Leonardo’s AW159 Wildcat and AW101 Merlin helicopters will keep watch over the carrier strike group, protecting it from sub-surface, surface and air threats.
Nick Whitney, Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters (UK), commented: “We have a fantastic array of people that put their heart and soul into what they do. Everyone at Leonardo in Yeovil - from human resources, the engineers and technicians, the trainees to our support and training – they all have an immense sense of pride when they see the aircraft leaving the airfield, or see the AW101 Merlin or AW159 Wildcat helicopters in the media on the carrier or on operations.”
One of those people is Connor Flavell, a Field Service Representative at Leonardo. Connor used to serve in the Army until early 2019. Currently, he is embarked on-board CSG’s Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier, in relation to the Merlin Mk 2 Crowsnest platform which carries out the Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC) role.
“We are often the face of the company to the customer, providing technical support and training to customer maintainers, leading company working parties within the customers’ operation, overseeing and certifying modifications & repairs, providing support to aircraft development & evaluation trials and providing support to aircraft deliveries & customer aircraft acceptance. Those are just some of the more regular tasks we carry out and these can be anywhere in the world where there is an aircraft produced by Leonardo in Yeovil,” explained Connor.
The AW101 Royal Navy Merlin Helicopters come in a number of Marks (Mks) depending on the primary role, but all are routinely embarked in the carrier, where ship-air interface is important to ensure the carrier can house sufficient numbers alongside other aircraft to maintain the tempo of operations required.
Merlin Mk 2 helicopters, equipped for anti-submarine warfare, provide the CSG with force protection from sub-surface threats and also have an impressive surface surveillance capability with the addition of Crowsnest Airborne Early Warning (AEW).
This is where Connor’s role is key as he works side-by-side with the operator of the AW101 Mk 2 Crowsnest helicopters, the Royal Navy’s 820 Squadron, as the aircraft carry out their airborne surveillance and control role whilst on deployment.
He noted: “I’m the first point of contact if 820 Squadron have any issues with the Leonardo elements of the Crowsnest platform. As a first response, I’ll always aim to provide guidance or an answer within the current aircraft documentation set. If I’m unable to do this then I’m also the direct line of contact between the Royal Navy and Leonardo, allowing me to reach back to our industry experts to get the solutions the technicians require. My Barista skills have also been appreciated by some!”
The Merlin Mk2’s primary aim is anti-submarine force protection, using its six-hour endurance to get right to the outer edges (or ‘screen’) of the maritime task group and sustain operations there. If necessary, they can use helicopter in-flight refuelling, but are also capable of operating from the frigate and destroyers. They are equipped with the latest avionics systems as well as active dipping sonar and sonobuoy dispensing to monitor for, find and fix subsurface contacts.
“Every other day for me starts with taking part in circuit training located in the hangar. From there, most of my day is spent in the squadron office where I’ll first find out the aircraft’s status, today’s flying plan, and any planned maintenance. This is where my day becomes rather fluid as I can either be situated in the office working on reports or communicating with Leonardo in Yeovil.
“Otherwise, I’ll be in the hangar or on the flight deck working alongside the technicians on the aircraft in a closer advisory role. The latter has normally involved helping with fault investigation and taking technicians through various systems to improve their understanding. I also get the chance to enjoy sports/recreation on the flight deck on Sundays,” Connor shared.
Whilst a long way from Somerset, the global mission of Leonardo’s aircraft and systems is only possible due to people like Connor who work tirelessly to ensure these innovative technologies remain ready to keep our nation safe and enable our Armed Forces to conduct their missions. CSG 21 is a worldwide showcase of Leonardo’s capabilities and a fantastic endorsement of British technology and engineering from across Leonardo’s UK sites.