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Procession of helicopters land on HMS Prince of Wales during United States mission

29 September 2023
A Royal Navy pilot landing on a Royal Navy aircraft carrier.

Nothing unusual about that…

Except, Lieutenant Commander Bob Fleming was at the controls of an armed US Coast Guard MH-65E Dolphin helicopter used for intercepting drug smugglers.

The Fleet Air Arm officer is on exchange with the USCG’s Helicopter Interdiction Squadron (HITRON) and had the opportunity to land on HMS Prince of Wales as the carrier continues her mission off the east coast of the United States.

Lt Cdr Fleming is the first Royal Navy exchange pilot at HITRON and has been with the specialist squadron for 18 months carrying out operations from the Coast Guard’s cutters, tracking and stopping go-fasts carrying illegal cargo.

“HMS Prince of Wales invited HITRON aboard and we jumped on the opportunity for USCG pilots to experience landing on a UK carrier,” said Lt Cdr Fleming.

“It is something very rare for the USCG. Everyone enjoyed it immensely and we got some great photos.”

Lt Cdr Fleming has been deployed on counter drug trafficking operations in the East Pacific and Caribbean and has previously piloted Wildcat helicopters with the RN. He is a qualified instructor in the Wildcat Maritime Force who’s worked with 825 and 815 Naval Air Squadrons.

815 NAS have a close relationship with HITRON, regularly training together and sharing tactics and information on interception operations. 

Prior to deploying on counter-narcotics operations, Wildcat crews come to the HITRON’s base in Jacksonville, Florida, to carry out training with the teams there and go up against the 900 horsepower tactical training boats, which play the role of the smugglers in practice scenarios.

The Wildcat helicopter and crew currently deployed with HMS Dauntless on the destroyer’s Caribbean patrol headed there in June and August, keeping themselves razor sharp for operations. 

That paid dividends as the helicopter flight – known as Inferno 4 – scored operational success alongside a USCG team and Royal Marines after £140m of cocaine was seized from a go-fast in the Caribbean Sea.

Back on carrier business, Lt Fleming landed on HMS Prince of Wales as the ship began an autumn of trials pushing the boundaries of 21st century carrier operations off the east coast of the United States.

The carrier will be used for F-35 Lightning operations for the first stage of three trial periods involving crewed and uncrewed aircraft. 

The three HITRON helicopters aren’t the only American aircraft to land on Prince of Wales this week. 

The flight deck has been abuzz with activity – the unique tiltrotor Osprey MV-22s (from the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing), Super Stallions, UH1 Super Hueys and AH-1Z Vipers have all appeared at different times this week ahead of the ship’s ten-day stop in Norfolk to load on all the related kit and equipment for the upcoming F-35 testing programme.

As HMS Prince of Wales continues her US mission, sister ship HMS Queen Elizabeth operates in northern European waters, operating with Joint Expeditionary Force and NATO allies at the heart of the UK Carrier Strike Group. 

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