Historic naval wing provides helicopter pilots of tomorrow

A new Fleet Air Arm unit with a nod to the birth of naval aviation will provide the helicopter pilots of the future.

2nd Maritime Air Wing has been formally commissioned at RAF Shawbury in Shropshire to oversee the training of Naval, RAF and Army Air Corps helicopter pilots – turning men and women with a basic knowledge of flight into skilled aviators ready to handle front-line machines.

The wing has been operating since 2018, but only formally commissioned now which saw a blessing for the new formation by the Right Reverend Squadron Leader John Harrison and a formal pennant raising in the presence of Captain Roger Wyness, Assistant Director of Flying Training 22 Group.

“There is no doubt that the world class training that the Wing delivers on behalf of Defence will ensure that the front line is supplied with well-trained and highly motivated rotary wing aviators,” Capt Wyness told personnel in the new formation. “I am delighted that 2 Maritime Air Wing is undeniably ‘Underway, Making Way’.”

2nd Maritime Air Wing traces its history back to the first days of the Great War and 2nd Squadron, Royal Naval Air Service – forerunner of today’s Fleet Air Arm – formed at Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey on the orders of Winston Churchill, the political head of the Navy at the time.

In its 2020 incarnation, the wing must provide the Fleet Air Arm, RAF and Army Air Corps with 106 fresh pilots every year as one of two training wings under No. 1 Flying Training School (the other is 9 Regiment Army Air Corps), encompassing 705 Naval Air Squadron, 660 Squadron AAC and 202 Squadron RAF.

Students fly state-of-the-art Airbus H135 Juno (also operated by the police) and the larger Airbus H145 Jupiter for live training.

Both helicopters have two engines, ‘glass’ – ie fully digital – cockpits, kitted out with the latest navigation equipment, fully compatible with night vision devices, and with capability for load lifting, winching and surveillance operations.

The trainee pilots often arrive at Shawbury, near Shrewsbury, with no previous experience of flying helicopters, but leave as skilled fliers, able to fly low-level, in poor weather frequently encountered at sea and around naval/air bases, in tactical formations, operating day or at night with night-vision devices

The training is intensive and demanding, but the trainees have exceptional facilities to help them from hi-tech full flight simulators, to mission planning devices, computer-based learning packages and traditional ground school lessons.

A mixture of highly-experienced serving and ex-military instructors, with deep expertise in training and front-line operations provide instruction in the air and on the ground.

Successful Fleet Air Arm students move on to 824 NAS (Merlin Mk2), 825 NAS (Wildcat HMA2), 847 NAS (Wildcat AH1) and 846 NAS (Merlin Mk4).