The lead ship of the new Royal Fleet Auxiliary tankers has completed her air sea acceptance trials (ASCT) with a Merlin Mk2 helicopter from QinetiQ at Boscombe Down.
Completing the ASCT is a major milestone before the RFA Tidespring enters naval service.
“Successful completion of these trials will certify the parameters necessary for all Tide-class ships to operate aircraft in support of a wide range of defence activities, such as maritime security, task group operations and humanitarian and disaster-relief operations,” said Tidespring’s commanding officer, Captain Simon Herbert.
Tidespring, which earlier this week made her debut visit to Gibraltar, is currently undergoing trials ahead of her acceptance into the fleet in November.
Boffins from the Empire Test Pilots School at Boscombe Down are embarked in the ship to write the manual for all future helicopter operations involving the Tide-class tankers.
By taking a vast quantity of data readings – such as the flow of air over the tanker’s superstructure, the ship’s roll, pitch and yaw – and based on the skill and expertise of the fliers, the team will determine in what conditions Merlins and Wildcats can safely land and take-off: known as the Ship Helicopter Operating Limits or SHOL.
Tidespring, which will be followed by sister vessels Tiderace, Tidesurge and Tideforce, will now progress to first-of-class flying trials as well as replenishment training ahead of her Service of Dedication in Portsmouth.
The tankers, capable of carrying up to 19,000 cubic metres of fuel and 1,400 cubic metres of fresh water, will provide key support to HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister Prince of Wales.