They give day and night support for Coalition ground forces in Afghanistan, and when it comes to excellence in their own service they are simply the best.
The 250 personnel of Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton’s 845 Naval Air Squadron have won the Fleet Air Arm’s Breitling Trophy following an inspection last November, which took place at one of the busiest times in the squadron’s history.
The award celebrates professionalism and excellence, and the citation noted the: “high level of unit and individual preparation which was immediately evident and was particularly impressive given their recent drawdown from Operation Herrick whilst maintaining a considerable presence in theatre in support of other operations.”
The squadron also won the trophy three years ago, meaning it was ineligible for the next two years.
Pilots, aircrew, engineers, technicians and headquarters staff gathered for the official presentation of the trophy by Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff (Aviation & Carriers), Rear Admiral Tom Cunningham at Yeovilton.
The unit is retraining for is traditional amphibious assault role, and is preparing for the retirement of its veteran Sea King Mk4 helicopters and their replacement with Merlin Mk4s.
There was special recognition for Chief Petty Officer Neil Copeland who led a team of nine men who recovered a downed Sea King helicopter, preventing a propaganda coup for the Taliban.
The Sea King ZA298 of 846 Naval Air Squadron, was serving in Afghanistan in 2010 when a grenade hit the starboard side, just behind the pilot’s head, wounding a marine door gunner.
With the Taliban on alert the team led by CPO Copeland was flown into the area by Chinook and with the Army providing cover, they worked against the clock to recover the aircraft. Rotor blades had to be removed, but sparks from cutting gear would have alerted the Taliban in their night operation so instead the team unbolted each blade, using aluminium ladders to support them as they worked. They also had to remove 1,000lbs of fuel.
Mr Copeland, 44, a senior maintenance rating, was deputy maintenance rating On 845 Naval Air Squadron at the time, was presented with a Commander UK Task Group Award by Rear Admiral Cunningham.