Fleet Air Arm

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For the division of the Royal Australian Navy, see Fleet Air Arm (RAN).
Fleet Air Arm
Fleet Air Arm logo.JPG
Founded

1912 (As Royal Flying Corps)
1924 (as the naval branch of the Royal Air Force)

1937 (as part of Naval Service)
Country United Kingdom United Kingdom
Allegiance Queen Elizabeth II
Branch Royal Navy
Size 5,000 personnel
149 aircraft
Part of Royal Navy
Engagements World War II
Korean War
Operation Musketeer (Suez Crisis)
Falklands War
Gulf War
Afghanistan War
Iraq War
Website Royal Navy - Fleet Air Arm
Commanders
Commodore-in-Chief HRH Prince Andrew, Duke of York
Insignia
Roundels RAF Lowvis Army roundel.svg RAF roundel.svg
White Ensign
Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Badge FleetAirArm wings.jpg
Aircraft flown
Attack Lynx
Patrol Merlin
Lynx
Trainer King Air
Tutor
Hawk
Transport Sea King

The Fleet Air Arm (FAA) is the branch of the British Royal Navy responsible for the operation of naval aircraft. The Fleet Air Arm currently operates the AgustaWestland Merlin, Westland Sea King and Westland Lynx helicopters. Helicopters such as the Lynx and Westland Wasp have been deployed on smaller vessels since 1964, taking over the roles once performed by biplanes such as the Fairey Swordfish.

The Fleet Air Arm was formed in 1924 as organisational unit of the Royal Air Force which was then operating the aircraft embarked on RN ships – the Royal Naval Air Service having been merged with the British Army's Royal Flying Corps in 1918 – and did not come under the direct control of the Admiralty until mid-1939. During the Second World War, the Fleet Air Arm operated both aircraft on ships and land-based aircraft that defended the Royal Navy's shore establishments and facilities.

History[edit]

Beginnings[edit]

British naval flying started in 1909, with the construction of an airship for naval duties.[1] In 1911 the Royal Navy graduated its first aeroplane pilots at the Royal Aero Club flying ground at Eastchurch, Isle of Sheppey under the tutelage of pioneer aviator George Bertram Cockburn,[2] but in May 1912 naval and army aviation were combined to become the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). The Naval Wing of the RFC lasted until July 1914 when the Royal Navy reformed its air branch, under the Air Department of the Admiralty[citation needed], naming it the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS).[3]

By the outbreak of the First World War, in August 1914, the RNAS had more aircraft under its control than the remaining RFC.[citation needed] The main roles of the RNAS were fleet reconnaissance, patrolling coasts for enemy ships and submarines, attacking enemy coastal territory and defending Britain from enemy air-raids, along with deployment along the Western Front. In April 1918 the RNAS, which at this time had 67,000 officers and men, 2,949 aircraft, 103 airships and 126 coastal stations, merged with the RFC to form the Royal Air Force.

Fleet Air Arm[edit]

On 1 April 1924, the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Air Force was formed, encompassing those RAF units that normally embarked on aircraft carriers and fighting ships.[4] 1924 was a significant year for British naval aviation as only weeks before the founding of the Fleet Air Arm, the Royal Navy had commissioned HMS Hermes, the world's first ship to be designed and built as an aircraft carrier. Over the following months RAF Fleet Air Arm Fairey IIID reconnaissance biplanes operated off Hermes, conducting flying trials.

On 24 May 1939 the Fleet Air Arm was returned to Admiralty control[5] under the "Inskip Award" (named after the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence who was overseeing Britain's re-armament programme) and renamed the Air Branch of the Royal Navy. At the onset of the Second World War, the Fleet Air Arm consisted of 20 squadrons with only 232 aircraft. By the end of the war the worldwide strength of the Fleet Air Arm was 59 aircraft carriers, 3,700 aircraft, 72,000 officers and men, and 56 Naval air stations.

