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David Marchant NA(AH) 1976-1978

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I joined the navy expecting to serve on a strike aircraft carrier. Upon completion of my Aircraft Handler's course I filled in my drafting preference card for 892 Squadron (Phantom F4s), HMS Ark Royal. Six months later I received a draft chit with 829 Squadron (Wasp), HMS Ambuscade! After wondering if drafty was a bit dyslexic I looked forward of the chance of going to sea.

It was a bit of a rarity for Handlers to serve on small ships flights. It came about with the fact that at the time there were more naval airmen (AHs) about than billets. I suppose this was the period when the Ark Royal was about to pay off and the introduction of the Invincible class ships. So someone had the idea to distribute the sprogs amongst the small ships flights for short sea experience. My draft came about along with a number of other naval airmen to such billets.

I was a junior naval airman (AH3), 17 years old. It was quite overwhelming at first. A small ships flight was a unlike my training had prepared me for. And apart from being at the bottom of the food chain it seemed as I knew a lot about nothing which was probably right.
When I joined, the flight had recently reincarnated from Londonderry Flight. The SMR ran the flight like a field gun crew (in fact I believe he was a trainer), and indeed most of the flight were ex-'gunnies'. Weapon loads and role changes were conducted with a stop watch aided with a size 10 steaming bat if you got it wrong!

As I eventually got the hang of my duties I began to enjoy the experience. Great runs ashore too! Although I was only supposed to be on the flight a year I signed on twice, and eventually completed two and a half years. I was then the only one left from the original flight.

The Wasp had our complete attention, as well as its accommodation and facilities. It was constantly being maintained or washed or polished. Although we could get the thing out of the 'shed' and airborne on a scramble in a few minutes, it normally took us about an hour and a half, and probably the same to put it away after flying. Even when the "cab" was in the shed there was always something to do. Things were even more hectic especially during inspections when various role changes and exercises were ordered.

The Wasp was a strange looking beast. It obviously did not have the endurance or capabilities of the Lynx, but as a first generation sea borne helicopter it filled a useful function being the part of the ships main weapon system. It could carry both Mk44 and 46 torpedoes, depth charges, flares, AS11 and AS12 missiles, and of course gunnery spotting, SAR, CASEVAC, etc. It could also carry the nuclear bomb. Although no live example was carried on board, it was simulated by a small box of electrical gadgets which entertained the greenies for a while. Ashore at Portland a life size practice bomb was fitted. Because of its size it was fitted at a diagonal angle across the underneath of the fuselage, everything non-essential was stripped from the helicopter, including the aircrewman. Rumor said it would have been a one way kamikaze mission for the flight commander!

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