Operations don't cease at night, as ground crew prepare to load weapons on a Wildcat as dusk falls over the air base
Having collected my SE (survival equipment) from the stores earlier in the day and undergone an aircraft briefing on procedures in case of an aircraft emergency or crash landing, I was 'good to go'. We headed out to Wildcat #ZZ535, which was in T2-configuration and deemed the best fit for me to maximise the photo opportunities. The Wildcat's rear compartment can be fitted in a variety of configurations, T-2 having two rear-facing seats directly behind the pilot and observers seats. This meant I was right next to the side door and could move from the right seat to the left seat as required so as to ensure the sun was perfectly positioned wherever we were in relation to 'Talon 2'. We head out to the apron where #ZZ535 is parked on #59 dispersal. Our flight crew (Lt. Harwood and Lt. Burrows) complete their pre-flight checks on the Wildcat and start engines whilst Lt. Cdr Mike 'Badger' Wingfield helps me strap-in and stow my gear. After radio clearance from the tower we hover-taxi from the apron's flower-head towards the threshold of Runway 27 and form a line-astern loose formation with 'Talon 2' as we make a left-hand turn after departure towards Sherborne.
The Spanish company Indra were awarded the contract to build and supply the simulators for the Wildcat in August 2011. Indra provided the state-of-the-art synthetic training technology, which includes two Full-Motion Flight Simulators (FMFS), a Flight Training Device (FTD) and Cockpit Procedures Trainer (CPT). All devices are capable of delivering Army or Royal Navy conversion and mission training. Each of the Full Motion Flight Simulators reproduces the vibrations of the aircraft during flight, in order to provide the same 'feel' as that associated with helicopter flying.
Pilot Grading is conducted at Yeovilton on the Grob 115E Tutor
#ZZ535 waits on the apron with the AETs as we walk out to the aircraft
During my time with 825 NAS I had the opportunity to conduct a formation flight with the squadron, which gave me the opportunity to get some air-to-air images of the Wildcat and experience first-hand what it's like to fly the Royal Navy's newest helicopter. Initially known as the Lynx Wildcat, the HMA.2 helicopter at first glance bears a striking resemblance to its predecessor both in terms of looks and size, but that really is where the similarity ends. Whilst it has very similar dimensions to the Lynx HMA.8, it is a much heavier aircraft and very different to fly. The Wildcat also has significant design differences to the Lynx and is heavily modernised, retaining only 5% of compatible items with the Lynx, such as the fuel system and main rotor gearbox. Also unlike the Lynx, the Wildcat is designed around an entirely digital environment, with external elements such as the fuselage and tail rotor having been redesigned for greater durability and to provide a more stealthy aircraft, as evidenced by the angular shape of the helicopter.
Another landmark as we fly over Corfe Castle (above)
A Royal Navy Wildcat HMA.2 lift's off from the dispersals at RNAS Yeovilton
Wildcat HMA.2, callsign 'Talon 2' formates alongside us as we head out from Yeovilton towards the south coast
Early morning on the dispersals at RNAS Yeovilton and the two man crew go through their pre-flight walkaround
The Wildcat is unique in UK military terms in having a single pilot, the crew comprising a pilot and observer
With St. Bartholomews Church, Yeovilton, in the background
#ZZ534 follows 'Talon 1' as our formation prepares to recover at RNAS Yeovilton
One of the greatest names in British naval aviation, the Fleet Air Arm's 825 Naval Air Squadron (NAS), re-formed at Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Yeovilton, Somerset, on 10th October 2014. Having been disbanded in 1982 after the Falklands War, the squadron was formally re-commissioned to take over the duties of 700W NAS, which had been responsible for introducing the new AgustaWestland Wildcat into Royal Navy service. The squadron's role is to train air and ground crew flying and maintaining the new Wildcat helicopter, providing the front-line fleet with Wildcat 'flights' supporting Royal Navy ships on their operations around the world. Jetwash Aviation Photos had the privilege of embedding itself with the squadron in late 2017/early 2018 to report on its current tasking's and the role it plays in providing personnel and training for the Fleet Air Arm.
