The latest in our mini-series looking at the life behind the fence of one of the largest helicopter bases in Europe, which calls Helston its home.

This week: A whole team effort is required at getting the 'Flying Tigers' 1,400 miles across Europe; enter 814 naval air squadron logistics crew.

Meet the logistics team responsible for getting the ‘Flying Tigers’ of 814 squadron's helicopter crew from their home base of RNAS Culdrose, 1,400 miles across Europe to Sicily, to take part in NATO’s largest Mediterranean anti-submarine exercise in Catania.

For the next two and a half weeks the helicopter crews from Culdrose will be on the prowl in the deep waters around the island of Sicily, alongside ships, aircraft and submarines from nine other NATO countries - Holland, Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, France, the USA, Germany and Canada - to practice working together against hidden submarine opponents, played by other NATO units.

Home for the 68 Helston personnel, including aircrew and engineers, during the two-week exercise will be the US naval air station Sigonella, in Eastern Sicily, sitting in the shadow of the active volcano Etna.

Getting them there, however, is the job of logistics officer Lieutenant Rob Wolstencroft and his expert team, who have to plan and execute a successful transit, moving 814 aircrew, engineers and equipment to the Mediterranean island.

Lt Wolstencroft said: “I’m taking two Merlin helicopters and 68 people to Sicily. That leaves five more Merlins and another 140-people operating from 814 NAS back at Culdrose.

"Whilst all this is going on for the deployment, I still have other future detachments and embarkations to plan for. That’s what makes Royal Naval logisticians stand out. Work never stops.

"The exercise started in October 2018 for me, when I received the invite for 814 to take part, and will end once the last helicopter and personnel have landed safely back at Culdrose."

On receiving the invite, Rob then had to look at the wider picture and assess what arrangements would need to be made - from liaising with foreign embassies and receiving clearances into international airspaces, to contacting local hospitals in Sicily for medical support should it be required.

Luckily Lt Wolstencroft has a highly experienced team supporting him. The staff office at 814 NAS is home to Leading Writer Teri Hughes, who has served 29 years in the Royal Navy, and the ever-present Kim Dooley, an ex-petty officer writer who served 22 years and then a further 19 years as a civil servant.

Teri said: “Between the three of us, we are effectively the travel agents and travel reps of the squadron; the top cover ensuring passports and personal documentation is held and in date. We book the flights, hotels and the transport needed for our personnel to make sure they are where they need to be, at the correct time, with the resources they need to fulfil their job.”

The team have arranged an array of transport to get the personnel to and from the airports, as well as acquiring 17 vehicles to allow the detached personnel to get about whilst in Sicily.

Chief Petty Officer Neil Tregenza, the 814 support senior rate, oversees the organising of the ground support equipment, tools and aircraft components that the engineers will need to keep the aircraft serviceable and airworthy.

He said: “We are taking approximately 30 to 35 tonnes of equipment to try and cover every eventuality."

With the help of LLogs Adam Lawson, the team have packed over 210 litres of oils and hydraulic fluid along with other greases that will be need for the aircraft whilst out in Sicily.

Planning for this mammoth task starts approximately one month prior to the detachment to ensure there is plenty of time to solve a problem with custom clearance if one was to arise. Once all equipment is checked and accounted for, it is then loaded into six 20ft containers, weighing approximately 5,000kg each. It will then take four HGV lorries four days to travel 1,917 miles via road across Europe, before hopping on a ferry transit to Sicily, reaching their destination in Catania.