A Merlin helicopter takes off from RNAS Culdrose (Picture: Royal Navy).
CORNWALL Navy fliers are on 24 hour alert with crews working 12 hour shifts as RNAS Culdrose stands by for pandemic assistance.

Three submarine-hunting Merlins have been taken off regular duties and fliers, crews, engineers and logistics personnel have been assigned to NHS back-up.

Commander Chris Knowles of 820 Squadron told CCN: “‘It’s a change – very different from our ordinary role. But jobs like this are in our DNA.

Commander Knowles (whose men at the base know him by the conspiracy-theory-themed nickname ‘Grassy’) added: “It demands a real team effort.

Commander Chris Knowles

“For us here at Culdrose that means getting aircraft and the crews ready, and all the logistical support in place.

“We have to provide air traffic controllers, and meteorological information, so we can operate 24 hours a day.”

“But now is a real moment for everyone to pull together.So at Culdrose this is how we can help out the nation and the National Health Service in testing times.”

820 Squadron air and ground crews re-assigned to Covid duties are working 12 hours on 12 hours off.

Battle-ready aircraft have been stripped of their operational load of Sting-Ray Torpedoes, Mk11 Depth Charges and a M3m .50 Calibre Machine Gun.

Instead space has been made for multiple stretchers, and food stores.

Day-to-day 820 expect to be serving as air ambulance, transporting paramedics with NHS and South Western Ambulance Service.

Back at the base, teams of engineers and technicians as well as medics, air traffic controllers, safety and logistic experts are all assigned Covid duty

Uniforms, field equipment and the helicopter structure will be thoroughly and regularly decontaminated.

Commander James Hall of Maritime Merlin Force explained: “”We train our people to do this type of task all of the time.

“They have the skills to deliver, whether at sea or on land.”

He added: “We’reall very aware we have an important role to play in supporting the nation at this difficult time.

“We will make every effort to provide this contribution and make a difference in our region.

For some Navy personnel it won’t be the first time they’ve responded to a viral epidemic.

Helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron supported the UK’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa over the winter of 2014 to 2015.

Did you know? RNAS Culdrose in Helston is one of Europe’s largest helicopter bases. Culdrose delivers highly capable Helicopter Squadrons specialising in Anti-Submarine Warfare, Anti-Surface Warfare and Airborne Surveillance and Control. The frontline Squadrons are deployed to ships all over the world to support the Royal Navy in its global operations. Back at the Air Station, trainee Aircrew, Engineers, Air Traffic Controllers, Fire-fighters and Flight Deck crews undergo intensive training prior to joining Naval Air Squadrons for duties at sea. Additionally, the ‘Search and Rescue’ Squadron is on constant standby 365-days a year to react to emergencies throughout the Southwest region. Its red and grey helicopters can be seen braving all types of weather responding to calls for help on land and sea.
829 Naval Air Squadron ‘The Kingfishers’ operate from RNAS Culdrose and provide the Navy’s Type 23 frigates with the Merlin helicopters they need to operate around the world. They provide dedicated ‘flights’ – that’s one helicopter, a full complement of aircrew (two pilots, one observer, and one aircrewman) and a nine-strong maintenance team – for the Navy’s Type 23 frigate fleet, wherever they’re operating in the world.
814 Naval Air Squadron currently operates the world’s leading Anti-Submarine Warfare helicopter, the Merlin HM Mk1 from RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall. Embracing the Squadron’s motto: ‘In hoc signo vinces’ (meaning ‘In this sign you will conquer’), 814 NAS is a high readiness, globally deployable unit tasked with flying from ships and/or air bases around the world to provide protection to the Fleet from surface and sub-surface threats, or to support maritime security operations.
If you’d like to read more detailed information about 829 and 814 Naval Air Squadrons, their capabilities, and the Merlin helicopter, click through to the Royal Navy Website HERE, HERE, or HERE.

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