During the war, the FAA operated fighters, torpedo bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. Following the Dunkirk evacuation and the commencement of the Battle of Britain, the Royal Air Force soon found itself critically short of fighter pilots. In the summer of 1940, the RAF had little more than 800 fighter pilots and as the Battle progressed the RAF shortage worsened. There were simply not enough pilots, not enough ground crew, never enough sleep and too many enemy aircraft. With this desperate situation the RAF was forced to call upon the Admiralty for Fleet Air Arm assistance. As the Battle progressed, many of the unsung heroes of RAF Fighter Command were the Fleet Air Arm crews who served under Fighter Command, either loaned directly to RAF fighter squadrons or as with 804 and 808 naval units, entire squadrons were loaned to RAF Fighter Command, such as No 804 Squadron, which provided dockyard defence during the Battle of Britain with Sea Gladiators.[6]

In the waters around the British Isles and out into the Atlantic Ocean, operations against enemy shipping and submarines in support of the RN were mounted by RAF Coastal Command with large patrol bombers and flying boats and land-based fighter-bombers. The aircraft carrier had replaced the battleship as the Fleet's capital ship and its aircraft were now strike weapons in their own right. The top scoring fighter ace with 17 victories was Commander Stanley Orr, the Royal Marine ace was Ronald Cuthbert Hay with 13 victories.

Post-war history[edit]

After the war the FAA needed to fly jet aircraft from their carriers. The jet aircraft of the era were considerably less effective at low speeds than propeller aircraft, but propeller aircraft could not effectively fight jets at the high speeds flown by jet aircraft. The FAA took on its first jet, the Sea Vampire, in the late 1940s. The Sea Vampire was the first jet credited with taking off and landing on a carrier. The Air Arm continued with high-powered prop aircraft alongside the new jets resulting in the FAA being woefully outpowered during the Korean War. Nevertheless, jets were not yet wholly superior to propeller aircraft and a flight of ground-attack Hawker Sea Furies downed a MiG-15 and damaged others in an engagement.

As jets became larger, more powerful and faster they required more space to take off and land. The US Navy simply built much larger carriers. The Royal Navy had a few large carriers built and completed after the end of the war but another solution was sought. This was partly overcome by the introduction of a Royal Navy idea to angle the flight deck away from the centre line so that the aircraft landing had a clear run away from the usual forward deck park. An associated British invention, intended to provide more precise optical guidance to aircraft on final approaching the deck, was the Fresnel lens optical landing aid. Another Royal Navy invention was the use of a steam powered catapult to cater for the larger and heavier aircraft (both systems were adopted by the US Navy).

Phantom FG.1 of 892 NAS aboard HMS Ark Royal in 1972

Defence cuts across the British armed forces during the 1960s and 1970s led to the withdrawal of existing Royal Navy aircraft carriers, transfer of Fleet Air Arm fixed-wing jet strike aircraft such as the F-4K (FG.1) Phantom II and Buccaneer S.2 to the Royal Air Force, and cancellation of large replacement aircraft carriers, including the CVA-01 design. A new series of small carriers, the Invincible class anti-submarine warfare ships (known as "through deck cruisers") were built and equipped with the Sea Harrier a derivative of the Hawker Siddeley Harrier VTOL aircraft. These carriers incorporated an upswept forward section of the flight deck that deflected the aircraft upward on launch and permitted heavier loads to be carried by the Harrier, for example in weaponry, and the system was used extensively in the Falklands war. The Harrier went on to form the basis of the Royal Navy's fixed-wing strike forces.

Two new Queen Elizabeth class carriers able to operate the F-35B short take-off and landing variant of the US Lockheed Martin Lightning II aircraft are under construction. However, with 21st century defence cuts continuing to impact the Ministry of Defence in general, and the Admiralty in particular, it is not certain if both carriers will enter service or what the final number of F-35 aircraft purchased will be.

Helicopters also became important combat vehicles starting in the 1960s. At first they were employed on the carriers alongside the fixed-wing aircraft, but later they were also deployed on most smaller ships. Today at least one helicopter is found on all ships of frigate size or larger. Wasps and Sea Harriers played an active part in the 1982 Falkland Islands conflict, while Lynx helicopters played an attack role against Iraqi patrol boats in the 1991 Gulf War and Commando Sea King HC4s as well as the Lynx HMA Mk 8 from HMS Argyll, assisted in suppressing rebel forces in Sierra Leone.

A formation of four Sea Harrier FA.2s from 801 NAS in 2005.

