BENEATH a gloomy grey sky, Petty Officer Nicole Mackie guides one of the Royal Navy’s newest helicopters safely down to the flight deck of HMS St Albans.
For the first time since emerging from a £25m revamp in her Portsmouth base, the Type 23 frigate has been training with the Merlin Mk2.
The helicopter joined the warship for three days of training off the south coast as the frigate readies herself to return to frontline duties after being out of action for a year.
Commander Catherine Jordan, the commanding officer of HMS St Albans, is a former Lynx helicopter navigator and weapons specialist.
She said: ‘It’s apt to have the upgraded Merlin on board what is now the most up to date Type 23 in the fleet.
‘As a former Lynx observer I understand the additional capability a helicopter and its team bring to a frigate.
‘The Merlin Mk2 is a very versatile aircraft keeping us at the forefront of tactical development.’
The Royal Navy says the pairing represents the ultimate combination of submarine hunters, combining the warship’s upgrades with the technology of the new helicopter.
Helping to ensure the 14-tonne helicopter touched down safely on the flight deck were PO Mackie and Engineering Technician (Weapon Engineering) Matt Briggs.
ET Briggs normally looks after the ship’s hi-tech weapons and sensors but is also earning qualifications to become one of the flight deck team.
He said: ‘Working with such a large aircraft was fantastic. ‘It only just fits on the flight deck and it is so powerful.
‘I have seen plenty of deck landings of the Lynx but this was just awesome.’
Training with the helicopter began after HMS St Albans was involved in rescuing a stricken yachtsman in the Channel.
As reported in The News, the frigate joined the search for a dismasted yacht in rough seas.
Her ship’s company chanced upon the trimaran 18 miles south of Portland.
Lieutenant Commander Lauren Hulston, the Merlin’s flight commander, said: ‘The time with St Albans has given the flight the opportunity to integrate with a Type 23.
‘I am very much looking forward to working up with HMS St Albans and delivering a potent war fighting capability with a very capable anti-submarine warfare frigate and Merlin Mk2 operating together.’