Welcome to the Junglie – again - as veteran helicopter is immortalised at Yeovilton

Topic: Fighting armsFleet Air Arm Storyline: 846 NAS

Who isn’t stirred by the sight of a Junglie?

Sadly, not in the skies, but looking pristine, rotors spread – as if all you need to do is fire her up and off we go…

Enjoying a commanding position in front of RNAS Yeovilton’s headquarters building, veteran Sea King ZF118, callsign ‘Victor Oscar VO’, which served the Commando Helicopter Force for just shy of 30 years.

The helicopter has been installed as a ‘gate guardian’ (it’s actually about 500ft from Pyle Lane Gate) on a daisy-peppered lawn as a reminder of the air station’s proud heritage and long association with the legendary aircraft.

Sea Kings served the RN from 1969 until the last variant, the Mk7 ASAC, retired from service in 2018.

The commando variant was introduced in 1979 and served with distinction in every operation and conflict the Royal Marines took part in until 2016: Falklands, two Gulf wars, the Balkan conflicts and Afghanistan, before being succeeded by the present-day Merlin Mk4.

Senior CHF fliers and Sea King stalwarts decided there should be more than just memories left of the great aircraft.., so the hunt began for a permanent tribute.

Commander Richard Bartram, Commanding Officer of 846 Naval Air Squadron, Warrant Officer 1 Al Wilson and Warrant Officer 2 Tim Othen came up with a plan to rescue a decommissioned Sea King and refurbish it.

They found one – being used as a Royal Navy medical training hulk – and spent two years moving and gradually cleaning, refurbishing and repainting it with the help of Leonardo Helicopters in nearby Yeovil and a host of volunteers, until it was craned into its new home and formally dedicated/unveiled (he removed a White Ensign from a memorial plaque as you can’t really hide a 55ft helicopter) by Brigadier Del Stafford, former Commanding Officer of the Commando Helicopter Force and the current ‘senior junglie’.

The aircraft selected for guardian duties was delivered to Yeovilton by Lieutenant Steve Cheyne in 1986 and saw service in Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.

It flew for the final time in April 2015 with Lieutenant David Houghton at the controls having spent just shy of 10,500 hours flying on operations.