News story

Lynx Flight honoured for Libya actions

Naval aviators from Lynx 217 Flight based on recently-retired HMS Liverpool have been awarded a prestigious Fleet Air Arm trophy for their part in the NATO-led Libya operation last year.

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217 Flight of 815 Naval Air Squadron earned the Osprey Trophy having been in the thick of the action throughout much of the campaign against the Gaddafi regime.

Lynx 217 Flight came under fire from Gaddafi’s guns (although the helicopter was not hit, it was shaken by the force of shells exploding), called in fire missions for HMS Liverpool’s main 4.5-inch (114mm) gun and scoured the Gulf of Sirte for small boats intending to lay mines in the approaches to the besieged port of Misurata.

These actions earned the air and ground crew the coveted Osprey Trophy - presented each year to the Lynx Flight which contributes most to front line operations.

The Lynx Mk8 helicopters of 815 Naval Air Squadron based at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton - also known as HMS Heron - are the wings of the solitary Type 42 destroyer still in service, HMS Edinburgh, all six of their successor Type 45 destroyers, and share Flight duties on Type 23 frigates with the larger Merlins of 829 Naval Air Squadron from Culdrose.

The fast, nimble and potent Lynx - about to be replaced by the Wildcat over the next two-to-three years - also supports operations from Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships (there’s a Flight currently aboard RFA Argus on drug-busting duties in the Caribbean) and, on occasions, serves with the Royal Navy’s capital ships.

In the case of 217 Flight, the helicopter was airborne for more than 270 hours on Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR duties thanks to the Herculean efforts of the small band of maintainers (just seven strong), pilot Lieutenant Alistair Crawford and his observer/flight commander, Lieutenant Phil Barron.

Together they ensured the Lynx was available for missions 94 per cent of the time:

It was a brilliant team effort,” said Lt Crawford.

The Fleet Air Arm is often at the forefront of operations that have a maritime dimension. HMS Liverpool’s role was key to many of the successes in the allied operations. It is vital that helicopter operations are an integrated part of the ship and our Flight was involved in the thick of it throughout.

All of which meant 217 Flight were very worthy winners of the Osprey Trophy, presented by Fleet Commander Admiral Sir George Zambellas when he visited Yeovilton:

This is a chance to reflect on courage and dedication,” he said presenting the trophy.

Diverse and demanding challenges were met by Liverpool’s Flight in the time-honoured traditions of the Naval Service.

The Osprey Trophy was introduced in 2007 in memory of four members of HMS Portland’s Flight who lost their lives in a Lynx crash off the Lizard Peninsula in December 2004.

The presentation was attended by relatives and was marked with a flying display by the Black Cats Lynx helicopter display team and a graceful Sea Fury fighter from the Royal Navy Historic Flight.

Also presented was the Robert Sandison Trophy, introduced in 1958 in memory of its namesake pilot. It is awarded annually to the individual aircrew member contributing most to the development of new airborne weapon tactics.

This year it was awarded to Lt Alastair Thompson for his dedicated work whilst deployed on counter-piracy operations over the Indian Ocean:

I am very proud - this award was a massive surprise,” he said.

We were set a challenge which demanded a flexible response and my proposals for revised operational tactics were fully supported by my commander.

The successes we had in countering a range of piracy incidents reflect the effectiveness of the Royal Navy’s dynamic response to an ongoing threat to maritime security.

Although I received the award, I’d like to pay tribute to the professionalism of my Flight, without whom none of this would have been possible.

Published 17 October 2012