In 2000 the Sea Harrier force was merged with the RAF's Harrier GR7 fleet to form Joint Force Harrier. The Fleet Air Arm began withdrawing the Sea Harrier from service in 2004 with the disbandment of 800 NAS. 801 NAS disbanded on 28 March 2006 at RNAS Yeovilton (HMS Heron). 800 and 801 NAS were then combined to form the Naval Strike Wing, flying ex-RAF Harrier GR7 and GR9s. On 1 April 2010, NSW reverted to the identity of 800 Naval Air Squadron. The Harrier GR7 and GR9 retired from service in December 2010 following the 2010 SDSR.[7] With the introduction of the F-35, the Fleet Air Arm will eventually return to the operation of fixed-wing strike aircraft at sea. As of 2013, an initial cadre of Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots and aircraft maintenance personnel were assigned to the U.S. Marine Corps' Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 (VMFAT-501), part of the U.S. Air Force's 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, for training on the F-35B.

The Fleet Air Arm has a museum near RNAS Yeovilton (HMS Heron) in Somerset, England at which many of the great historical aircraft flown by the Service are on display, along with aircraft from other sources. There is also a Fleet Air Arm museum inside the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) in Auckland, New Zealand. On display there is a full-size replica Fairey Swordfish, along with historic items and memorabilia.

The FAA today[edit]

Personnel[edit]

In 1938, Admiralty Fleet Orders 2885 announced the formation of an Air Branch of the Royal Naval Reserve. Thirty three unmarried men signed up for 18 months full-time flying training; however, before these first volunteers were able to gain their wings Britain was at war. At the end of hostilities in 1945 the RNVR(A) was 46,000 strong, with over 8,000 aircrew. Post war the RNVR(A) comprised 12 dedicated reserve squadrons, grouped regionally into Air Divisions. However, defence cuts in 1957 disbanded the five Air Divisions, and the following year the RNVR was merged with the RNR. The RNR Air Branch was commissioned at RNAS Yeovilton on 16 July 1980, and shortly afterwards 38 ex-regular aircrew began refresher training. Today the Air Branch comprises approx 250 ex-regular service Officers and Ratings, covering all aviation trades, tasked to support the Fleet Air Arm.

As of 1 December 2013, the Regular Fleet Air Arm has a reported strength of 5,000 personnel,[8] which represents approximately 20% of the Royal Navy's total strength (excluding Royal Marines). The Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Aviation & Carriers) is Rear Admiral R G Harding OBE.[9]

Aircraft[edit]

The Wildcat HMA.2 will become the standard small shipborne helicopter in the FAA, replacing the Lynx

The FAA operates fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. The FAA uses the same designation system for aircraft as the RAF. Three types of fixed-wing aircraft are operated by the FAA for training purposes: pilot training is carried out using the Grob Tutor while, from March 2011, observer training is done using four Avenger T.1 Beechcraft King Air 350ER.[10] The third type is the Hawk T1/1a, which is used to simulate enemy aircraft for training purposes including AEW Fighter Control, air-to-air combat and ship attack.

A Merlin of 824 NAS alongside a Sea King of 849 NAS

Today the larger section of the FAA is the rotary-wing part. Its aviators fly four types of helicopter, and within each type there are usually several marks/variants which carry out different roles. Pilots designated for rotary wing service train at the Defence Helicopter Flying School, RAF Shawbury. The School is a tri-Service organisation consisting of civilian and military instructors (including Naval instructors and a Naval Air Squadron) that take the student from basic flying through to more advanced flying such as instrument flying, navigation, formation and captaincy. The oldest aircraft in the fleet is the Westland Sea King, which performs missions in several versions. The Sea King HC4 serves as a medium-lifter and troop-transporter in support of the Royal Marines. The HU.5 model operates in the Search and Rescue role and the ASaC7 operates in the AEW role. Intermediate in age is the Westland Lynx. The Lynx AH 9a serves the FAA in the observation, amphibious support helicopter role. Along with the Sea King HC4s, they equip the RN Commando Helicopter Force, which provides airborne support to 3 Commando Brigade of the Royal Marines.

The surface combatants of the Royal Navy have their helicopters provided for the most part by the Lynx HMA8 aircraft. The Lynx have primarily an anti-submarine warfare role and anti-surface vessel role. They are able to fire the Sea Skua anti-surface missile, which was used to combat the Iraqi navy in the 1991 Gulf War. It can be armed with Stingray air-launched torpedoes and depth charges for anti-submarine warfare, as well as heavy-calibre machine guns. The Lynx was originally envisaged for surface combatants that were too small for the Sea King, but now equips most frigates and destroyers of the Royal Navy. The Fleet Air Arm is introducing a total of 28 AW159 Wildcat HMA.2 helicopters to replace the Lynx HMA.8 in use on the Ship's Flights of the Royal Navy's escorts - this will perform a range of roles including anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare and airborne surveillance.

