From Swordfish to sword holders – Naval Aviation puts on a show

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More than 40 UK Royal Navy fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters will participate in mass flypasts at three major air shows in July, as part of the service's "Fly Navy 100" series of centenary events.

To be performed during air days at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall and RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset, and during the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at Royal Air Force base Fairford in Gloucestershire, the demonstrations will feature modern and historic assets.

gerard boymans
 © Gerard Boymans

Current types should include BAE Systems Harrier GR9s from the Naval Strike Wing, BAe Jetstream training aircraft and Westland Sea King and Lynx helicopters, including from the Black Cats display team. The Royal Navy Historic Flight is also due to exhibit a Hawker Sea Fury, Sea Hawk and a Fairey Swordfish during the flight commemorations.

An industry-backed team is also expected to visit RIAT with hopes of defending its 2007 win of the show's top award: the King Hussein Memorial Sword for the best display. Comprised of four RAF-owned BAE Hawk T1 jet trainers dubbed the Black Seahawks and two modified Dassault Falcon 20 business jets, the formation makes an unusual sight on the air show circuit, but highlights a daily service provided off the south-west coast of England for the RN's Flag Officer Sea Training organisation.

Flown and maintained by personnel from Serco Defence, Science and Technology and FR Aviation respectively, the aircraft are used primarily to conduct aggressor training against UK and other NATO ships. A typical scenario sees a Falcon with jamming equipment attempt to mask an attack by an anti-ship missile, with the latter represented by a low-flying Hawk.

Defence editor Craig Hoyle flew with Rick Clowes, chief pilot on the Serco-delivered Fleet Requirements Air Direction Unit (FRADU) service, delivered from Culdrose using eight pilots and 11 Hawks. Up to 18 aircraft movements are provided each day, with the business forming part of the company's multi-activity contract with the UK's Naval Air Command. Renewed last year, this will run until at least 2018.

Serco employs ex-military fast jet pilots to provide the FRADU service, which has also recently supported trials of the RN's new Type 45 anti-air warfare destroyer and participated in multinational maritime exercises off the coast of Scotland. The company also maintains a further two Hawks at Yeovilton for use by navy pilots, and can support the service's fighter controller, airborne early warning and helicopter fighter evasion training activities.