Final mission for trusty Lynx after four decades
IT was the end of an era for a Somerset Naval base at the weekend when the trusted Lynx helicopters deployed to the battlefield for the last time.
Personnel from 847 Naval Air Squadron at RNAS Yeovilton embarked for Afghanistan on Sunday – where the veteran Lynx fleet will be in action before being replaced by the military's new Wildcat combat helicopters.
The Lynx, which was designed and built by Westland Helicopters in Yeovil, has served the Army and Royal Navy loyally for more than 40 years.
The squadron will be based in Camp Bastion in Helmand Province and the tour is expected to last about five months.
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The Lynx helicopters will carry out surveillance and reconnaissance missions while also supporting ground troops.
Lieutenant Colonel Nick Venn RM, commanding officer of 847 squadron, said: "In many ways it is the end of era as the Lynx has served us and the Army so well since the 1970s.
"The variant we are taking over to Helmand are the Lynx Mk9A which are optimised to deal with the harsh conditions such as the heat, dust and mountain ranges in Afghanistan.
"It is ideal for the environment and the boys and girls of this squadron have been training really hard over the past few months to prepare themselves for theatre.
"We're really excited that when we return, around May time, we will be the first to work with the new Wildcats in service, which are incredible machines."
The Wildcat, built and designed by AgustaWestland in Yeovil, is due to enter active service later this year.
It is fitted with more powerful engines so it operates well in extreme heat such as in Afghanistan, where the air is thinner and dustier.
The fuselage is protected with a composite material similar to that used for soldiers' body armour so it is difficult to pierce by enemies firing weapons from the ground.
The £26m helicopter has a maximum speed of 181mph and can carry forward-firing rockets, machine guns, door-mounted mounted machine guns, an air-to-surface system and can deploy torpedoes and depth charges.
RNAS Yeovilton will become the home of the Wildcat fleet with a centre-of-excellence training academy.
One of the Lynx teams deploying on Sunday consists of 24-year-old pilot Lieutenant Alex Lovell-Smith, air engineering technician Tom Wallis, 22, and Lance Corporal Ross Howling, 25.
For Lance Corporal Howling it will be his second tour of Afghanistan, but for his comrades it will be their first.
"You do build up an attachment to the aircraft and those you work on them with," said Lieutenant Lovell-Smith.
"The Lynx continues to serve the Armed Forces extremely capably and will be missed.
"But we are looking forward to the opportunity of being the first to work on the Wildcat as it is always exciting to work on brand new aircraft."