14.06.20 Sub Lieutenant Toni Harding RN

A summary of 845 Naval Air Squadron’s ‘A’ Flight recent embarkation in RFA ARGUS

As we approach International Women In Engineering Day on 23rd June 2020, Sub Lieutenant Toni Harding, an Air Engineering Officer of 845 Naval Air Squadron of the Commando Helicopter Force writes to tell us about the recent embarkation of A Flight in RFA ARGUS.

March 2020 saw 845 NAS (‘A’ Flight) carry out its first R2 activation as a unit; sending three Merlin MK4s out to the Caribbean onboard RFA Argus. Now over half way through A Flight’s embarkation on the ship, we are entering another busy month for flying.

‘A’ Flight’s last embarkation on RFA Argus saw it deployed as part of Ex Baltic Protector 19 where three Merlin were also deployed as part of a task group. Retaining a lot of the same engineers for this period onboard the ship has made a sudden deployment all the more straightforward. There are currently 45 engineers deployed as part of the Squadron, many of whom spent time on Ex Cold Response 20 prior to deploying to a somewhat warmer climate. In my opinion, increasing embarked experience gained on recent deployments on ships such as HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMNLS Johan de Witt has significantly aided the Squadron’s resilience when operating the Merlin Mk4.

Despite the unusual situation of being unable to disembark at any point due to current global COVID-19 restrictions, 845 Engineers have become fully immersed in adapting to the additional maintenance burden associated with operating in an embarked environment. It is crucial that the material state of the aircraft is upheld to ensure the aircraft can be regenerated as soon as possible upon its return to the UK for future operations.

With some of the youngest members of the team having only recently turned 18 years old, and for many, this being their first deployment, the more senior members of the Flight have worked well to ensure the whole team has quickly settled in to life at sea. Having adhered to strict distancing guidelines for the first 14 days embarked which included limited use of sports facilities and thorough sanitizing routines, upon arrival in the Caribbean all onboard were able to return to some sort of normality when ‘standard’ ship life resumed.

Since deploying to the Caribbean, 845 Engineers have not only maintained the Squadron’s flying effort but also made several important capability developments. Integration with units such as 47 Commando RM and 24 Commando Royal Engineers has seen the aircraft complete varied tasking and provided many of the Engineers opportunities to get involved with load lifting serials and become acquainted with technicalities specific to the Merlin Mk4.

‘A’ Flight as a whole are looking forward to the remainder of their time embarked on RFA Argus but will have truly earned their leave upon return to the UK. The deployment has seen them work with various foreign units and complete several firsts including the first Merlin Mk4 landing on a Batch 2 OPV (HMS Medway) as well as the successful integration of the STAR SAFIRE III system with the aircraft.