The long range eyes, ears (and claws) of HMS Monmouth, ‘The Black Duke’ are provided by ‘The Black Knight’, a Lynx Mk8 Maritime Attack Helicopter of 215 Flight from 815 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) based at the Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, Somerset.
The Flight is embarked for the duration of HMS Monmouth’s Middle East deployment working with Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), and consists of a small, autonomous group of Aircrew and Engineers, lead by the Flight Commander (Flt Cdr) and Observer Lt Ed Barham RN. His team consists of a Pilot, Lt Rob Dixon RN and a dynamic engineering team of 8 technicians who keep the aircraft ready for flying at, in some cases, 5 minutes notice.
Before embarking, the Flight went through a stringent pre-deployment work up package delivered by the 815 Naval Air Squadron Warfare team back in Yeovilton to ensure they are trained and ready to deliver.
“Leading a small group of men on such an important task is a great privilege and I’m proud of what 215 Flight has achieved so far,” said the Flt Cdr, Lt Barham. ”The engineers have worked tirelessly to ensure that we are able to provide the Command with the highest level of capability.’
On deploying, the Flight was augmented with a 2 man Royal Marine Maritime Sniper Team from 43 Commando for the duration of the deployment. This added an airborne sniping capability to their secondary roles of fast roping, winching and load lifting, as well as their core skills of delivering anti-surface and anti-submarine weapons should they be required.
Lt Dixon said: “Frequent training in all our roles is essential in order to be ready for any tasking that may emerge. Flying the only single pilot helicopter in the RN is a job that all pilots on 815 NAS are rightly proud of, and in this hot environment, it becomes an even greater challenge to get the most out of the aircraft.”
215 Flight remain at short notice throughout the deployment and have so far provided an armed over-watch for boarding operations, fast roped the Royal Marine Boarding Team onto merchant vessels, winched personnel from various ships including HMS Atherstone, and conducted many hours of surface searches within the Gulf’s extensive waterways, utilising all their sensors to detect and classify shipping outside of The Black Duke’s reach.