Rotors come to final rest for veteran
A VETERAN of the skies retired from the Royal Navy last week.
The first of the Commando Helicopter Force's Sea King Mk4s was stood down at RNAS Yeovilton.
The iconic aircraft is being phased out after 43 years of distinguished service.
The fleet will be replaced by the Merlin helicopter which is designed and built by AgustaWestland in Yeovil.
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Commander Rich Sutton MBE, of 848 Naval Air Squadron, said: "It is sad to see Sea Kings go.
"As with anything that you are used to, you have an element of attachment with it. The Sea Kings have been robust, adjustable and safe.
"They have an incredible service record and, like the servicemen onboard, they all have a story to tell.
"The design may be old but updates to avionics and communications have allowed us to keep it as a prominent support helicopter for all these years.
"To still be using something of that age in Afghanistan which is the most demanding place to just operate helicopters, let alone in combat, is testament to it as an aircraft."
The Helicopter Commando Force's fleet of Sea Kings will be replaced by RAF Merlins that will be modified for naval operation.
There is currently a team of Naval aviators, engineers and technicians familiarising themselves with the aircraft at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire.
"It is an exciting time," said Commander Sutton, who lives in Martock.
"The Merlin is a modern aircraft which is faster, will have better performance and has a greater take-off weight."
The Merlin is used for amphibious warfare – operations conducted from the sea, rather than a base near battle zones.
The first Sea King retirement coincided with Defence Secretary Philip Hammond confirming Government investment in the new generation Wildcat helicopter and the Merlin helicopter upgrade programme would go ahead.
The announcement maintains the relationship between RNAS Yeovilton and AgustaWestland.
Commander Sutton said: "It is great that we will see this long-standing relationship continue.
"AgustaWestland, and Westland before it, has been a key partner with the Fleet Air Arm for years.
"The Sea King is a Westland product, as are the Lynx, Merlin and Wildcat.
"It is really good news for Yeovil and the surrounding area."
This year sees 848 Squadron celebrates its 60th anniversary but next year it will be disbanded.
Commander Sutton has been flying in the Navy for 20 years and has seen operational frontline service in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.
He has deployed on amphibious and land-based exercises worldwide and amassed over 4,000 flying hours.
He added: "Those in the Naval Fleet Air arm are part sailor, part airman and part soldier."