HMS Queen Elizabeth, the new super carrier, made naval history when she came into Mounts Bay on Monday where she embarked units from 820 Naval Air Squadron based at RNAS Culdrose.

The Merlin Mk2 helicopters of 820 NAS, usually based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, have been working with the ship since she sailed for the first time from Rosyth in June last year. Until now, however, the squadron’s aircraft, equipment and personnel have been based ashore and simply flown on and off the ship.

Whilst it is normal for 820 NAS to be operating from sea (having done so from HMS Ocean for seven out of the previous 12 months), it will be a new experience for HMS Queen Elizabeth to have a whole squadron on board.

For the duration of the embarkation, 820 NAS will be using their Merlin helicopters to provide the carrier with aviation assets to train and to test their equipment with. The Mk2 Merlin helicopters are also fully capable of providing search and rescue cover 24 hours a day from the ship.

As the Mk2 is the fully marinised version of Merlin, 820 NAS is perfectly suited to provide force protection to the ship as well for the duration of her time at sea. With one of the most modern and capable sensor suites fitted to any helicopter in the world, the crews of 820 NAS can send information back to the ship from hundreds of miles away. They can detail exactly what is in the water space for thousands of square miles around HMS Queen Elizabeth, presenting the war fighting team on board with all the information they need to keep the ship safe.

The squadron’s Senior Pilot, Lt Cdr Steve Moseley, was looking forward to embarking: “For us as maritime helicopter pilots, it has been an amazing experience being the first to work with our new aircraft carrier from the beginning. We have been itching to get on the ship rather than operate with her from ashore. We all joined the Fleet Air Arm to operate aircraft at sea, and to be the first to do it on-board HMS Queen Elizabeth is very exciting.”

The two 820 NAS aircraft were joined by two additional Merlins, from the Aircraft Test and Evaluation Centre at Ministry of Defence Boscombe Down. They, along with two Chinook helicopters already on-board, will conduct first of class flying trials to ascertain the operating parameters of aircraft flying from and to the carrier in a range of conditions.

The MoD has confirmed that the carrier could visit Gibraltar in the coming weeks.