Our technicians have worked extremely hard to keep the aircraft battle-ready and took pride in the service it has delivered

Lieutenant Jonny Orchard RN, Air Engineer Officer

Lt Leaker is one of six Royal Navy/Royal Marines pilots on exchange across the Apache force. 653 Sqn generally focuses its operations over land, while if any gunship squadron is likely to go to sea with the Royal Navy, it’s 656 Sqn.

In Helmand province, Lt Leaker – a former Navy fast jet pilot who’s switched to helicopters and has now completed his second Apache tour of duty – says the gunship has proved its worth, with our without having to fire its arsenal of weaponry.

“It is normally enough to stop any determined enemy from attacking if it is seen arriving in the overhead,” he explains.

“The Army Air Corps is quite rightly very proud of its achievements with this aircraft during Afghanistan and Libya and it is a privilege to be a part of it." 

The fact that soldiers understandably outnumber sailors on the squadron has made it “very hard to maintain a real Royal Navy ethos”, says Lt Orchard, but he and his fellow Senior Servicemen have striven to do so.

“It is a matter of having pride in our own Service – and remembering at all times that we are Fleet Air Arm and not British Army,” he points out.

“Saying that, we have become fully involved with all Army activities and physical tests, such as the advanced (eight miles carrying 15kg and an SA80) and personal fitness tests (1½ miles, plus press-ups and sit ups).”

One staple of Naval life which has been introduced to the Apache warriors is the Brickwoods Field Gun run, such that personnel from across the helicopters’ home base in the UK – Wattisham in Suffolk – have formed the 7th Air Assault Battalion REME team to run against Royal Navy and other military squads at HMS Collingwood each year, under Lt Orchard’s direction.

“It is an event which the soldiers look forward to – and they take it very seriously. The natural rivalry between the RN and Army comes to the fore.”

After a career supporting Fleet Air Arm jets, PO Capper says switching to Army helicopters “couldn't have been more different”.

He adds: “It has been a superb experience, in terms of maintaining such an important operational asset and working with some great people.

“It seems REME and Fleet Air Arm technicians share a great 'can do' attitude and a similar sense of humour.”