Virus-response helicopters practise mission at Calliope

Tynesiders were treated to the rare sight of Wildcat action on their doorstep when Army pilots dropped in on Naval Reserve base HMS Calliope.

Crews from the Army Air Corps 1 Regiment, No 659 Squadron made use of the landing site at the Gateshead establishment as they practised for their coronavirus mission.

As part of the military support to the NHS and civilian authorities – Operation Rescript – three Army battlefield Wildcats have been dispatched from their base at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset to RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire.

Their missions working for the COVID-19 Support Force are likely to involve them flying over towns and cities (Calliope is just 56 miles from Leeming, barely 20 minutes’ flying time) as they deliver supplies, ferry medics around or carry people who are sick, rather than the rolling terrain of a battlefield they are more normally used to.

That’s likely to involve some challenging take-offs/landings and approaches, so to hone their skills operating in the urban environment they made use of the riverside in the centre of Newcastle, and Calliope’s helicopter landing site.

The landing pad – in Calliope’s car park – is slap bang next to the Tyne. The Sage arts centre is just 150ft away, the iconic Tyne Bridge 500ft distant, and the Millennium Bridge 900ft, among other obstacles the fliers faced such as telephone cables, street lights and poles.

Calliope, which acts as the HQ for more than 100 Royal Naval Reservists from the Scottish Borders to the Tees, maintains its helicopter landing site for use in an emergency or for essential military training at all times.