous incarnation).

His attachment to the squadron, based at NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach – next door to Norfolk Naval Base – ends this month.

It’s seen him fly on operational sorties in eastern Europe/eastern Mediterranean/Balkans during an extensive stint of carrier operations.

“Flying with the Prince of Wales was a fantastic way to end my tour out here – very much a unique and once in lifetime experience!” said Rory.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed integrating with the US on a front line F-18 squadron, but perhaps the best experience was deploying for 9½ months on USS Harry S Truman.

“I’ve learned a huge amount about how the US operate across the world and I'm looking forward to bringing this experience back to the Royal Navy.”

His next draft is on the staff of the UK Carrier Strike Group, planning and advising strike missions from either HMS Queen Elizabeth or Prince of Wales.

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