Marchant NA(AH) 1976-1978
my photo album
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!
Back to crew list