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Fleet Air Arm welcomes patron Princess of Wales for first time

18 September 2023
Naval aviators today welcomed their new patron for the first time as Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales visited Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset.

In her role as the Commodore-in-Chief of the Fleet Air Arm, the Princess of Wales spent three hours at the air station – which is home to front-line Merlin and Wildcat helicopters supporting Royal Navy and Royal Marine operations worldwide.

Her Royal Highness’ introduction to naval aviation began with a roar as an F-35B Lightning ‘buzzed’ Yeovilton’s control tower; the stealth fighters are the most advanced aircraft in the UK’s military arsenal and are currently operating aboard the nation’s flagship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, on her autumn deployment.

Remaining in the tower, the Princess was introduced to Royal Navy air traffic controllers who are trained to operate at sea and at shore bases, providing a range of air traffic control services to safely support aircraft movements from the air station and across the skies in the vicinity of Yeovilton.

The Royal visitor then moved on to a hangar and talk with junior personnel, learning about their different roles within the Fleet Air Arm.

She also met Survival Equipment Technicians who provide and maintain survival equipment and deliver specialist training on its use, essential to the safety of aircrew.

This also included looking over some of the flotation and flying equipment used by personnel which included trying out an aircrew life jacket.

The Princess of Wales was shown around the Merlin Mk2, the Navy’s primary Anti-Submarine Warfare helicopter, but also used for Airborne Surveillance and Control to interdict aerial threats, search and rescue missions and general maritime security patrols.

Personnel from 700X Naval Air Squadron, normally based at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, showed the princess their Banshee drone – used for developing tactics to defend the nation’s aircraft carriers against air attacks.

“She was fantastic, genuinely interested, really personable and for me it was a great opportunity and a privilege to meet her,” said Lieutenant Commander Marcus Pennant, the squadron’s Commanding Officer.

Her Royal Highness spent a good bit of time chatting with 700X engineer Leading Hand Chloe Chapman who talked about life in Cornwall and learned that the princess’ children were “very jealous that she was coming to look at the really cool planes and put the Top Gun soundtrack on for the school run, which gave me a little insight into her personal life.”

Able Seaman Danielle Beckinsale, who maintains Merlin helicopters which support Royal Marines operations, explained how busy her squadron was – currently deployed in the Middle East, gearing up for a winter in Norway.

“I’ve never met royalty before and wasn’t sure what to expect, but she was very down to earth,” she said. “She was really, really nice, really genuine and interested in the role of a female engineer.”

Was it her most memorable day in her Royal Navy career? “Every day is a good day in the Navy – I love the lads I work with, love my squadron,“ said Danielle.

The Royal visit ended at the Wildcat Training Centre. Run in partnership with Yeovil-based Leonardo Helicopters and other UK industry partners, it’s where personnel learn and practise a variety of skills including aircraft engineering, flying and weapon loading.

The Princess also met a Wildcat ‘Flight’ (a team of personnel who deploy with the helicopter on ships to maintain and operate the helicopter) and witness weapon loading on the training Wildcat, before she took a ‘flight’ in the state-of-the art Wildcat helicopter simulator.

“I am delighted and privileged to have welcomed Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales to the Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, at the start of what I am sure will be a long and rewarding relationship in her capacity as Commodore-in-Chief of the Fleet Air Arm,” said Captain Duncan Thomas, RNAS Yeovilton’s Commanding Officer.

“We provided an initial introduction to our wonderful servicemen and women who work in the Fleet Air Arm here, as well as a demonstration of some of the exceptional capabilities the Fleet Air Arm operates for the Royal Navy.

“We’ve all been hugely excited by this opportunity and I am delighted that Her Royal Highness will be able to support and inspire our exceptionally talented sailors, aircrew and wider workforce family for years to come.”

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