#ZZ375 is seen departing Yeovilton on 30th October 2017
The Wildcat HMA.2 is fitted with the Seaspray 7400E radar and nose-mounted Wescam MX-15Di EO/IR turret
The MX-15Di sensors include an infrared camera with three fields of view; daylight TV camera, image-intensifying camera with spotter lens for very narrow field of view, and a laser ranger/designator
One of the two Full-Motion Flight Simulators is seen in the image above right, with the Navy's control panel seen in operation in the image above. As the Army Wildcat is operated in a two-pilot configuration and is designed to operate in different roles to that of the Navy, the Army operate another control panel adjacent to the Navy's, running independently of the Navy sim
CTT sees the students finally apply their previous training to the modern twin-engine Wildcat helicopter, the only UK military helicopter type to operate with a single-pilot. After being checked by a QHI (Qualified Helicopter Instructor), they are signed off to operate without an instructor, and with a non-trained Observer in the second seat. The Instrument Phase Rating includes 15 hours in the Wildcat and Wildcat simulator, and includes low-level NVG flying down to 200 feet, low-level IF over the sea down to 100 feet and a Radar Direction Exercise (RDX). The final part of the CTT covers the Deck Landing Phase on board a Type 23 or Type 45 as part of the ‘Small Ships Flight’. This takes place over three weeks and incorporates eight each of day/night/NVG deck landings in all weathers. After completion of the CTT the students move straight into CTR, which includes a tactical ESM using the Wildcat’s defensive aids suite, including missions in the simulator.
Wildcat crews earn their Wings off Portugal
The final element of the Wildcat crews training sees them conduct their first ‘Blue Water’ operations in the Atlantic Ocean. The most recent was 'Class 2/16', which embarked on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship, RFA Argus, in early November 2017 off the Portuguese coast. The detachment of five Wildcats and 90 personnel made RFA Argus their home, the pilots and observers charged with protecting the 28,000-tonne vessel, with the crews facing a complex series of realistic scenarios in open waters about 100 miles off the coast of Portugal.
On 16th November, 825 NAS helped a British yachtsman whose boat had been damaged by storms in the Bay of Biscay. 825's Wildcats were scrambled from Argus after an SOS was received from the 30ft yacht, Takita, which had lost its mast. Finding no trace of the vessel at the spot it was initially reported in, they began a systematic search of the Atlantic, where the strong winds and heavy seas might have carried the stricken vessel and its sole crewman. On the third sweep of the search area, the aircrew spotted the boat and rescued its single-man crew alive.
All Royal Navy Wildcats are operated under the Wildcat Asset Sharing Programme (WASP),
with the dispersals for 815 and 825 NAS side by side at RNAS Yeovilton
Wildcat Training Centre (WTC)
Providing training to both Royal Navy and Army air and ground crews at Yeovilton, the state-of-the-art Wildcat Training Centre at RNAS Yeovilton is the centre of the training service delivered under the Leonardo Helicopters 30-year WIST (Wildcat Integrated Support and Training) programme awarded in 2012. The WTC is equipped to provide aircrew and maintainer training using a wide range of Synthetic Training Equipment; including two Full Motion Flight Simulators, a Flight Training Device and a Cockpit Procedures Trainer. The team of aircrew simulator instructors and aircraft technical instructors supports Leonardo Helicopters under the WIST contract to deliver a wide range of training courses for aircrew, ground crew and maintainers. The WTC is also responsible for ensuring frontline Navy and Army Wildcat crews maintain their annual flying and operational currency, as well as continuation training requirements.
The Squirrel HT.1/HT.2 used at RAF Shawbury (left)
Early evening and a Wildcat gets its fuel tanks topped up by a bowser on Yeovilton's dispersals
Flying over the rolling hillside above the picturesque village of Cerne Abbas, this 180ft tall club-wielding man has long been regarded as a sign of fertility. You can probably guess why!
