Fleet Air Arm

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Fleet Air Arm
Founded1914 (As the Royal Naval Air Service)
1924 (as the naval branch of the Royal Air Force)
1937 (as part of Naval Service)
CountryUnited Kingdom United Kingdom
Branch Royal Navy
Size5,000 personnel
c. 160 aircraft[1]
Part ofNaval Service
EngagementsSecond World War
Korean War
Operation Musketeer (Suez Crisis)
Falklands War
Gulf War
Afghanistan War
Iraq War
Websitewww.royalnavy.mod.uk/our-organisation/the-fighting-arms/fleet-air-arm Edit this at Wikidata
Commodore-in-ChiefHRH The Princess of Wales GCVO
Commodore Fleet Air ArmCommodore Nicholas M. Walker[2][3]
White Ensign
Fin flashesFin flash Low visibility fin flash
Aircraft flown
AttackWildcat HMA2
FighterF-35B Lightning II
PatrolMerlin HM2
Wildcat HMA2
ReconnaissanceAeroVironment RQ-20 Puma[4]
Commando Wildcat AH1
TrainerAvenger T1
Prefect T1
Tutor T1
Juno HT1[5]
Jupiter HT1[6]
TransportCommando Merlin HC4/4A

The Fleet Air Arm (FAA) is the naval aviation component of the United Kingdom's Royal Navy (RN). The FAA is one of five RN fighting arms.[7] As of 2023 it is a predominantly "rotary" force, with helicopters undertaking roles once performed by biplanes such as the Fairey Swordfish.[8][failed verification] It operates the F-35 Lightning II for maritime strike and the AW159 Wildcat and AW101 Merlin for commando and anti-submarine warfare.

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



British naval flying started in 1909, with the construction of an airship for naval duties.[9] In 1911 the Royal Navy graduated its first aeroplane pilots at the Royal Aero Club flying ground near Eastchurch, Isle of Sheppey under the tutelage of pioneer aviator George Bertram Cockburn.[10] 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, naming it the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS).[11] By the outbreak of the First World War, in August 1914, the RNAS had more aircraft under its control than the remaining RFC.[12][page needed] The 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.[13]

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.[14] The year was significant 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[15] under the "Inskip Award" (named after the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence overseeing the British 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 frontline aircraft, and 191 additional trainers. By the end of the war the strength of the Fleet Air Arm was 59 aircraft carriers, 3,700 aircraft, 72,000 officers and men and 56 Naval air stations.

An elephant pulling a Supermarine Walrus aircraft into position at a Fleet Air Arm station in India (c. June 1944)

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 just over 800 fighter pilots and as personnel shortages worsened; the RAF turned to the Admiralty to ask for help from the Fleet Air Arm. Fleet Air Arm crews under RAF Fighter Command were either seconded individually to RAF fighter squadrons or entire as with 804 and 808 Naval Air Squadrons. The former provided dockyard defence during the Battle of Britain with Sea Gladiators.[16]

In British home waters and out into the Atlantic Ocean, operations against Axis shipping and submarines in support of the RN were mounted by RAF Coastal Command with large patrol bombers, flying boats and land-based fighter-bombers. The aircraft carrier had replaced the battleship as the capital ship of the RN and its aircraft were now its principal offensive weapons. The top scoring fighter ace with 17 victories was Commander Stanley Orr, the Royal Marine ace was Ronald Cuthbert Hay with 13 victories. A number of Royal Marines were FAA pilots during the war.

Notable Fleet Air Arm operations during the war included the Battle of Taranto, the sinking of the Bismarck, the attempt to prevent the Channel Dash, Operation Tungsten against the Tirpitz and Operation Meridian against oil plants in Sumatra.

Post-war history[edit]

Hawker Sea Fury of No. 804 Squadron launched off HMS Glory during the Korean War, June 1951
Phantom FG.1 of 892 NAS aboard HMS Ark Royal in 1972
Two Sea Harriers from 800 Naval Air Squadron approach the flight deck of U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1984.

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).

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. The last conventional carrier to be retired was HMS Ark Royal in 1978.[17] When HMS Hermes was converted in 1980/81 to a STOVL carrier to operate Sea Harriers, a 'Ski-jump ramp' was fitted to aid take-off. 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, with both Hermes and Invincible part of the Task Force. At the end of the Cold War in 1989 the Fleet Air Arm was under the command of the Flag Officer Naval Air Command, a rear admiral based at RNAS Yeovilton.

