The British Navy has begun training the first aircrew to fly its next-generation helicopter, the Wildcat. Five Fleet Air Arm pilots and observers are undergoing conversion training at the new Wildcat Training Centre in RNAS Yeovilton right now with the helicopter, successor to the fabled Lynx, just 18 months from front-line service.
From the beginning of 2015, Wildcats will begin to relieve the trusty Lynx as the mainstay of helicopter operations for all of the Navy’s Type 45 destroyers and some of its Type 23 frigates, as well as any other air missions the Fleet requires of it.
700W – W for Wildcat – Naval Air Squadron, based at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset, got its first Naval version of the new helicopter on May 1.
The squadron has been formed especially to bring Wildcat into front-line service – squeezing every last ounce of information out of the helicopter so they can share it with the rest of the Wildcat world.
Last month the squadron took the naval Wildcat to sea for the first time, carrying out deck landings aboard RFA Mounts Bay off the South Coast.
Its personnel – five pilots, six observers (who act as navigators/weapons systems specialists) and 44 ground crew and technicians – are also developing the tactics which will allow Wildcat to track drug-runners, intercept pirates, take out small surface targets, sink submarines, save lives in mid-ocean rescues, basically everything its predecessor Lynx does, only better.
“We often hear: ‘It looks like a Lynx, how different can it be?’ Well yes, from the outside it bears a striking resemblance to the Lynx but that really is where the similarity ends,” says Wildcat pilot Lt James Woods.
“In Wildcat the Fleet Air Arm is getting a world-leading Naval helicopter that builds upon the successes of the present day Lynx. It’s bristling with the latest advanced mission systems and weapons – it’s the perfect solution to allow the Royal Navy to meet the challenges of tomorrow.”
The 700 NAS Wildcat pioneers were taught to fly the new helicopter by its builders, AgustaWestland.
Now they’re passing on that experience to existing trained aircrew. And from early 2015, the Fleet Air Arm will take rookie fliers straight from ‘helicopter school’ at RAF Shawbury and turn them into Wildcats.
Wildcat is on public display at four air shows across the UK this summer – Waddington last weekend, its native Yeovilton (on Saturday) for Air Day 2013, RIAT at Fairford (July 20-21), Culdrose Air Day 2013 (July 24) and ‘Wings and Wheels’ at Dunsfold over the August Bank Holiday weekend.
And in the autumn the rest of the Navy will get to see what Wildcat can do when it takes part in the Joint Warrior war games off Scotland for the first time.
The Fleet Air Arm is buying 28 Maritime Attack versions of the helicopter, with the Army Air Corps receiving 34. All will be based at Yeovilton.
The last Lynx will be withdrawn from service in the spring of 2017.
Press Release, July 10, 2013; Image: Royal Navy