The first Fleet Air Arm observers to use the British Navy’s new Avenger training aircraft have successfully passed their course. Four junior officers completed a 16-week course with 750 Naval Air Squadron at Culdrose – and now move on to polishing their newly-learned trade with front-line squadrons.
Lts Keith Webb and Mark Finnie (both aged 27), 26-year-old Sub Lt Tom ‘Tug’ Wilson and Lt Alan ‘AJ’ McInnes (28) are ready to take on the world after becoming the first students to complete training as Fleet Air Arm Observers in the new Avenger trainer – parked on the Culdrose tarmac behind them.
The quartet passed the 16-week course with 750 Naval Air Squadron at the Helston airbase – which means they can now progress to front-line instruction as helicopter observers.
In very simple terms, pilots ‘fly’ a helicopter; the observer – a title which harks back to the very first days of the Naval aviation – ‘fights’ it, responsible for navigation and weapons systems.
The course with 750 teaches students the basics of being a Fleet Air Arm Observer; from there the successful candidates move on to bagger Sea King Airborne Surveillance and Control conversion (849 NAS), Merlin (824 NAS) – both based at Culdrose – or Lynx Mk8 with 702 NAS at Yeovilton.
After being selected from the many who apply to fly for the Navy, the four observers went through officer training at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, before moving to 750 at Culdrose.
Here they have learned to take command of an aircraft (and on occasion several aircraft) to achieve a mission safely.
Until last year, trainees learned the fundamentals of being an observer in the trusty Jetstream – which, outwardly, didn’t look much different from the replacement King Air Avenger.
With the Jetstreams increasing aged and the gap between what instructors could teach in them compared with the demands of frontline helicopters widening, the decision was taken to leap into the 21st Century with the Avengers in a £52m deal with Ascent Flight Training.
Among the many benefits of the new aircraft, the real world appears on a colourful computer display in front of a trainee observer’s eyes, and the instructor can superimpose extra targets and weather conditions – something not possible on the Jetstream – to make things more challenging.
And the first four to take on the new course – the students proudly called themselves ‘the first Avengers’ (“If you’re not first, you’re last”) – certainly found it a challenge; it’s reputed to be one of the toughest courses in the Royal Navy.
Mancunian Lt McInnes thought the course was “one of the toughest hurdles I have ever faced.”
Lt Finnie, from Bo’ness near Falkirk, added:
“The course has been a steep hill to climb which has made it all the more rewarding to pass.”
And from Lt Webb, from Withington, south Manchester:
“Military aviation is a challenging profession, which makes success in this service all the more satisfying.”
As to why Fleet Air Arm helicopter observers learn the ropes of their trade in a prop plane not a helicopter – an hour’s flying in a fixed-wing aircraft is roughly half the cost of the same in a helicopter.
Naval Today Staff, February 5, 2013; Image: Royal Navy