30th September marked the end of an era for the Royal Air Force with the official handover of the Merlin to the Royal Navy and the disbandment of 78 Squadron in a formal ceremony at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire.
The formal Royal parade marked the next stage in the transition of the Merlin helicopter from the Support Helicopter Force to the Commando Helicopter Force, a move that was introduced in the Strategic Defence and Security Review. Since 2012, RAF aircrew and engineers have been training their Royal Navy counterparts to operate and maintain the technologically advanced aircraft.
With over a decade of operational experience with the Merlin to pass on to their Navy counterparts, it has been a lengthy process that began with the first engineers arriving at RAF Benson in early 2012. Today the Royal Air Force officially handed over the aircraft during the formal disbandment parade attended by His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent, Honorary Air Marshal of RAF Benson, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, Chief of the Air Staff. His Royal Highness The Duke of York and the 1st Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, were also in attendance to represent the Royal Navy on parade.
78 Squadron was formed in 1916 in Hove and has an illustrious history that spans from World War I to Operation Herrick in Afghanistan, as well as almost two decades as the only RAF Squadron permanently based in the Falkland Islands. Today former Squadron members joined with those currently serving to say goodbye as the Squadron Standard was encased for the final time.
His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent said: “I am honoured to be here to pay respect to the men and women of 78 Squadron as they formally disband today. The Squadron has served with courage and fortitude for almost a century; giving so much to our country and society at large. It is only fitting that 78 Squadron’s disbandment is marked by such a stunning ceremonial event, with airmen and officers proudly parading the Squadron standard for the final time before it is retired. I thank each and every one of you for your Service and your sacrifices and I know that you will continue to serve our country in the finest traditions of the Royal Air Force.”
Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford said: “Today we say farewell to No 78 Squadron. Rather than mourn this occasion, we should use it as an opportunity to celebrate the partnership between our two Services. I have been truly impressed with the manner in which both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force have worked together in order to tackle the significant challenge of transition, andI know that we will continue to work equally well together in the future. I offer my congratulation to the personnel of No 78 Squadron for all they have achieved over recent years, and I pass on my best wishes to 846 Naval Air Squadron for the future.”
Group Captain Nigel Colman, Station Commander at Royal Air Force Benson and the final Merlin Force Commander, said: “Personally this has been an emotional day for me, I’ve been involved with Merlin for almost 15 years now; I flew the first aircraft out of the factory many years ago. 846 Naval Air Squadron and the Command Helicopter Force will take it forward and I’m sure they sure will do great things. Our joint partnership will continue for some years to come; the Merlins won’t leave RAF Benson for another 2 years and business will continue as usual with our day to day output in support of Operations around the World.”
“All our personnel should very proud, both airmen and marines – they should be proud of what they have achieved. They have done the job together for the last ten years and that fantastic effort will continue will the Royal Navy.”
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