The first of the Royal Navy's new Merlin 'Crowsnest' helicopters has entered service.
The 'eyes in the sky' aircraft will now begin operational training ahead of joining the maiden deployment of aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in the spring.
It will provide airborne surveillance and control other aircraft in the Carrier Strike Group.
Each Merlin has a crew of three – two observers and one pilot – and flying above the fleet with their sophisticated sensors, they should enable the Carrier Strike Group commander to see, understand and react to air or surface threats.
They can also act as a control centre for strike operations between the carrier and the ship's F-35 Lightning jets.
The aircraft are affectionately called 'baggers', named after the distinctive large radar dome or 'bag' sticking out of their fuselage.
The new generation of 'baggers' will pick up the mantle of the Navy's veteran Sea Kings of 849 Naval Air Squadron (now retired).
Like the Sea Kings, they will be based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in Cornwall.
Crews have been training since autumn to conduct air and missile defence as well as strike command and control.
Captain Stuart Finn, Commanding Officer of RNAS Culdrose, said the helicopter's delivery marked a "significant moment" for the Royal Navy.
"The delivery of this first aircraft at Culdrose represents an enormous amount of hard work, dedication and passion across the defence and industry enterprise.
"It marks a significant moment for the Royal Navy as we become a carrier task group navy capable of deploying around the world as a sovereign group or with our allies.
"It is especially poignant that these aircraft are based here at Culdrose, the home of 'the eyes of the fleet', and we are proud of our association with airborne surveillance and control and, before that, airborne early warning.
"These aircraft will work side by side with the rest of the Merlin Mk2 force to provide a world-class line of defence for our global navy, adding above-water expertise to our already renowned submarine-hunting skills."
The Merlins have been kitted out with new mission systems and radars from Thales Group by aerospace company Leonardo in Yeovil, overseen by Lockheed Martin.
Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group, said the new helicopters were the final pieces in the group's large, complex jigsaw.
"It's hugely encouraging to see the progress of the Crowsnest trials," he said.
"Already one the most advanced submarine hunters, the Merlin Crowsnest will offer long-range intelligence and surveillance against surface and airborne threats, and the ability to command and control strike missions.
"Coupled with the Wildcat attack helicopter, the UK Carrier Strike Group will soon operate one of the most capable and versatile helicopter air groups."
HMS Queen Elizabeth will head to the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific on her operational deployment later this year.
Cover image: Royal Navy.