The AgustaWestland Merlin is the FAA's primary Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) helicopter, having replaced the Sea King HAS.6 in the role, is presently being upgraded from HM.1 to HM.2 standard and is deployed in various ships of the Royal Navy.

Future aircraft[edit]

The Royal Navy plans to operate the F-35B from the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers
Further information: Future of the Royal Navy

Although currently the Fleet Air Arm is an all rotary wing force in terms of its front-line operations, the introduction of the F-35B Lightning II will see a restoration of fixed wing operations. An initial order of 48 airframes was made in 2012 to equip the air wings of the planned two Queen Elizabeth class carriers, with the operation split between the FAA and the Royal Air Force, as was the case with Joint Force Harrier.

To replace the Sea King in the RN Commando role, the Fleet Air Arm will receive the Merlin HC.3/3a fleet currently operated by the RAF. These Merlin aircraft will be transferred to the Royal Navy in Sep 2014 and will be fully navalised and re-designated as HC.4/4a under the Merlin Life Sustainment Programme (MLSP) that was placed on contract in Dec 2013. In addition to replacing the RN Commando Helicopter Force Sea Kings, there is also a project to replace the Sea King in the Airborne Surveillance and Control mission. Known as 'Crowsnest', the Assessment Phase for this project is under contract and involves competitive proposals for implementing the ASaC capability in a platform based upon the new Merlin HM.2 air vehicle. The Main Gate for the project is in 2017.

MOD DE&S signed a £30 million contract for the Boeing Insitu ScanEagle on the 20 June 2013 to provide small unmanned surveillance aircraft to equip RN warships and RFAs. The Royal Navy's first UAV entered service with 831 Maritime Unmanned Aerial System (Mar UAS) Flight in Dec 2013 and is based at RNAS Culdrose.

Squadrons and Flights[edit]

Fleet Air Arm flying squadrons are formally named Naval Air Squadron (NASs),[11] a title used as a suffix to the squadron number. The FAA assigns numbers in the 700–799 range to training and operational conversion squadrons and numbers in the 800–899 range to operational squadrons. During WWII the 1700 and 1800 ranges were also used for operational squadrons.

Squadrons active in the FAA are:[11]

Flying squadrons[edit]

Squadron Type Aircraft Base Role Notes
703 Naval Air Squadron Fixed-wing Tutor T.1 RAF Barkston Heath Elementary flying training
705 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Squirrel HT.1 and HT.2 RAF Shawbury Basic and Advanced Single Engine helicopter training Part of tri-service Defence Helicopter Flying School alongside 660 Squadron AAC and 60 Squadron RAF
727 Naval Air Squadron Fixed-wing Tutor T.1 RNAS Yeovilton Pilot grading and Air Experience
736 Naval Air Squadron Fixed wing Hawk T.1/T.1a RNAS Culdrose Air combat simulated training Formerly FRADU
750 Naval Air Squadron Fixed-wing Avenger T.1 RNAS Culdrose Observer grading and training
771 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Sea King HU.5 RNAS Culdrose Search and rescue
809 Naval Air Squadron Fixed-wing Lightning II RAF Marham Naval strike Reformed 2013; operational 2016
814 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Merlin HM.1 RNAS Culdrose Anti-submarine warfare Converting to Merlin HM.2
815 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Lynx HMA.8 RNAS Yeovilton Small ship flights To convert to Wildcat HMA.2 in 2015[12]
820 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Merlin HM.2 RNAS Culdrose Anti-submarine warfare
824 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Merlin HM.2 RNAS Culdrose Conversion training (Merlin)
825 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Wildcat HMA.2 RNAS Yeovilton Small Ship Flights[13]
Conversion training (Wildcat)
Formed by merger of 700W NAS and 702 NAS in August 2014[12]
829 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Merlin HM.1 RNAS Culdrose Small ship flights Converting to Merlin HM.2
845 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Sea King HC.4 RNAS Yeovilton Commando support (Commando Helicopter Force) Converting to Merlin HC.3/4[14]
846 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Sea King HC.4 RNAS Yeovilton Commando support (Commando Helicopter Force) Converting to Merlin HC.3/4[14][15]
847 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Wildcat AH.1[16] RNAS Yeovilton Commando support (Commando Helicopter Force)
849 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Sea King ASaC.7 RNAS Culdrose Conversion training (Sea King ASaC)
854 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Sea King ASaC.7 RNAS Culdrose Airborne surveillance
857 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Sea King ASaC.7 RNAS Culdrose Airborne surveillance