As well as training Pilots and Observers, 825 also train's Air Engineering Technicians. Vital to keeping the Navy's airborne missions on track, the AETs carry out maintenance, as well as services and inspections, before and after every flight. Crews are seen here loading a TVT (Training Variant Torpedo) Stingray onto a Wildcat
Late afternoon, Wednesday 2nd May, 15.30Z to be precise, myself and the crews of 'Talon 1' (Lt. Dave Harwood, Lt. James Burrows, Lt. Cdr Mike 'Badger' Wingfield) and 'Talon 2' (Lt. Chris Rebbeck, Lt, Cdr Mark Jones) conduct our pre-flight brief in one of the rooms adjacent to the pilots room at 825 NAS' squadron building at RNAS Yeovilton. The weather front that had brought heavy showers earlier in the day had blown through and the Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF) and METAR (Meteorological Terminal Aviation Routine) reports were all 'Blue'. Visibility was good, with our planned routing taking us over Cerne Abbas, Weymouth, Portland and Corfe Castle, before routing directly back to Yeovilton. The only concerns would be to keep an eye out for gliders from the Dorset Gliding Club that may be in the vicinity of Corfe Castle and avoiding the Army's live-firing ranges around Bovington. The final piece in the jigsaw was to confirm what images I wanted to get during the sortie, aircraft positioning to obtain them and my positioning /safety within the cab.
After completion of Air 424, the students then move into their Elementary Flying Training with 703 Squadron at RAF Barkston Heath on the Grob 115E Tutor. This element sees the students gain the equivalent of a PPL (Private Pilot’s Licence) and involves 60 hours of general handling, circuit work, gliding, spinning, aerobatics, forced landings, emergency procedures, instrument flying, low and medium-level navigation and formation flying, culminating in a final handling test.
The Leonardo (AgustaWestland) AW.159 Wildcat HMA.2 is a huge step-up in capability over the Westland Lynx HMA.8 it replaced. We spoke to Lt. Cdr Joe Keane (Observer) and Lt. Freddie Morton-King (Pilot) about the helicopter, both of whom also flew the Lynx prior to converting to the Wildcat. They described flying the Wildcat HMA.2 thus; "The Lynx was very mechanical, we've gone from flying heads-out with the Lynx Mark 3, more heads-in with the Mark 8, to very much heads-in (with the Wildcat), Joe said; "nowadays I rarely look outside the cockpit". Asked if the Wildcat was easier to fly than the Lynx, Freddie told us; "The Wildcat is like flying a heavy Lynx, although the amount of information available is huge in comparison, so it's not easier, just different". Joe went on; "The Lynx radar was very robust and never went wrong- but it was only capable of tracking eight targets, whereas the Wildcat will track 30 targets in a far more succinct manner. It's a case of sorting the 'wheat from the chaff', in effect filtering out what's relevant from all the information that you are being fed ".
Making the grade as a Wildcat Pilot
As part of the U.K’s Military Flying training System (MFTS) prospective Wildcat pilots commence their training at the British Royal Naval College (BRNC), Dartmouth, where they undergo their Officer Training. Pilot Grading is undertaken by 727 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) at RNAS Yeovilton on the single-engine Grob 115E Tutor, spending approximately 16hrs learning the aircraft’s controls and the basics of aerobatics, airfield circuit work, stalls & spins, followed by a final handling test. The fall-out rate at this stage is relatively high, with only one chance at each stage. The real training then begins with the 'Air 424' (Survival Package), a series of one week courses; medical training, permissive and threatened environment survival training, dunker training and a sea survival course.
'Flying the Wildcat HMA.2'
Arriving at RNAS Yeovilton , the students finally get their hands on a Wildcat for the first time, completing their CTT and CTR training on the helicopter with 825 NAS
The Royal Navy has now received all of the 28 Wildcat HMA2s ordered
The aircraft above is seen carrying an inert depth charge on the starboard weapons pylon
It is at this stage that the students are ‘streamed’, with the rotary-wing element moving to RAF Shawbury to undertake the Advanced Single Engine Rotary Wing Course with either 705 NAS or 660 Squadron (Army Air Corps), using the Airbus Helicopters Squirrel HT.1/HT.2 (The type has recently been superseded by the Airbus H.135 Juno T.1). The 60-hour advanced course consists of Navy, Air Force and Army pilots and the first part covers; effect of controls, hover sorties, auto-rotation, advanced general handling and confined area training, followed up with a Final Handling Test. The second part of the course sees the students undertake instrument flying, navigation, low-level contour flying, ‘time-on-target’ training and formation mountain flying, again with a Final Handling Test upon completion.