Fleet Air Arm inventory 1989[edit]

The inventory of the Fleet Air Arm in 1989 consisted of the following aircraft:[18]

Post Cold War[edit]

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 Strategic Defence and Security Review 2010.[19]

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 were constructed. In the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015, it was announced that the carriers would enter service "from 2018".[20] The procurement plan is for a force of 138 F-35 aircraft, which are intended to be operated by both the RAF and FAA from a common pool, in the same manner as the Joint Force Harrier.[21] With the introduction of the F-35, the Fleet Air Arm will return to the operation of fixed-wing strike aircraft at sea. In 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. 809 Naval Air Squadron will be the first FAA unit to operate the F-35B and will be based at RAF Marham.[22]


Helicopters also became important combat platforms since the Second World War. Initially used in the search and rescue role, they were later developed for anti-submarine warfare and troop transport; during the 1956 Suez Crisis they were used to land Royal Marine Commando forces, the first time this had ever been done in combat.[23] Originally operated only from carriers, the development of the Westland Wasp in the 1960s allowed helicopters to operate on all ships of frigate size or larger. Wasps, Sea Kings and Wessex helicopters all played an active part in the 1982 Falklands War, 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 the British intervention in the Sierra Leone Civil War in 2000.


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 & Technology in Auckland, New Zealand. On display there is a full-size replica Fairey Swordfish, along with historic items and memorabilia.

The FAA today[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 eighteen 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.


As of 1 December 2013, the Regular Fleet Air Arm has a reported strength of 5,000 personnel,[24] which represents approximately 20% of the Royal Navy's total strength (excluding Royal Marines).

The Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff (Aviation & Carriers), the professional head (and also Rear Admiral Fleet Air Arm), is Rear Admiral Martin Connell as of February 2019.[25] Under First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin’s plans, the professional head of the Fleet Air Arm is set to shortly change to a one-star role, headed by a Commodore.[26]

Members of the Fleet Air Arm continue to be known as WAFUs.[27][28] WAFU ("wet and flipping useless") is said to actually derive from "Weapon and Fuel Users", a stores category for clothing.[29]

Reserve Air Branch[edit]

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 RNR Air Branch comprises approximately 250 ex-regular service Officers and Ratings, covering all aviation trades, tasked to support the Fleet Air Arm.

The Air Branch has its roots in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Air Branch, whose members served with distinction between 1937 through the Second World War until 1950 when it was disbanded. Formed on 3 April 1980, the Air Branch was initially established to provide additional Pilots and Observers to the Royal Navy, but later expanded to include all trades and specialisations of the Fleet Air Arm. Currently comprising some 320 personnel, HMS Pegasus is one of the biggest Units in the Royal Naval Reserve.

The name HMS Pegasus has a long and interesting history in the Royal Navy, dating back to 1585. The second HMS Pegasus was commanded by Prince William Henry, who later became King William IV, known as the Sailor King. In late 1786, the third HMS Pegasus was stationed in the West Indies under then Captain Horatio Nelson, earning three of her four Battle Honours. The fourth and last HMS Pegasus served as a prototype fighter catapult ship, originally commissioned as HMS Ark Royal, serving primarily on convoy duty in the Second World War.

The name Pegasus has associations outside of the Royal Navy, including the Bristol Aeroplane Company engine that powered the Fairey Swordfish and the Rolls Royce engine that powered the BAE Sea Harrier. And, of course, the Parachute Regiment use Pegasus as their emblem.


The FAA is known for its use of the 'Fleet Air Arm Zig Zag': a light blue zig zag on a dark blue background.

The pattern is thought to have belonged to the "Perch Club", membership of which was restricted to those who had completed 100 deck landings without an accident. The zig zag was thought to have been taken from a Creeping Line Ahead, a parallel search pattern performed by FAA aircraft in a carrier task group.[30]

Today, the dark blue background represents the Royal Navy; the colour of the zigzag represents the Royal Flying Corps, from which the Royal Naval Air Service was born; and the zigzag shape represents a nod to the Royal Artillery (red zigzag on blue background), given that the first people sent aloft in tethered balloons to spot the fall of shot were Royal Artillery observers. It was these observers who became early members of the Royal Flying Corps.[31][32]

Fleet Air Arm pilot wings

Aircrew wear flying badges, such as pilots wearing a pair of gold albatross wings. The wings badges also feature a crown and fouled anchor in the centre, to reflect the maritime element of the flying undertaken. Wings are worn on the left sleeve of naval aviators, unlike their other service counterparts.[33]


The FAA operates fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft. It uses the same aircraft designation system as the RAF.