Flights and non-flying units[edit]

Flight Type Aircraft Base Role Notes
831 Naval Air Squadron Fixed-wing Scan Eagle RM.1 Culdrose RFA & FF vessels for persistent surveillance Administrative support from Maritime Aviation Support Facility (MASF)[citation needed]
HMS Gannet SAR Flight Rotary Sea King HU.5 Prestwick Search and Rescue
Royal Navy Historic Flight Fixed-wing Historic Aircraft Yeovilton Heritage education and public display
1710 Naval Air Squadron Rotary & Fixed-wing Portsmouth Specialist aircraft repair, modification and scientific support Technical support

An additional flying unit of the Royal Navy is the FOST Helicopter Support Unit based at HMS Raleigh in Cornwall. This unit is not part of the Fleet Air Arm, but is directly under the control of Flag Officer Sea Training, operated by a civilian contractor.

Notable members[edit]

Vice-Admiral Richard Bell Davies, first naval aviator to receive the VC and the first naval aviator of the Fleet Air Arm to reach flag rank.
Captain Eric "Winkle" Brown, as a test pilot he made the first ever a jet landing on an aircraft carrier in December 1945.

Some 64 naval pilots and 9 observers have reached flag rank in the Royal Navy and 4 Royal Marines pilots general rank in the Royal Marines. Four of these admirals with pilot's 'wings' were air engineering officers (test pilots) and two were supply officers; two of the non-executive officers reached four-star rank: a supply officer, Admiral Sir Brian Brown (1934–), and a Royal Marine, General Sir Peter Whiteley (1920–).

  • At least 21 naval Air Engineer Officers (AEOs) have reached flag rank (including the four test pilots (see above)).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Naval Aviation History & FAA Origins – Fleet Air Arm Archive
  2. ^ Flight Magazine, 13 May 1911
  3. ^ The Australian Naval Aviation Museum (1998). Flying stations: a story of Australian naval aviation. St Leonards, NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86448-846-8. 
  4. ^ Sea Your History – Interwar: Fleet Air Arm
  5. ^ Fleet Air Arm Officers' Association – Notable Dates
  6. ^ http://www.fleetairarmarchive.net/RollofHonour/Battlehonour_crewlists/BattleofBritain_FAAaircrew_1940.html
  7. ^ "Naval Strike Wing". royalnavy.mod.uk. Royal Navy. Retrieved 25 June 2010. [dead link]
  8. ^ Royal Navy monthly situation report, 1 December 2013. See table 4a page 18 and table 4b page 20.
  9. ^ http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/About-the-Royal-Navy/Organisation/Senior-Naval-Staff
  10. ^ Royal Navy unveils its new King Air
  11. ^ a b Naval Air Squadrons royalnavy.mod.uk
  12. ^ a b "The Lynx Wildcat evolution". Royal Navy. 23 May 2014. Retrieved 17 June 2014. 
  13. ^ 825 NAS will provide the initial Wildcat operational small ship flights until 815 NAS fully converts in 2017
  14. ^ a b http://www.fleetairarmoa.org/faaoa-gallery-future-aircraft
  15. ^ http://www.scramblemagazine.nl/orbats/united-kingdom/navy
  16. ^ http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/our-organisation/the-fighting-arms/fleet-air-arm/helicopter-squadrons/wildcat/847-naval-air-squadron
  17. ^ "Jutland Veteran Celebrated as Hologram". IWM. Archived from the original on 27 June 2008. "Britain’s oldest man and the last known survivor of the Battle of Jutland, Henry Allingham aged 109 has been captured as a hologram" 
  18. ^ "Rear-Admiral 'Chico' Roberts". The Daily Telegraph (London: TMG). 5 September 2011. ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 22 March 2013. 
  • Ray Sturtivant & Theo Ballance, The Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm, first edition 1994, Air Britain, Kent UK, ISBN 0-85130-223-8.

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]