Wildcat gives military dogs first flight

Labrador Pearl and her handler are lowered on to the flight deck of RFA Lyme Bay after their first flight in a Royal Navy Wildcat helicopter.

Two British Army canines from the 1st Military Working Dog Regiment were introduced to the skies by 815 Naval Air Squadron – part of the work-up for the UK Armed Forces’ biggest exercise of the year, Saif Sareea, due to kick off shortly in Oman.

Pearl – a sniffer dog – and German shepherd Indie – an attack dog – were used to neither ships nor helicopters, but quickly settled down on the amphibious support ship and were never short of attention when being exercised on the upper deck.

Their stint aboard Lyme Bay reached its climax with a morning-long workout with the Wildcat, culminating in ‘acquaint’ flights in the back of the Wildcat (which was packed with Royal Marines from 3 Commando Brigade) – to get them used to the sounds, smells and sensations of a helicopter sortie.

We believe this is a first for a Wildcat

Lt Alex Halliday RN

Each dog (and handler) climbed aboard the Wildcat, launched from the flight deck, completed a circuit of the ship and were then delivered back on board via winch transfer – not something that many four legged animals get the chance to do.

“We believe this is a first for a Wildcat,” said Flight Observer Lt Alex Halliday. “Getting both dog and handler safely out the aircraft door and down the wire added a level of complexity on top of how we normally operate, but the dogs were remarkably well behaved given how strange an environment a noisy aircraft must be to them.”

This is one of several firsts for 205 Flight from RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset: the Wildcat Mk2 usually finds itself on a frigate or destroyer, rather than supporting Royal Marines assaulting a beach.

Nevertheless, the helicopter has quickly got used to its new surroundings, as Flight Commander Lt Cdr John Phillips says: “While amphibious operations are not a traditional role conducted by 815 Squadron, the Wildcat has demonstrated its huge potential to deliver air power from the sea, to and over the land. In addition the excellent sensors on the aircraft deliver the ‘find and fix’ capability – locating potential targets – to any task group operation.”

Which is handy because the ship is now attached to such a group, poised off the coast of Oman with destroyer HMS Dragon and UK flagship HMS Albion ahead of Saif Sareea.