Fixed wing[edit]

F-35B Lightning II[edit]

The Fleet Air Arm operates the F-35B from the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.

The introduction of the F-35B Lightning II saw a restoration of fixed wing, front-line operations to the FAA after the retirement of Joint Force Harrier in 2010. The Lightning Force is a joint RAF-Fleet Air Arm formation with all F-35Bs capable of operating from the Royal Navy's Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. The first Fleet Air Arm squadron to operate the F-35B is 809 Naval Air Squadron which formally stood-up in December 2023, joining other F-35B squadrons within the RAF that are formally part of No. 1 Group RAF.[34][35]

An initial order of 48 airframes was made in 2012 to equip the air wings of the two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, with the operation split between the FAA and the Royal Air Force, as was the case with Joint Force Harrier. 809 Naval Air Squadron was announced as the second UK unit to fly the F-35B (the first being 617 Squadron RAF) and is the first FAA unit to operate the aircraft. It is understood that at least two further frontline squadrons will stand up in the future alongside 809, 617, 17(R) Test and Evaluation Squadron and an RAF-numbered Operational Conversion Unit, creating a total of six squadrons including the OCU and OEU. Under the Strategic Defence and Security Review of November 2015, the UK Government made a commitment to buying 138 F-35B, with at least 24 available for carrier use by 2023.[36][37] Subsequently, following on the 2021 defence review, the First Sea Lord indicated that the new envisaged number was to be 60 aircraft initially and "then maybe more", up to a maximum of around 80 to hopefully equip four "deployable squadrons".[38] In April 2022, the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Richard Knighton, told the House of Commons Defence Select Committee that the MoD was in discussions to purchase a second tranche of 26 F-35B fighters. Plans for frontline F-35B squadrons had been modified and now envisaged a total of three squadrons (rather than four) each deploying 12-16 aircraft.[39] In surge conditions 24 F-35s might be deployed on the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers but a routine deployment would likely involve 12 aircraft.[40]

In January 2019, initial operating capability for the UK's F-35B was announced[41] with 18 F-35Bs jointly delivered to the UK.[42] As of December 2022, 26 aircraft were operational in the UK and were based at RAF Marham. These aircraft regularly deployed for operations on the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.[43][44][45] Another 3 F-35s remained in the US for testing and evaluation purposes.

While 31 F-35B aircraft (including 3 based in the U.S.) were in the U.K. inventory by mid-2023, U.K. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace reported that the RAF and Royal Navy faced a considerable challenge in providing even the existing modest F-35B fleet with qualified pilots. As of late 2022 there were only 30 qualified British pilots (plus three exchange pilots from the United States and Australia) for the F-35. The average wait time for RAF trainee Typhoon and F-35 pilots, after completing the Military Flying Training System, was approximately 11 and 12 months respectively. A further gap of 68 weeks existed between completing Basic Flying Training and beginning Advanced Fast Jet Training. The resulting pilot shortage was a factor in delaying the ability to stand up the first Fleet Air Arm Squadron (809 Squadron) on a timely basis.[46] In February 2023, the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, reported that the number of F-35 pilots had grown to 34 UK pilots with a further 7 to complete training by August 2023.[47]


A Grob Tutor T1 used for pilot grading
A Grob Prefect T1 turboprop used for elementary flying training

Four types of fixed wing aircraft are operated by the FAA for training purposes: Pilot Grading is carried out using the Grob Tutor T1. Elementary flying training is then conducted on the Grob Prefect T1. From there, pilots are streamed to either Rotary or Fast-Jet.

A Beechcraft Avenger T1 used for Observer training

Observer grading and training is done using four Beechcraft Avenger T1[48] before observers join their frontline aircraft.


Today the largest section of the FAA is the rotary wing section. Pilots designated for rotary wing service train under No. 1 Flying Training School at RAF Shawbury.[49] 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.

Its aviators fly one of four types of helicopters:

Commando Merlin[edit]

A Merlin HC3 of Commando Helicopter Force.

