Leading Airman Leon Smethurst waves Sea King Sierra Two-Six of 771 Naval Air Squadron – the Ace of Clubs – off the flight deck of HMS Ocean as Britain’s biggest warship begins assuming the duties of the nation’s on-call helicopter carrier.
Less than a fortnight after sailing from her native Devonport following a £65m revamp, the Mighty O continued her regeneration by welcoming aircraft aboard for the first time to test her aviation facilities – and those sailors who run them.
To that end the 22,000-tonne helicopter assault ship is being put through what is known as Sea Acceptance Trials (Air) (SAT(Air)) off the South Coast, with Fleet Air Arm Lynx and Sea Kings touching down on and lifting off from the 667ft flight deck.
Thanks to that deck and hangar facilities, the Devonport-based warship is able to launch an airborne assault of Royal Marine Commandos using a mix of medium and heavy lift helicopters.
There are six ‘operating spots’ on the deck – where helicopters land and take off – with hangar space for a further 12 large helicopters below.
During an assault – such as the attack on the Al Faw peninsula in 2003 – Ocean is able to launch two waves of troop-carrying Sea King, Merlin or Chinook helicopters, as well as operating smaller Lynx, Wildcat or Apache attack helicopters.
The regeneration of Ocean’s flying facilities has given members of the ship’s company involved in aviation – especially the 70-strong air department – their first opportunity to see a helicopter land on her deck since she started her refit nearly two years ago.
Capt Tim Henry, Ocean’s Commanding Officer, added: “Aviation is the heartbeat of HMS Ocean.
“Completion of a successful SAT(Air) sees the tempo of aviation operations increase – and Ocean is one step further towards operations anywhere in the world.”
Ocean’s trials are continuing as she takes over from veteran helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious, which is bowing out of active duties after 32 years’ service around the globe.
There will be a symbolic handover between the two carriers before Lusty enters Portsmouth for the final time under the White Ensign on Tuesday afternoon.