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Royal Navy Observer clocks up 6,000 helicopter flying hours

Fleet Air Arm Lieutenant Commander Joe Harper clocked up his six-thousandth helicopter flying hour whilst taking off at night from HMS Daring…

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Fleet Air Arm Lieutenant Commander Joe Harper clocked up his six-thousandth helicopter flying hour whilst taking off at night from HMS Daring’s flight deck.

The 6,000 hours have been achieved during 32 years of constant service in the cockpit of many of the Royal Navy’s helicopters, in operational theatres all over the world.

Lt Cdr Harper has recently joined HMS Daring as 815 Naval Air Squadron Flight Commander. He is the first Observer of the Lynx Helicopter Force to achieve 6,000 hours flying time.

After reaching the ‘Big 6,000’ the helicopter landed on the flight deck where the hangar doors were opened to reveal a large ‘6,000’ sign held by the ship’s 200 Flight and many of the ship’s company, including the Commanding Officer, with a bottle of champagne.

Lt Cdr Harper said:

Being recognised for achieving this milestone was both very humbling and a great surprise.

Despite all my hours airborne, operating the Lynx at sea is still hugely rewarding, especially from such a fantastic platform as Daring - roll on 7,000!

Lt Cdr Harper became a Qualified Observer Instructor in 1996, training junior Lynx aircrew on 702 Naval Air Squadron, the Lynx training squadron.

In 2001 he achieved the standard of A2 Instructor, one of the highest levels of instructor in the Fleet Air Arm.

Lt Cdr Harper subsequently returned to operational flying from the ships of the Royal Navy, but has remained at the forefront of developing and teaching new techniques and capabilities for the Lynx Helicopter Force, including the wider introduction of night-vision goggles and maritime counter-terrorism techniques, both key skills he himself will use when HMS Daring deploys on operations early next year.

He has also spent three years as the Naval Flying Standards Flight (Rotary Wing) Assessor, or ‘Trapper’ as they are known in the Fleet Air Arm, checking whether pilots and observers still make the grade.

His role has remained vital in the development and assessment of both aircrew and instructors, generations of which have benefited from his wise counsel.

Lt Cdr Harper was also involved in the Falklands conflict where in the opening engagement of the war he targeted the Argentine submarine ARA Sante Fe with a missile from his Wasp helicopter, scoring a hit.

The pilot of HMS Daring’s Lynx, Lt Wesley Blackwell, a United States Navy pilot on exchange, is looking forward to going on operations with such an experienced old hand.

Lt Blackwell said:

It is comforting to know that such a salty wizard is in the left-hand seat; he has always ‘got my six’ [pilot slang for ‘got my back’]!

To celebrate the 6,000 hours milestone, the chefs on HMS Daring made a cake especially for the occasion inscribed with ‘250 days’, the amount of time Lt Cdr Harper has spent in the air.

Observers are the Fleet Air Arm’s Airborne Combat Systems Officers. Skilled tacticians and sensor operators who, when the situation dictates, act as aircraft commanders and co-ordinate the employment of their own and other aircraft.

815 Naval Air Squadron provides fast, agile Lynx helicopters for the frigates and destroyers of the Royal Navy. It is based at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset, and is the largest helicopter squadron in the world, as well as one of the oldest squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm. The squadron operates both the Mk3 and the Mk8 Westland Lynx.

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Published 14 September 2011