The first four of 12 new Wildcats has been delivered to 815 Naval Air Squadron as the Fleet Air Arm’s largest squadron begins the switch from Lynx after 35 years.
Over the next 11 months the Yeovilton squadron will gradually retire the Lynx Mk8 as its successor takes over as the wings of front-line destroyers and frigates.
With the ultimate Lynx, the Mk8, gradually being phased out of service – the last flight joins HMS Portland for a nine-month deployment shortly – Wildcat will rapidly take its place.
There’s already one Wildcat squadron at the Somerset air base, 825, which has been learning how to operate the new helicopter for the past two years.
Although it looks like a Lynx – the tailplane makes it stand out from its forebear – Wildcat shares just 60 parts with the older aircraft and the cockpit is completely digital (not a hybrid of dials, knobs and computer systems).
825 has already deployed one Wildcat flight – nine months with HMS Lancaster to the Caribbean, Pacific and Atlantic – last year, but the squadron will increasingly take on a training role.
Come April 2017, with four Wildcats, it will feed 815 with trained air and ground crew, as well as provide ‘quality control’ for the Wildcat force (rather like 702 NAS did for the Lynx until it disbanded in 2014) – but will also be able to meet front-line demands if needed.
And 815 will have a dozen helicopters to meet the requirements of frigates and destroyers, plus other RN/RFA vessels and operations around the UK.
Two of its inaugural Wildcats were handed over by 825 (who’ve also supplied 54 trained Wildcat technicians and six pilots/observers to help 815 get started) and two straight from the Finmecannia (formerly AgustaWestland) works just down the road in Yeovil. The first 815 Wildcat flight joins destroyer HMS Duncan this month.
“Despite all the additional capability and technical advances that this modern, multi-purpose all-weather helicopter brings, it’s the people, role and success that will continue to deliver on the excellent reputation that the Lynx has set,” said Commander Phil Richardson, 815’s Commanding Officer.
“Uniquely, we are now a Squadron that is simultaneously operating two different types of aircraft – and will continue to do so until the Lynx goes out of service on March 31 next year.”
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