First helicopter deck landing for RFA Tidespring

A Merlin Mk2 helicopter lands on the deck of the first of the RFA’s new fleet of tankers for the first time.

RFA Tidespring, the first of four 39,000 tonne Tide-Class tankers, completed her Air Sea Acceptance Trial with the helicopter from QinetiQ at Boscombe Down.

Commanding Officer, Captain Simon Herbert, said: “Achieving the aviation sea acceptance trials is a key milestone in the generation of RFA Tidespring into 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.”

Tidespring, which earlier this week made her debut visit to Gibraltar, is currently undergoing trials ahead of her acceptance into the fleet in November.

Achieving the aviation sea acceptance trials is a key milestone in the generation of RFA Tidespring into Naval Service

Captain Simon Herbert RFA, Commanding Officer of RFA Tidespring

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.