HMS Somerset has welcomed a helicopter on to her flight deck for the first time in 12 months as she continues training after a £20m revamp. A Merlin from 829 Naval Air Squadron – which provides the Royal Navy’s frigate fleet with helicopters to support their missions around the globe – safely landed and took off from the ship in Plymouth Sound.
For the first time a year, the Devonport-based frigate welcomed a helicopter aboard – a Merlin of 829 Naval Air Squadron, which is dedicated to providing Royal Navy Type 23 frigates with a ship’s flight (helicopter, aircrew and maintainers) to support their missions around the globe.
Despite the very large ‘flying tiger’ motif of 814 Naval Air Squadron painted on the nose, it was 829 who brought the aircraft safely down on to Somerset’s flight deck (it’s commonplace for the Merlin formations, all based at Culdrose, to exchange helicopters).
The Merlin landed on Somerset on Friday in Plymouth Sound, guided by the flight deck team – their first taste of helicopter operations since the frigate emerged from a £20m revamp last month.
Among the improvements to Somerset since she last went to sea are enhanced sensors, weapon systems and a refurbished flight deck (Merlin weighs 14 tonnes fully laden and has a famously-powerful downdraught).
“As a Naval aviator, I’m very proud to command a ship capable of operating aircraft like the mighty Merlin,” said Somerset’s Commanding Officer Cdr Mike Smith.
“The return of 829 Naval Air Squadron’s aircraft and personnel, after a year-long separation, signifies the fact that Somerset is swiftly regaining the capability required to return to front-line operations later this year.”
The ship has been out of action since March 2012 when she returned from her fourth six-month tour of duty east of Suez in five years. She’s continuing her post-refit sea trials off the south coast.
Naval Today Staff, February 12, 2013; Image: Royal Navy