The Army Air Corps’ ‘flying tank’ is conducting extensive trials with the Portsmouth-based carrier as the two services learn how to integrate the fearsome helicopter with the nation’s new flagships.
The Apache has been in service for nearly two decades and has operated sporadically at sea, notably on HMS Ocean from where they conducted strikes against military targets in Libya during that country’s civil war a decade ago.
It’s spent some time conducting trials on Queen Elizabeth, but the spell on her sister – which the three gunships joined in harbour last week – is more concerted. The trio hail from the Army Air Corps’ dedicated maritime unit 656 Squadron, 4 Regiment AAC, and are supported by 100 personnel from Wattisham Airfield in Suffolk.
The training with Prince of Wales will include qualifying new pilots in the art of deck landings and take offs, but also ensure that ground crew from both the Army Air Corps and Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers can perform their aircraft handling and maintenance roles at sea.
Aside from the operational focus, the soldiers will rapidly learn the labyrinth of passageways in the massive aircraft carrier as well as naval slang or ‘Jackspeak’ and the nuances of daily life at sea with the Royal Navy.
“656 have joined HMS Prince of Wales to sustain our maritime capability and we are relishing the challenge of being back at sea working with the Royal Navy,” said Major Phil Parkes, Officer Commanding 656 Squadron.
For the carrier, Apache is another arrow to her quiver, joining anti-submarine/troop-carrying Merlins and anti-ship Wildcat maritime attack helicopters, as well as F-35 Lightning jets when they begin training with the ship.
It’s armed with a chain gun capable of spewing out a hail of 30mm lead at 600 rounds a minute, CRV rockets to knock out buildings and tank-busting Hellfire missiles.
“The embarkation of 656 AAC offers excellent opportunities for both the ship and the squadron to gain essential experience, refine our ability to work together, and develop our expertise of operating strike aircraft from sea,” said Lieutenant Commander Patrick Holmes, Prince of Wales’ Lieutenant Commander Flying, known simply as ‘F’.
The ship sailed from her home port yesterday morning to resume her spring work-up, which has already seen extensive training with RAF Chinooks off the south coast.