Royal Navy Air Arm welcomes first female Senior Observer

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander has made history by becoming the Fleet Air Arm's first ever female Senior Observer at one of Europe's largest helicopter bases.

829 Naval Air Squadron at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose has recently welcomed Lieutenant Commander Kay Burbidge, who took up her post after completing a Flight Commander’s appointment on HMS Monmouth.

It is the role of the observer and aircrewman to utilise an aircraft’s sensors to search, locate and track everything that either floats on the surface of the sea or operates beneath it.

Lt Cdr Burbidge said:

I am delighted to have been appointed as the Senior Observer of 829 Squadron. From the challenging environment of a Type 23 Flight Commander, I now look forward to the demands of helping to provide five operational flights to Navy Command.

Lt Cdr Burbidge joined the Royal Navy in 1988 as a Wren Air Engineering Mechanic (Weapons Electrical) and was selected for commission in 1995.

She said:

Joining up as a non-seagoing, blue-badge-wearing Wren, my recent appointment is a true reflection as to the advances in the opportunities available to females in the Armed Forces today.

During her time as a Wren mechanic she worked on Hunter, Chipmunk and Devon aircraft, and on Sea King Mk5 helicopters with 820 Naval Air Squadron during the Adriatic conflict. She gained her Observer ‘wings’ in 1997 whilst with 810 Naval Air Squadron, flying in Sea King Mk6 helicopters.

Since completing her operational flying training she has served with 820 Naval Air Squadron on HMS Ark Royal and with 771 Naval Air Squadron carrying out Search and Rescue duties.

She later qualified as the Navy’s first female Helicopter Warfare Instructor (HWI) and, since converting to Merlin Mk1 helicopters in 2004, she has served as the HWI with both 814 Naval Air Squadron and 824 Naval Air Squadron, teaching tactics and instructing on gunnery courses for the Merlin Helicopter Force.

After the instructional tours she then took up the role of Flight Commander on HMS Monmouth during the ship’s recent Op TELIC deployment, spending over six months in the Gulf protecting the oil platforms off the Iraqi coastline.