AgustaWestland AW.159 Wildcat HMA.2
Manufactured by AgustaWestland Helicopters at Yeovil, the Wildcat is the latest generation; multi-role helicopter procured to operate from the Type 23 Frigates and Type 45 Destroyers of the British Royal Navy, and specifically designed to operate in the harshest maritime environments. Whilst the Wildcat looks quite similar to its predecessor and possesses many of its outstanding characteristics, it is a far more capable helicopter than the Westland Lynx it replaced. The Wildcat has more powerful engines that provide much improved performance in ‘hot & high’ environments; its redesigned tail has a more powerful tail-rotor system, which improves the aircraft's strength and stealth qualities with its ‘diamond’ profile; a much-improved Night Vision Goggle (NVG) compatible 'glass' cockpit with state-of-the-art instrumentation, hi-tech communications; and crash-worthy armoured seats which drastically enhance the pilots survivability in the event of a crash landing.
Seen on the morning of 31st October 2017, three Wildcats await the call to duty
It is now that the Royal Navy students are streamed to the Wildcat AH.1, Wildcat HMA.2, Merlin HC.3/4 or Merlin HMA.2 aircraft, moving to their respective pipelines subject to the streaming decision. Moving to RAF Valley with 202 Sqn, the SARTU (Search & Rescue Training Unit), Wildcat HMA.2 students get their hands on the twin-engine Bell Griffin HT.1. (which has recently been replaced by the Airbus Helicopters Jupiter HT.1). After completing their refresher training, they conduct ‘dry’ rescues using the aircraft’s winch, winching on moving ships decks and small ribs, and picking up ‘downed’ airmen from the sea. The final part consists of operating with small fishing boats, mountain flying training from peaks and pinnacles, culminating with night vision goggle (NVG) training down to 150 feet.
Wildcat's first full deployment east of Suez
A Wildcat of 204 Flight/825 Naval Squadron returned to RNAS Yeovilton on 18th May 2017 after having completed a nine month deployment away from home in the Gulf in support of the Type 45 Destroyer, HMS Daring. The Wildcat Flight played a vital role in the destroyer's day-to-day operations. Whilst HMS Daring's radar kept constant watch on the skies, the helicopter's sensor suite did likewise, looking at the surface of hundreds of square miles of ocean on every sortie. This was the first time the Wildcat had supported a full deployment on a Type 45 Destroyer.
As well as supporting HMS Daring, the Wildcat was shown off to a string of navies based or operating in the Middle East, including French, Dutch, Pakistan, Oman, Saudi Arabian, Bahraini and American forces. The Wildcat flew more than 240 hours during the deployment and only missed two operational sorties due to minor unserviceability issues.
Close formation over the Dorset countryside
The Bell Griffin HT.1 (above) has recently been replaced by the new Airbus Helicopters Jupiter HT.1 fleet
We’d like to thank everyone at 825 NAS, but especially the following people for their help in completing this article
Lt. Cdr Mark Roddy (Air Engineering Officer, 825 NAS)
Lt. Rob Kenchington (Operations Officer, 825 NAS)
Crew of ‘Talon 1’ (Lt. Dave Harwood, Lt. James Burrows, Lt. Cdr Mike Wingfield)
Crew of ‘Talon 2’ (Lt. Chris Rebbeck, Lt. Cdr Mark Jones)
Lt. Mike Vivian
Lt. Cdr Dan Williams
The Wildcat's cutting-edge 360˚ full-colour Seaspray 7400E surveillance radar and Wescam MX-15Di electro-optical/FLIR camera on its nose are clearly visible in the image above
The Wildcat's cutting-edge targeting systems include a 360˚ full-colour Seaspray 7400E surveillance radar and a Wescam MX-15Di electro-optical/FLIR camera on its nose, which helps the crew identify and engage targets with two new missiles systems being developed for the aircraft. The Wildcat is powered by two LHTEC CTS800-4N engines, each rated at 1,015kW (1,361shp), which have 36% more power than the Gem engines on the older Lynx helicopters, but have a similar fuel consumption. The engines are fitted with Full Authority Digital Electronic Control (FADEC). The Wildcat is equipped with the latest communications, navigation systems, advanced sensors and a wide range of weapons, providing mission commanders with Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO), Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and Search and Rescue (SAR) capabilities. Bearing the designation HMA (Helicopter Maritime Attack), the Wildcat is currently equipped with an ASW active dipping sonar, Stingray torpedoes, depth charges and a Browning M3M .50 inch pintle-mounted machine gun. Thales/MBDA was awarded a £48 million contract in 2014 to develop a new light missile for the Wildcat under the Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapons (FASGW) programme, for which Thales will provide the Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM) – a light variant of missile the navy will use against small boats, fast attack craft and other small targets. Into service date for FASGW is expected in 2020.
