ROYAL NAVY Merlin HM2 ZH856 from 820 Naval Air Squadron became the first aircraft to touch down on the deck of the aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales (R09) on September 23.
The helicopter landed and took off six times to practise various simulated problems and emergencies, while air traffic controllers directed the Merlin in circuits around the vessel. At 1115hrs, Leading Aircraft Handler Stephen Ashcroft guided the helicopter – callsign ‘Dolphin 14’ – safely down on to the carrier, just off the east coast of Scotland.
The Merlin was flown by pilot Lt Rob Prior, assisted by fellow pilot Lt Tim Willis, observer Lt Carl Davis, aircraft commander Lt Cdr Steve Ivill, aircrewman Chief Petty Officer Lee Elliott and photographer Leading Hand Alex Ceolin.
The naval officer in charge of flying operations, Commander Air Cdr Phil Richardson described it as “a momentous occasion” for the Royal Navy. “This deck landing represents the culmination of a hugely successful HMS Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier programme.”
Merlin HM2 ZH856 had arrived at RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland, on September 12 to begin trials with HMS Prince of Wales.
Aircraft trials began less than 24 hours after the warship left Rosyth dockyard in Fife for the first time. HMS Prince of Wales will spend the next couple of months completing an initial period of sea trials – with helicopters embarked – before arriving in her home base of Portsmouth, where she will be commissioned before Christmas.