Merlin helicopter becomes first aircraft to land on HMS Queen Elizabeth
A Merlin helicopter has become the first aircraft to ever land on HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy’s biggest warship.
The Merlin, from Culdrose in Cornwall was from 820 Naval Air Squadron, a Royal Navy anti-submarine warfare unit equipped with the Thales FLASH dipping sonar which is used to locate and hunt enemy boats.
It fell to 26-year-old pilot Lieutenant Luke Wraith to set the 14-tonne helicopter safely down on the aircraft carrier, just days after she left Rosyth to begin trials in the North Sea.
He had a four-acre flight deck - almost the size of three football pitches - to aim for, where experienced aircraft handlers were waiting to guide him safely in and then lash the helicopter firmly down.
"I was pretty nervous - not about making a safe landing, but knowing that every other pilot in the Navy would watch the footage and critique it," said Lt Wraith.
"I'm actually quite surprised it ended up being me because I only got my flying wings 18 months ago - I was expecting it to be someone much more senior."
The squadron will be assigned to HMS Queen Elizabeth throughout the carrier's 50-year lifespan, protecting the ship against any submarine threats, and flying personnel and equipment on and off.
As well as Merlins operating with the Thales FLASH dipping anti-submarine warfare sonar, the carrier will also be protected by Merlins from Culdrose which will operate with the Thales Cerberus and Searchwater airborne surveillance and control capability to detect incoming threats.
Watching the historic landing from the ship's 'aircraft control tower' - called the Flyco - in the rear of Queen Elizabeth's two islands was the man in charge of all her flying operations, Commander Mark Deller.
His team trained around the world - on simulators, on US Navy carriers and on a mock-up flight deck at Culdrose - to ensure they were ready for the first helicopter.
"I sense all my team are pleased to be off the wall and back at sea, doing what we do best, Cdr Deller said.
"There are smiles everywhere on deck and that's a good sign. Operating live helicopters adds another dimension to our understanding of how our flight deck behaves.
"We've proven our initial ability to operate aircraft safely. Now our focus is getting the ship and all her systems fully tested and set to work ready to commence full fixed wing flying trials next year."
Also observing was Captain Jerry Kyd, Queen Elizabeth's first Commanding Officer. He said: "It's an exciting and historic event which marks the beginning of the ship's life as the nation's flagship and the future of carrier-based aviation.
"It's been a demanding but proud and exciting week for us, the ship is bustling with activity and it's been fantastic to see this extend now to the flight deck just four days after sailing."