End of an Era and a look to the Future
July marked the end of an era as the last Royal Air Force Merlin squadron handed over to the Royal Navy.
After almost 17 years, 28 (Army Cooperation) Squadron handed the final Merlin helicopters to 845 Naval Air Squadron to form the Commando Helicopter Force’s second Merlin Squadron.
A formal ceremony took place at Royal Air Force Benson and was attended by His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent, Honorary Air Marshal of RAF Benson, as the Royal Reviewing Officer. It marked one of the final stages in the transition of the Merlin helicopter from the RAF Support Helicopter Force to the Commando Helicopter Force.
Rear Admiral K E Blount OBE and Air Vice Marshal G Parker OBE were also in attendance to represent the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force on parade.
After a long and illustrious history, beginning in 1915, the future looks bright and busy for 28 (Army Cooperation) Squadron as it will move from an operational role to a training squadron, forming the combined Puma and Chinook Operational Conversion Unit.
His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent said:
“I am honoured to be the Reviewing Officer for the handover of the 28 Squadron Standard and the Standing Up of 845 Naval Air Squadron at RAF Benson. In my capacity as Honorary Air Marshal of RAF Benson I have had the pleasure of seeing 28(AC) Squadron excel both in the UK and on operations over the last 15 years; with the reformation of 28(R) Sqn as the joint Puma and Chinook Operational Conversion Unit I look forward to celebrating its continued success and centenary next year. I am also thrilled that the Merlin will continue to serve Her Majesty’s Armed Forces with 845 Naval Air Squadron under Commander Punch and I wish them the best as they conquer the challenges of operating at sea. This impeccable parade provides a highly impressive and fitting occasion for such a momentous day at RAF Benson.”
Wg Cdr Marty Lock, Officer Commanding of 28(R) Squadron, said:
“It has been an extremely proud and special for me to take command of 28 Squadron. I know how hard so many people have worked to get to this point, both 845 taking over from 28 Squadron and also the hard work to ensure we have the Operational Conversion Unit ready. I appreciate everyone’s efforts and it has been a great day.”
Beginning in 2012 with 846 Naval Air Squadron, aircrew and engineers from the Commando Helicopter Force have been integrated into the Merlin Force at RAF Benson; working alongside their Royal Air Force counterparts to absorb over a decade of experience of operating and maintaining the technologically advanced aircraft.
845 NAS stood down as a Sea King Squadron in May 2015, handing over the duty of seeing the venerable aircraft out of service to 848 NAS, and moved to RAF Benson to begin the transition onto the Merlin helicopter.
Already a proven platform, the Merlin will ensure the Commando Helicopter Force will continue to support the Royal Navy and Royal Marines well into the future.
The Squadron will remain at RAF Benson until summer 2016 when they and the remaining Merlin aircraft will return to the home of the Commando Helicopter Force, Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, reuniting all CHF Squadrons for the first time in over three years.
Cdr Matt Punch, Commanding Officer of 845 Naval Air Squadron, said:
“Today has been a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the successful transition of the Merlin Force from the Royal Air Force to the Royal Navy. I am delighted and proud to take command of 845 Naval Air Squadron and look forward to an exciting and bright future.”