Lynx helicopter leaves RNAS Yeovilton for Afghanistan for the final time
It will be the end of an era for a Somerset naval base when its trusted Lynx helicopters are deployed to the battlefield for the last time this weekend.
Personnel from 847 Naval Air Squadron at RNAS Yeovilton embark to Afghanistan on Sunday where the veteran aircraft will be in action before they are replaced by the military's new brood of Wildcat combat helicopters.
The Lynx, which was designed and built by Westland Helicopters in Yeovil, has served the Army and Royal Navy for more than 40 years.
The squadron will be based at 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.
Yesterday, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Venn RM, commanding officer of 847 Squadron, said: "In many ways it is the end of an era as the Lynx has served us and the Army so well since the 1970s. The variant we are taking over to Helmand is the Lynx Mk9A, which is optimised to deal with 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 that we will be the first to work with the new Wildcats in service. They 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 for ground-based missiles to pierce.
The £26 million aircraft has a maximum speed of 181mph and can carry forward-firing rockets, machine guns, door-mounted machine guns and an air-to-surface system – and it 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.
It will be Lance Corporal Howling's 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."