Today will see the Royal Air Force officially hand over the Merlin HC Mk3 and Mk3A helicopters to the Royal Navy. The official ceremony will also see the disbandment of 78 Squadron Royal Air Force and the standing up of 846 Naval Air Squadron of the Commando Helicopter Force.
As part of the planned transition of the Merlin helicopter from the Royal Air Force to the Commando Helicopter Force of the Royal Navy, 78 Squadron will formally disband and 846 Naval Air Squadron will stand up in a full ceremonial parade with Royal Reviewing Officers.
The official handover of Senior Duty Holder will be marked with the attendance of the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, and the 1st Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Sir George Zambellas.
The 78 Squadron standard on parade during the handover of the RAF Merlin to 846 Naval Air Squadron
The formal Royal parade marked the next stage in the transition of the Merlin helicopter from the Support Helicopter Force to the Commando Helicopter Force, a move that was introduced in the Strategic Defence and Security Review.
4 Merlins (diamond formaion), 2 Seakings (flanking the Merlins) and a Chinook (at the rear) take part in a formation rehearsal in preparation for the parade on the 30th September
Since 2012, aircrew and engineers from the Commando Helicopter Force of the Royal Navy have been integrated into the Merlin Force at RAF Benson; working alongside their Royal Air Force counterparts to absorb over a decade of experience of operating and maintaining the technologically advanced aircraft.
Seven ship fly past over the parade taking the salute. Four Merlin (front diamond), two Seaking (far right and far left) and one Chinook (back)
The ceremony was attended by Their Royal Highnesses The Duke of York, the Commodore-in-Chief of the Fleet Air Arm, and Prince Michael of Kent, Honorary Air Marshal of Royal Air Force Benson. Having been successfully employed on RAF operations in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan and capable of carrying up to 24 fully equipped troops, the Merlin is ideally placed to transfer to the littoral role undertaken by the Commando Helicopter Force.
Parade formed up in front of the reviewing officers
Today the transition programme saw 78 Squadron RAF disband and 846 Naval Air Squadron stand up. 846 NAS will remain at RAF Benson until Spring next year when they and several of the Merlin aircraft will return to the home of the Commando Helicopter Force, Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset.
Lt Coll Derek Stafford RM MBE Commanding Officer 846 Naval Air Squadron (right) pictured during the handover from 78 Squadron
Admiral Sir George Zambellas said "Today is a time to look forward. Not just to the next chapter to be written by the re-formed 846 Naval Air Squadron but also to the ongoing contribution of all Navy and Air Force helicopter forces. And, today, we in the Navy wanted to recognize our partnershipw ith the Air Force, both here at Benson and beyond."
Their Royal Highnesses The Duke of York, Commodore-in-Chief of the Fleet Air Arm (2nd from left), Prince Michael of Kent, Honorary Air Marshal of Royal Air Force Benson (left), Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) (2nd from right) and Admiral Sir George Zambellas, Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS)
Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford said "Today we say farewell to No 78 Squadron. Rather than mourn this occasion, we should use it as an opportunity to celebrate the partnership between our two Services. I have been truly impressed with the manner in which both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force have worked together in order to tackle the significant challenge of transition, and I know that we will continue to work equally well together in the future."
Pictures: Crown Copyright 2014/ British Army/ SAC Connor Payne RAF/ Cpl Neil Chapman RAF