Each year, the Royal Navy opens its doors to Naval Air Station Merryfield, offering the local community an insight into what their noisy neighbours get up to. Shaun Schofield reports.
Merryfield plays a vital role in the training of the Maritime Lynx, Commando and Aviation Reconnaissance Forces that are based up the road at RNAS Yeovilton. Experience has shown it’s not ideal to combine rotary and fixed wing training at the same airfield, especially with such intensive requirements; Merryfield provides an ideal remote training site for the helicopter forces.
By way of saying thank you to the local residents, who have to put up with the noise and disruption that this level of flying training can potentially bring, an annual Open Evening is held, allowing the public to see exactly what goes on at the airfield, presenting an opportunity to get up close and personal with the aircraft and their crews.
This year’s event followed the traditional format, with an example of each aircraft type from Yeovilton that operate at the airfield on static display. Lynx, Commando Sea King, Wildcat and Tutor were all opened up for the public to investigate, whilst the friendly crews were only too happy to talk with visitors, answering questions and providing information in regard to their aircraft.
It’s not just the Royal Navy that uses the airfield. Both the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance and Avon and Somerset Constabulary drop in with their helicopters, both of which were represented in the static display with their EC135 and MD900 respectively. AgustaWestland also regularly use the airfield when testing their aircraft, and completed the static display with an example of their new AW169 utility helicopter. Again, all three aircraft were open to inspection.
As ever, the event featured a short flying display, commencing with a parachute drop by the Royal Navy Raiders team, jumping from a Lynx HMA.8. The Lynx would go on to display alternately with a ‘Junglie’ Sea King, demonstrating the sort of training regimes the crews perform day in, day out at Merryfield, including simulated engine out landings and auto-rotations.
After each took a couple of turns, the Sea King disappeared behind the trees of the confined landing area on the far side of the airfield, whilst the Lynx was hot refuelled ahead of its solo Black Cat display, though not before the Junglie returned once again, this time with an underslung load and a small compliment of troops, demonstrating the more operational side of the Commando Force’s training.
Once complete, the Lynx returned for its superb solo routine, the crew really throwing the aircraft around, expertly demonstrating the agility of the type. It was followed a tidy aerobatic display by the Royal Navy Historic Flight in their handsome Chipmunk in Portuguese markings.
Although the Chippie completed the flying display, the aerial action did not end there, for all of the static aircraft still needed to depart the airfield. By now, it was getting quite late, with the airfield basking in lovely soft light as the sun set, providing a unique opportunity to capture the aircraft silhouetted against a stunning sky.
The sunset departures provided a fine end to another successful and enjoyable event. There are certainly worse ways to spend a Wednesday evening!