The HC4/4A AW101 Merlin (nicknamed "Junglie Merlin") serves as a medium lifter and troop transporter in support of the Royal Marines. The FAA received the Merlin HC3/HC3A fleet from the RAF, replacing the Commando Sea King in September 2014. These have been marinised and replaced with HC4s/HC4As, under the Merlin Life Sustainment Programme (MLSP) that was placed on contract in December 2013.[50]

Commando Wildcat AH1[edit]

The Wildcat AH1 Battlefield Reconnaissance Helicopter (BRH) used by 847 NAS.

The AW159 Wildcat: the BRH (Battlefield Reconnaissance Helicopter) replaces the Westland Lynx as the Battlefield Reconnaissance Helicopter of the FAA. Along with the Commando Merlin, these squadrons operate under Commando Helicopter Force, which provides airborne support to 3 Commando Brigade of the Royal Marines.

Wildcat HMA2[edit]

A Wildcat HMA2 of 700(W) NAS conducting trials off HMS Monmouth.

The Wildcat HMA2 became the standard small ship borne helicopter in the FAA, with 28 Wildcats replacing the Lynx HMA8 in 2017. 28 AW159 Wildcat HMA2 helicopters perform a range of roles including anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare and airborne surveillance.

Merlin HM2[edit]

A Merlin HM2 aircraft of 824 NAS.

The Merlin HM2 ("Grey Merlin") is the FAA's primary anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopter, having replaced the Sea King HAS6 in the role. It is presently deployed with various ships of the Royal Navy.[51]

Merlin HM2 also incorporates an airborne early warning and surveillance (AEW) variant, known as Crowsnest, which replaced the ASaC7 variant of the Sea King. The first Merlin HM2 test flight with Crowsnest was completed in April 2019.[52] However, initial operating capability of the system was significantly delayed. While Crowsnest was deployed with the U.K. carrier strike group in 2021, it experienced operating challenges and finally achieved initial operating capability in July 2023. Full operating capability is expected in 2024/25. While all Merlins in the Royal Navy will be equipped to operate Crowsnest, only ten kits for the system are being acquired. It has been reported that initially five Merlins will be equipped with Crowsnest, three of these being normally assigned to the "high readiness" aircraft carrier.[53] Challenges involved in the Crowsnest program have led the Royal Navy to seek a replacement for its helicopter-based AEW platform with a new fixed-wing UAV, under Project Vixen, by 2030.[54]


The Royal Navy operates the AeroVironment Puma AE as of 2020.[55]


A number of unmanned systems are under development for the Fleet Air Arm including the Peregrine rotary-wing UAV which is scheduled to enter service beginning in mid-2024.[56] Other fixed-wing UAVs, envisaged for potential operation from the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, are in the conceptual or planning stages under a program known as Project Vixen.[57]

Squadrons and flights[edit]

A Fleet Air Arm flying squadron is formally titled Naval Air Squadron (NAS),[58] 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. Exceptions to the 700–799 include operational conversion squadrons which also hold some form of operational commitment where they are then titled 800–899. During WWII the 1700 and 1800 ranges were also used for operational squadrons.

