Culdrose Merlin Squadron trains with French Navy

Culdrose Merlin Squadron trains with French Navy

11-Aug-2010 Source: Royal Navy

Members of 829 Naval Air Squadron based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose took part in exercises and training with the French Navy in Toulon recently.

Also known as the “Kingfishers”, 829 Squadron usually provides Merlin helicopters for operations from Type 23 Frigates, such as HMS Sutherland, HMS Westminster, HMS Richmond and for ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

Led by the Kingfishers’ French Exchange Officer, Capitaine de Corvette (CC) Fabrice Dehandschoewercker, the team embarked for what would be a challenging and rewarding deployment.  As the Detachment Commander,  Dehandschoewercker was a key link in ensuring his team were capable of meeting the formal request for a Merlin Helicopter to be involved in this year’s main French Anti-Submarine Exercise off the coast of Toulon in the Mediterranean Sea. The advantages of having a French Naval Officer at the helm made for easy communication leading to smooth execution.

In order to successfully achieve the detachment the team was required to split between two locations, with the majority of the engineering team residing in the French Naval Air Station at Hyeres and the rest of the team embedding themselves in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ship Argus. RFA Argus was already involved in the exercise as part of the UK’s contribution to celebrate 100 years of French Naval Aviation.

Code named “Squale”, the exercise started well as the team prepared to join a fleet of six Anti-Submarine Warfare French Frigates, two Maritime Patrol Aircraft and two French Lynx fitted with dipping sonar.  The pride of the French Navy, the Aircraft Carrier, Charles de Gaulle and the USS Truman were also ready for the challenge.  “Squale” consisted of numerous serials where 829’s mission was to locate the Rubis, a French Strategic Nuclear Submarine; they succeeded.  Newly joined Observer Lt Adam Gibbs, fresh from training at 824 NAS, found himself having to think quickly and work efficiently to find the target.  As his first detachment with the Squadron he was also required to undertake an overland Navex, which he had never done before.  He said; “Having only been with the Squadron for a short time, it was good to put my training into practice.  It has been a challenging exercise but this is what I joined up for.  I look forward to similar challenges in the future.”

On a lighter note, at the end of the week, aircrew and engineers took advantage of the only day off to visit the countryside and Saint Tropez, where some of them enjoyed the beach and even managed to swim in the Med.  With a sea temperature of 20 degrees this was not exactly the same as Falmouth Bay.

This exercise has proven that the Mediterranean Sea is accessible from Culdrose with valuable training for the Aircrew.  The diverse training environment and the challenges it presented will be of great use to all participants in whatever tasking should be required of them next.

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