‘WORKING with the F-35 is the pinnacle of my naval career – even if everything on the flight deck is doing its very best to try and kill me.’
Those are the words of Lieutenant Commander Richard ‘Ritchie’ Turrell, flight deck officer on Britain’s new £3.1bn aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The 45-year-old naval officer heads up the team of aircraft handlers responsible for safely guiding helicopter and jet pilots onto the 65,000-tonne behemoth’s four-acre flight deck.
Queen Elizabeth is currently based off the east coast of Florida to carry out the latest phase of flight trials with stealth jet the F-35B.
And as the intensity of tests begin to ramp up, 27-year naval veteran Lt Cdr Turrell admitting keeping his team safe while dealing with the jets was a constant challenge.
‘When you step out onto that flight deck it’s no exaggeration to say that pretty much everything out there is doing its very best to kill you,’ he said.
‘It is an incredibly dynamic and dangerous place to work.
‘You’ve got a 75ft drop off the ship into the sea, you’ve got aircraft lifts, you’ve got jet exhaust and jet efflux the equivalent to hurricane-force winds as they take off, and the jets are noisy – they run at around 140 decibels, they’re quite possibly one of the noisiest things you’ll ever experience.
‘It’s like playing a 3D game of chess while keeping everyone safe.’
His squad of aircraft handlers have been honing their skills for months in anticipation of Queen Elizabeth’s deployment to America.
And despite the dangers of the job, Lt Cdr added his team was always ‘awestruck’ whenever they dealt with the F-35s.
‘When we first landed the jets on we all got goosebumps and all had a little smile on our faces,’ he said.
‘However long we have all been doing this we all get very, very excited by this.
‘None of us are jaded enough to not be absolutely thrilled by the experience.’
Lt Cdr Turrell started his career as an aircraft handler and serving on HMS Illustrious during flood relief operations in Mozambique in 2004, as well as operations in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and the relief effort in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines six years ago.
But he said his latest role on Queen Elizabeth was a dream come true.
‘This is the job I always wanted as soon as these ships were built and F-35 was announced this was absolutely going to be my pinnacle job in the navy,’ he added.