f-25 take off HMS Queen Elizabeth

Getting jets to sea – more squadrons, more pilots please

As HMS Queen Elizabeth undergoes initial sea trials there is considerable discussion about her future embarked air group. Amidst endless media and online gibberish about “aircraft carriers with no aircraft” the UK is in fact, building up its fleet of F-35B Lightnings ready to go to sea. Here John Dunbar considers the concerns about the number of jets that will be available to form the Tailored Air Group, and how their efficiency might be maximised.

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Crowsnest Merlin Helicopter Aircraft Carriers

Crowsnest – the strike carrier’s eye in the sky

Crowsnest is the name for the project to provide a new airborne early warning system for the RN. Sea King Mk 7 helicopters operated by 849 Naval Air Squadron currently operate in this role and provide what is now called Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC). They are the last Sea Kings remaining active in UK service but are due to go in 2018, by which time this type will have served for nearly 50 years.

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HMS Queen Elizabeth flight deck

Infographic: Timeline for delivering carrier strike

This infographic looks at the schedule for delivery of the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers and their embarked aircraft. Prepared using MoD statements and public domain information, some dates are estimates and programs are likely to be subject to change.

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771 Naval Air Squadron Sea King Helicopter

Goodbye 771 Naval Air Squadron – UK search & rescue helicopter service goes private

After more than 40 years providing search and rescue (SAR) services across the UK, on 1st January 2016 771 Naval Air Squadron handed on responsibility to private contractor. Until now the MoD and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) have operated a 24-hour military and civil helicopter SAR service for the UK using around 40 RN and RAF Sea king Mk5s. 

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Royal Navy Merlin Helicopter on flight deck of HMS Sutherland

The Royal Navy’s Merlin helicopter fleet – bearing a heavy load

Glossy MoD publicity may give the impression the Fleet Air Arm is in rude health with several new types of aircraft coming into service to replace ageing veterans. A new generation of aircraft are indeed being delivered but the actual number of helicopters in RN service will have declined dramatically by 57% (From 194 to 83) in the decade between 2009 and 2019.

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