AETs are seen here loading an inert depth charge to a Wildcat. At present the helicopter has the same weapons as that of the retired Lynx, but by 2020 it is expected to have the Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM) for use against small boats, fast attack craft and other small targets
825 Naval Air Squadron
Fleet Air Arm, Yeovilton
Having trained in submarine hunting and prepared to conduct simulated Stingray torpedo attacks, or call in naval gunfire support for land targets, on any given sortie the students may be asked to conduct anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, search and rescue, naval gunfire support, smuggling interdiction, load lifting, providing force protection, intelligence gathering, or transporting troops/personnel. During their time on Argus the two-man crews also sit ‘Alert-15’ for 12 hour periods, meaning they are on 15 minute readiness to get a Wildcat into the air. Having completed the training on Argus, the crews returned to RNAS Yeovilton to complete their final handling test and get signed off to receive their Wings and become a front-line naval aviator. Moving just along the dispersals at Yeovilton to 815 NAS, the pilots will spend the next six months on a senior pilot’s 'Flight' before gaining their much coveted Certificate of Competency, at which stage they become a combat ready pilot and begin their life as a frontline Royal Navy pilot. (With thanks to Lt. Mike Vivian)
Our Wildcat gets its final pre-flight checks prior to our late afternoon mission on 2nd May 2018
The students now get their hands on their future for the first time, Wildcat HMA.2 pilots moving to 825 NAS at Yeovilton (HMS Heron). There are normally two classes per year, with three pilots and three observers in each, although this can be as many as four of each, running over a three year period. The first three weeks of their training consists of Technical Ground School where they undergo training on the Wildcat’s engines, sensors, radar and mission management systems. They then spend two weeks on board a Type 23 Frigate or Type 45 Destroyer to complete the Small Ships Forecaster Course. Following a further two weeks recognition training at either RNAS Yeovilton or RNAS Culdrose (learning to identify ships and aircraft of the RN and allied nations), they then move into the CTT (conversion to type) and CTR (conversion to role) training.
#ZZ414 departs RNAS Yeovilton with another of the type in the background
Wildcat in Focus
Range: 420 Nautical Miles
Max Speed: 157 Knots
Role: Anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare, force protection and counter-piracy
Crew: 1 x Pilot, 1 x Observer. It can be configured for 2 x Pilot operation for training purposes.
Radar: Selex ES Seaspray 7400E
Image/Targeting System: L-3 Wescam MX-15Di
Defensive Aids: Selex ES HIDAS 15, comprising Sky Guardian radar warning receiver, AN/AAR-57 missile warning system and Vicon 78 countermeasures
Armament: 2 x Stingray torpedoes or 2 x depth charges, .50 inch machine gun, passive IR-guided MBDA Sea Venom missiles, Martlet laser-beam-riding missile. Each of the four weapon stations can carry five-round launchers for the Martlet. Sea Venom and Martlet are expected to achieve initial operational capability around 2020
Number in Service: 28
Operated by 815 and 825 Naval Air Squadrons under the Wildcat Asset Sharing Programme (WASP)
First Aircraft Flown: 28th January 2013
First Aircraft Delivered: April 2013
First Shipboard Deployment: March 2015, 815 NAS embarked on the Type 23 frigate HMS Lancaster
Last Aircraft Delivered: 25th October 2016
'Talon 2' is captured banking away from us over the Cerne Valley, Dorset