Active FAA squadrons[58]
Unit Type Aircraft Base Role Notes
Flying squadrons
700X Naval Air Squadron UAV AeroVironment Puma AE[59] RNAS Culdrose Remotely Piloted Aircraft System shipborne flights[60] Provides HQ function for Puma AE flights and serves as evaluation unit for any future UAV systems selected by the Royal Navy
RPAS future trials unit[60]
703 Naval Air Squadron Fixed-wing Grob Prefect RAF Barkston Heath Elementary flying training Part of the Joint Elementary Flying Training School (JEFTS)
705 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Eurocopter Juno HT1 RAF Shawbury Basic and advanced multi-engine helicopter training Part of 2 Maritime Air Wing (within 1 FTS) alongside 660 Squadron AAC and 202 Squadron RAF
727 Naval Air Squadron Fixed-wing Grob Tutor T1 RNAS Yeovilton Pilot grading and Air Experience/Elementary Flying Training[61]
744 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Merlin HM2 Crowsnest MoD Boscombe Down Operational Test and Evaluation[62] Tri-service unit
Formerly Mission Systems and Armament Test and Evaluation Squadron RAF[63]
Chinook HC5/HC6
750 Naval Air Squadron Fixed-wing Beechcraft Avenger T1 RNAS Culdrose Observer grading and training
809 Naval Air Squadron Fixed-wing F-35B Lightning RAF Marham Carrier strike Part of joint Lightning Force under RAF Air Command
814 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Merlin HM2 RNAS Culdrose Anti-submarine warfare (small ship flights) Merged with 829 NAS in 2018[64]
815 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Wildcat HMA2[65][66][67] RNAS Yeovilton Attack/ASW (small ship flights)
820 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Merlin HM2 RNAS Culdrose Anti-submarine warfare (carrier air group) Attached to both HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales's air groups[68]
Merged with 849 NAS in April 2020.[69][70]
Merlin HM2 Crowsnest[71][72] Airborne surveillance
824 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Merlin HM2 RNAS Culdrose Conversion Training (Merlin ASW) Will have responsibility for all conversion training for Merlin HM2[72]
Conversion Training (Merlin Crowsnest)
825 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Wildcat HMA2 RNAS Yeovilton Conversion Training (Wildcat) Formed by merger of 700W NAS and 702 NAS in August 2014[65]
845 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Merlin HC4/HC4A RNAS Yeovilton Very High Readiness Medium lift Part of CHF
846 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Merlin HC4 RNAS Yeovilton Extremely High Readiness Medium lift
Conversion Training (Merlin Commando)
847 Naval Air Squadron Rotary Wildcat AH1[73] RNAS Yeovilton Battlefield reconnaissance and support
Non-flying squadrons
1700 Naval Air Squadron Rotary and fixed-wing RNAS Culdrose Flight deck activities, logistic and catering support, operations, engineering Support, even medical assistance Technical support
Formerly Maritime Aviation Support Force (MASF)
1710 Naval Air Squadron Rotary and fixed-wing HMNB 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 Fleet Operational Sea Training, operated by British International Helicopters (BIH).[74] BIH also support various Royal Navy and NATO exercises with passenger and freight transfer services and transfers by hoist, for ships exercising both in the Atlantic and the North Sea.

The Royal Navy share both operational and training duties on the Lightning II with the RAF under a banner organisation called the Lightning Force, which will operate in the same manner as Joint Force Harrier.[75]

Until March 2019, the Fleet Air Arm had responsibility for the Royal Navy Historic Flight, a heritage unit of airworthy aircraft representing the history of aviation in the Royal Navy. The Historic Flight was disbanded on 31 March 2019, with responsibility for maintaining and operating the aircraft transferred to Navy Wings, a charitable body that also runs the Fly Navy Heritage Trust.[76]

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

Some 64 naval pilots and nine observers have reached flag rank in the Royal Navy and four 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 (1920–2016).

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Military Aircraft:Written question – 225369 (House of Commons Hansard) Archived 26 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Parliament of the United Kingdom, March 2015
  2. ^ "ROYAL NAVY SHOWS COMMITMENT TO DRONE TECHNOLOGY FOR FUTURE OPERATIONS". Royal Navy. 31 July 2020. Retrieved 20 October 2020.
  3. ^ "No. 63151". The London Gazette (Supplement). 20 October 2020. p. 17730.
  5. ^ "705 Naval Air Squadron | Royal Navy". royalnavy.mod.uk.
  6. ^ Perry, Dominic. "PICTURES: Juno and Jupiter helicopters arrive at RAF Shawbury". Flightglobal.
  7. ^ "THE ROYAL NAVY'S SURFACE FLEET" (PDF). royalnavy.mod.uk. MOD UK. Archived (PDF) from the original on 18 October 2012. Retrieved 5 August 2018.
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  13. ^ Boyne 2003, p. 70.
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  17. ^ Manning, p. 149
  18. ^ "World's Air Forces 1989". Flight International: 61–62. 29 November 1989. Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  19. ^ "Naval Strike Wing". royalnavy.mod.uk. Royal Navy. Archived from the original on 24 May 2010. Retrieved 25 June 2010.
  20. ^ "National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015" (PDF). Government of the United Kingdom. November 2015. Archived (PDF) from the original on 25 October 2016. Retrieved 14 September 2016. Two new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy. These will enter service from 2018, transforming the Royal Navy's ability to project our influence overseas. (p. 30)
  21. ^ Jennings, Garth (4 November 2015). "UK signs for more operational F-35Bs". janes.com. IHS Jane's Defence Weekly. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. 14 September 2016
  22. ^ "809 NAVAL AIR SQUADRON". royalnavy.mod.uk. Royal Navy. Archived from the original on 11 September 2016. Retrieved 14 September 2016. 809 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) has been resurrected as the first Royal Navy formation to fly the UK's Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.
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