Wildcat in high demand in Mediterranean

Tracking ships, evacuating casualties and search and rescue training are just some of the demands the Wildcat crew on board HMS Duncan have faced.

202 Flight of 815 Naval Air Squadron are embarked on the Type 45 destroyer for her six-month deployment to the Mediterranean.

Since leaving Portsmouth, the Yeovilton-based squadron have worked with French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, alongside anti-submarine warfare helicopters in Italian exercise Mare Aperto and trained at RAF Akrotiri, in Cyprus.

It was a busy start to the deployment for the helicopter crew with a casualty evacuation before the ship had even left UK waters.

Then it was straight into operational work when HMS Duncan joined up with the French carrier strike group. The Wildcat was tasked with Maritime Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance missions as a Russian ship shadowed the task group.

Flight observer Lieutenant Tom Horne said: "When working with the Charles de Gaulle, we were tasked with doing surface searches as there was a Russian ship shadowing us the entire time.

"It was our job to see where the ship was, what it was doing and then feed that information back. We were used quite a lot by the Charles de Gaulle and did more than double our minimum requirement of flying hours for the month.

"The squadron worked long hours and worked hard to make sure we could be in the air when needed. Our serviceability rate during our time with the French carrier was really high so we were available every day for the period they asked for."

The squadron worked long hours and worked hard to make sure we could be in the air when needed.

Lieutenant Tom Horne

When HMS Duncan went alongside in Limassol, in Cyprus, 202 Flight visited RAF Akrotiri to do search and rescue training. It is one of their key abilities and Lt Horne said it was important everyone was up to scratch.

They also managed to do training that being on a ship does not allow, utilising their time with access to an operational runway.

More recently, during Exercise Mare Aperto the squadron worked alongside anti-submarine warfare helicopters, a US Seahawk and a Dutch NH90.

The units were tasked with finding an Italian submarine taking part in the exercise. Once it was located by the US and Dutch helicopters, the Wildcat was dispatched with its weapons systems to “hit” the submarine. Dummy weapons were dropped to simulate an attack.

Lt Horne said that part of the exercise was NATO forces working together at its best.

“It was a great experience and it was good to see the whole NATO machine working as one,” he added.

The Wildcat also worked alongside other nations for Cypriot annual exercise Argonaut. The humanitarian exercise saw the helicopter winch dummy casualties off US and Cypriot ships in a scenario based on a crashed airline 30 miles from shore. 

AT Alan Smith is on his first deployment and has enjoyed the variety of work the team have been involved in.

He said: “So far it has been really good, I have loved it. In the couple months we have been away I have seen so much and visited six to seven countries.

“We have been kept busy with all the different things we’ve had to do.”

And some of the Wildcat’s tasks have been at short notice.

Leading Hand Joe Simpson said: “When we have a casualty evacuation, it is all last minute. For one of them, the team were having some down time before night flying and we got the call we had to take someone off the ship. We managed to get ready and get the helicopter ready to go in around half an hour.

“It is important we can react that quickly when needed.”