Five Junglie Sea King Mk4 helicopters from the Commando Helicopter Force today, 21st March 2016, performed a final flypast over the South West as a salute and a fond farewell to the people and places that know it so well.
Based at RNAS Yeovilton, the aircraft took off in the morning mist into brilliant blue skies on a 475-mile route that took them over Salisbury, Andover, Portsmouth, the Jurassic Coast and on to Dartmouth and Plymouth before heading north to fly along the north Devon and north Somerset coastline, all the way to Bristol.
The final leg of the six-hour flight took the five-strong formation past Glastonbury Tor – where the Sea Kings tipped a wing in acknowledgment of the scores of people who climbed to the top of the 518ft hill – and paid their final respects to Yeovil, where the helicopters were built, before returning to their home of some 37 years.
Commander Gavin Simmonite DFC, the final commanding officer of 848 Naval Air Squadron, says: ‘The Sea King has been a wonderful workhorse.
‘It is a great pleasure to fly and an aircraft that has created a thousand memories for the aircrews who have flown it and for those on the ground watching it go about its business. It just doesn’t get any better.’
The iconic green Sea King will go out of service on 31st March 2016, following a disbandment parade to be held this Wednesday at RNAS Yeovilton.
The aircraft have seen service in most major theatres of conflict where British forces have been deployed since 1980; in particular it will be remembered for its work during the Falklands conflict, Sierra Leone, Iraq and latterly Afghanistan.
The mighty Sea King will also be remembered by many for its work with the United Nations in Bosnia and its humanitarian support work in the Lebanon, West Africa, Philippines and the Caribbean.
Although 848 Naval Air Squadron is to disband, the mantle and legacy of the Sea King will be picked up and carried forward by the Merlin, which is already in service with the Commando Helicopter Force.
The Merlin has big boots to fill as the Sea King has made a particular mark in the psyche of the Fleet Air Arm and Commando Helicopter Force.
Note: All photographs above are by Credit: LPhot Dan Rosenbaum, RNAS Yeovilton.