Cutting-edge test squadron

The Royal Navy confirmed on November 14, 2018 that 744 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) has reformed to test and evaluate cutting-edge weapons and sensor’s for UK Defence. In particular, the squadron will be instrumental in introducing the Royal Navy’s new Crowsnest system into front-line service over the next 18 months. The squadron will additionally support work on the RAF’s upgraded Chinook HC5 and Chinook HC6 fleet.

Crowsnest is the updated version of the Thales Searchwater radar and Cerberus mission system which will deliver the Royal Navy’s airborne surveillance and control capability eventually fitted to its fleet of Merlin HM2 helicopters stationed at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, Cornwall. Crowsnest-equipped Merlins will provide long-range air, maritime and land tracking surveillance capability to support the Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth Class carriers; HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) and HMS Prince of Wales (R09). In service, Crowsnest-equipped Merlin helicopters will be operated by 849 NAS based at Culdrose; the unit previously operated the Royal Navy’s last remaining Sea King ASaC7 helicopters which were withdrawn from service having completed their final light on September 26, 2019.

The Navy test unit which will be based at MoD Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, will comprise aircrew and aviation engineers drawn from all three UK military services. For the past 62 years, 744 NAS has been in hibernation since its disbandment at the former RAF St Mawgan (now Cornwall Airport Newquay) in Cornwall.

The re-formed squadron’s first skipper Commander Jonathan Bird said: “744 Naval Air Squadron brings together the operational experience from the majority of defence’s front line aircraft types and weaponry, to ensure that new aircraft, weapons, and upgrades to existing platforms are safe and as it for purpose as possible.

“It is a privilege to be at the helm on the day of the squadron’s re-commissioning – exactly 62 years to the day that the previous commanding officer flew his final squadron sortie before the unit was disbanded at RAF St Mawgan.”