The end is sadly in sight for another iconic military aircraft; the last ever flight of the Royal Navy HC4 Sea King, with only 7 now left in active service at Yeovilton, the only UK RN based that is still operating any HC4 Sea Kings.
The weather was predicted wet and wild, but thankfully the day turned out to be a bright dry day. We were all gathered in the squadron briefing room, to hear the CO give his thoughts on the Sea King, and being rather reserved when talking about the Sea King which we all have seen both at air shows and more commonly on search and rescue sorties around the UK.
The most amusing tale was from an exercise in Norway when a white out occurred and each aircraft was following the one in front, with a loss of visual contact the pilot kept going on the instruments only to catch up with the aircraft in front and being so close the other aircrew looked for wheel marks on the hub above the rotors.
The last flying day for the Sea King is the 31st March 2016, of which by then all the crews will be fully trained on the Merlin HC3 replacement.
One of the last seven is ZA298 which is planned to go into the Yeovilton Museum at the end of March. This aircraft seems unable to be destroyed as it has been shot at with 7 rounds going through the airframe in conflict in Afghanistan, where it was bought back to an operating base and repaired quickly before flown back to bastion. This one is not going down without a fight!
Back to Yeovilton, after the brief by the staff and the CO we were mustered into three waves with each wave being split into two groups, Avengers 1 (ZE427) & 2 (ZG821). This was to allow air to air photos of each aircraft with the sun lighting up the aircraft beautifully, videos were also taken on wave three.
After boarding the helicopter we were offered to be harnessed in so that we could take photos and video at the edge of the open door, we had a short taxi to allow what can only be described as the most graceful take-off I have ever experienced. Climbing to and then flying over Somerset at about 500 feet with the door open and turning round at Glastonbury Tor, with the Sea King flying so gracefully it seems difficult to believe that she is over 40 years old.
Once back at base and after a short taxi to the apron stand, we were fortunate to be able to gather for the final photos as the sun set on the airfield and on an experience that will not be forgotten for a long time.
by Ian Birdsey