The latest Naval hardware – Merlin helicopters of 814 Naval Air Squadron – has flown into Yeovilton to join the massive Olympic security mission.
The squadron will carry out surveillance of shipping off Weymouth, venue for sailing events – just one strand of a huge Olympic effort by 2,600 sailors and Royal Marines.
Pictures: PO(Phot) Gaz Armes, Mobile News Team
THE eyes of the Tigers are now on watch over the Channel as helicopters from 814 Naval Air Squadron join the massive security effort shielding the Olympics.
Merlins from the Culdrose-based squadron – known throughout the Fleet Air Arm as the Tigers – have decamped from Cornwall to RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset for the duration of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
From there it’s just ten minutes’ flying time to Weymouth Bay, where the nation’s flagship HMS Bulwark is serving as the floating command centre for the police-military-civilian effort protecting sailing events in Dorset.
Although the Merlin was designed a submarine hunter, in the decade since the helicopter entered service it’s evolved into all-purpose aircraft and has proved particularly adept at tracking pirates and drug traffickers over the Indian Ocean, operating from the back of Royal Navy frigates.
LET(WE) Sergeant checks the live video feed from a Merlin's hi-tech WESCAM camera beamed back to Bulwark's Operations Room
HMS Bulwark conducted a set of WESCAM trials prior to the start of the Olympic Games. WESCAM provides a live video feed from a Royal Navy Merlin Helicopter to the Operations Room on board HMS Bulwark. This assists in the security support that HMS Bulwark is providing in the Portland and Weymouth Area during the Olympic Games.
And that latter maritime security mission makes 814 the ideal choice for keeping watch on seafarers off Weymouth from now until mid-September.
The Tigers have been preparing for their Olympics role for many months, and have already taken part in a series of demanding training missions, working alongside other Royal Navy and Royal Marine units, and other Government agencies.
In addition to conducting maritime surveillance in the Weymouth Bay area, 814 NAS crews will be on call to respond to any incident as directed by Maritime Force Commander Dorset – Bulwark’s Commanding Officer Capt Alex Burton.
“A lot of hard work has gone on behind the scenes by both my engineers and aircrew over many months to ensure aircraft and flying crews are ready for Operation Olympics,” said Cdr Christopher Stock, 814’s Commanding Officer.
“The squadron has been liaising very closely with the Police and other agencies, and conducted a comprehensive and dedicated work-up package so that the Flying Tigers can contribute to a safe and secure Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
His helicopters will operate daily out of Yeovilton, flying to and from HMS Bulwark which is positioned in Weymouth Bay close to the Olympic Sailing Regatta. The move from Culdrose enables them to utilise the facilities available at the Somerset base and be closer to their operating areas.
Handlers on Bulwark attend to one of the Flying Tigers' 'cabs' on the flight deck of the assault ship
As well as being the hub for 814, Yeovilton has committed five of its own Lynx helicopters from 815 NAS to the Olympic effort, basing them on HMS Ocean which arrived in Greenwich last Friday to serve as a ‘helipad’ for military aircraft throughout the Games a well as a logistics and support base for the Olympic security effort in London, not least Royal Marines of 539 Assault Squadron and their fast raiding craft.
In all, some 17,000 military personnel are committed to the Olympic and Paralympic events – 2,600 each from the Navy and RAF, 11,800 from the Army.
Around 1,000 sailors and Royal Marines are deployed in the capital providing security at venues, in addition to more than 550 personnel on Ocean.
Also in the capital there are 53 air and ground crew from 854 NAS and their Sea King Mk7 Airborne Surveillance and Control, the Royal Navy’s input to the aerial shield for the Games which involves some 1,600 Service personnel in all.
In Weymouth, Bulwark is being joined by RFA Mounts Bay, P2000 patrol boats, Royal Marines of 4 Assault Squadron with their landing craft, and sailors on the ground providing security at the Olympic venues – some 900 members of the Naval Service in all.
There are also around 250 sailors and commandos at various other Olympic venues and training hubs around the UK.
And on the ceremonial front 120 Senior Servicemen and women are acting as flag raisers at victory ceremonies, while the Royal Marines Band will be performing at numerous venues throughout the spectacular.