Fourteen university students were given a taste of naval aviation as they joined 727 Naval Air Squadron for two weeks.
The students, who normally serve with University Royal Naval Units and their P2000 patrol boats, were treated to a fortnight at RNAS Yeovilton where they learned the basics of flight and were immersed into the world of the Fleet Air Arm.
SOMEWHERE high above the Somerset countryside, a couple of undergraduates get a taste of the fundamentals of flight courtesy of 727 Naval Air Squadron and its Grob trainers.
Fourteen members of University Royal Naval Units from across the UK left their usual P2000 patrol boats behind for the unique chance to fly in the agile little trainers during the annual flying camp.
While their fellow students were sailing around this sceptred isle on the URNU boats’ spring deployment, specially-selected cadets rocked up at RNAS Yeovilton for a fortnight’s glimpse into life in the Fleet Air Arm.
The students experienced up to eight hours of instructed flying, as well as visits to Yeovilton’s front-line helicopter squadrons, where they were able to talk with pilots, observers and engineers.
Students were taught the basics of flight in a classroom, then given the chance to put it into practice – the most exciting of lessons being the aerobatics sortie in which students learned how to loop, barrel roll and stall turn; luckily sick bags were issued before every flight.
“I can say that this was one of the most meteoric experiences of my life to date,” enthused OC Natalie Soulsby, who represented Manchester and Salford URNU.
In Grob we trust... A spot of formation flying for the students over the Somerset countryside
A short air navigation exercise through the local airspace involving formation flying and tail chases with up to three tutor aircraft in close proximity proved to be the highlight of the course.
“Formation flying was the best thing I have ever done. I couldn’t stop smiling,” said OC Anna Beare, from Cambridge.
OC Soulsby said the chance to fly with other Grobs was “the acme of the flying syllabus.”
She added: “Another highlight was the opportune amount of Top Gun re-enactments, which will provide me with ample photographs to take back to HMS Biter.”
As well as flying, the cadets sampled wardroom life, enjoyed the Fleet Air Arm Museum and didn’t enjoy circuit training in the gym where the base’s physical training instructors pushed them to near exhaustion.
The students didn’t particularly enjoy the early rises (shock, horror), while five tried the Dunker – Yeovilton’s helicopter crash-at-sea escape trainer – described by OC Soulsby as “controlled drowning in the dark in a mock helicopter – terrifying but absolutely amazing.”
The two weeks at Yeovilton also afforded the URNU cadets the chance to visit the station’s air traffic control, 815 (Lynx), 846 and 848 (Junglie Sea King) squadrons, as well as the Naval Flying Standards Flight (Fixed Wing) operating the Hawk T1 jets.
At the end of the course the students were individually debriefed by their flying instructors and given invaluable advice for the future.
The students try out Yeovilton's infamous 'Dunker'
727 is typically used by the Fleet Air Arm for ‘flight grading’ – assessing the ability of potential pilots to take on board all they would be taught as front-line helicopter and fast-jet pilots.
“We run these courses several times a year for potential officer candidates,” explained Lt Daley Simpson of 727 NAS.
“It gives aspiring pilots an insight into military flying training, developing their awareness and naval aviation knowledge.”
And evidently it did just that. Said OC Soulsby: “It has had a profound impact upon my – and numerous other members of our group’s – career ambitions, courtesy of the unique insight we were provided throughout the course.
“This is something I would most definitely like to be a part of in the future.”