The arrival of two AS350BA Squirrel helicopters of 723 Squadron on the flight deck of ESPS Cantabria signalled a significant moment in history for both the Armada and the Royal Australian Navy; the first occasion of a foreign helicopter Flight embarkation for both Navies.
723 Squadron Cantabria Flight, consisting of two aircraft and 25 personnel, is the culmination of months of hard work by both Navies, and is exemplary of the co-operation between Cantabria and the RAN during her 2013 Australia deployment. The opportunity for 723 Squadron Flight 1 to embark in Cantabria has provided invaluable training and experience in operating rotary wing aircraft at sea to junior aircrew and maintenance personnel.
“A unique element of the deployment is the coordination and management of operating two aircraft simultaneously to a single spot,” said LCDR James Hawley, FLYCO in ESPS Cantabria.
“This is a process that requires a high level of cooperation from Cantabria’s Bridge, Operations room, Deck team, 723 Maintenance and Aircrew,” he said.
“A graduated approach to these operations was adopted to build the necessary expertise and ensure aviation safety, with the end-state being two aircraft conducting simultaneous visual and instrument approaches to the flight deck including Vertical Replenishment, Rotors Turning Refuels and crew changes for nine sorties without a break in flying operations.”
In total, ten junior aircrew have been trained in the disciplines of Deck Landings, Vertical Replenishment (VERTREP), Transfers, and Anti Surface Warfare (ASuW). This represents a significant milestone in their professional aviation careers, seeing them make the transition from Pilots, AvWO's and Aircrewmen to Naval Aviators.
Significant experience is also being gained by the maintenance personnel, with this detachment being the first time that the majority of them have been a member of a flight at sea. This is also the first time that they have had the challenge of maintaining and supporting multiple aircraft on a warship at sea.
Although the focus of flying operations is centered around gaining Embarked Qualifications, the detachment also has a strategic goal of proving integration and operations utilising Standing NATO Agreement 1470 which provides guidance for the embarkation of one nations helicopter in that of the host nations ship.
“Thanks to the professionalism and flexibility of the CO and crew of ESPS Cantabria this has proved to be a highly successful undertaking, with valuable lessons recorded for future similar endeavours,” LCDR Hawley said.
“Naval aviation is a demanding and unforgiving environment; it requires a high level of professional mastery to ensure the ships most flexible sensor and weapon system is safely and effectively employed. A training detachment onboard a modern and capable vessel such as Cantabria provides invaluable experience to our future war-fighters.”