Coronavirus: Royal Navy Helicopters To Be Used As Air Ambulances

Air and ground crews will work 12-hour shifts as part of RNAS Culdrose's response to the coronavirus crisis.


Royal Navy helicopters are to be used as air ambulances for the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three Merlin Mk2 helicopters from RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall and their crews from 820 Naval Air Squadron have been set aside for the task.

The aircraft will also be used as transporters, moving both supplies and personnel.

They will be supported by engineers and technicians as well as medics, air traffic controllers, safety and logistic experts at the Helston air base.

The helicopters, typically used for submarine-hunting, will provide assistance to the NHS and South Western Ambulance Service - serving a population of more than 4.5 million across the south west, Channel Islands and Isles of Scilly. 

"This is very different from our ordinary role, but jobs like this are in our DNA," said Commander Chris 'Grassy' Knowles, Commanding Officer of 820 Naval Air Squadron.

"We are helping out the nation and the National Health Service during these testing times – it’s a real moment for everyone to pull together.

"It demands a real team effort for us here at Culdrose in terms of getting the aircraft and the crews ready, getting all the logistical support in place – providing air traffic controllers, meteorological information, so that we can operate 24 hours a day."

Equipment has been stripped out of cabins so the Merlins can carry several stretchers, passengers and stores quickly and efficiently over long distances.

Meanwhile, efforts are also being made to protect air crew from the risk of infection.

The Navy said medical guidelines will be followed for isolating patients, as well as decontaminating helicopters, equipment and uniforms. 

RAF Pumas land at Kinloss Barracks as part of coronavirus support force 270320 CREDIT MOD
The RAF also has helicopters on standby to help the NHS with the coronavirus outbreak (Picture: MOD).

Air and ground crews will work 12-hour shifts as part of the response to the pandemic, as well as carrying NHS paramedics with patients when required. 

Commander James Hall, who is in charge of the Maritime Merlin Force, said: "We are very aware that we have an important role to play in supporting the nation at this difficult time.

"We will make every effort to provide this contribution and make a difference in our region.

"We train our people to do this type of task all of the time - it is something that they all have the skills to deliver at sea and on land."

Helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron supported the UK’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa over the winter of 2014 to 2015.

The announcement comes after the Royal Air Force confirmed it had set up a helicopter task force to support the NHS during the coronavirus crisis. 

RAF helicopters will be used to help with "medical transports", as well as the movement of personnel and equipment.

Cover image: A Merlin helicopter takes off from RNAS Culdrose (Picture: Royal Navy).