Helicopers of the Royal Navy

History of Helicopters in the Fleet Air Arm

Originally formed as the Royal Naval Air Service in 1910, it was merged with the Royal Flying Corps in Apr 1918 to form the Royal Air Force. Following the Inskip Award in Jul 1937, the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Air Force and its shore bases transferred back to Royal Navy control on 24 May 1939 and the term Fleet Air Arm stuck. It was only officially adopted as the name of the service in 1953 ! The Royal Navy placed an order for 45 Sikorsky VS-316s (R-4s) in 1945 and became the first service in the world to order helicopters for operational use.


Since the 1970s, rotary wing aviation has eclipsed that of fixed wing with the Fleet Air Arm, following the major re-organisations announced in the UK 1957 Defence White Paper, which essentially retired the main carrier fleet, and the 1966 Defence White Paper which cancelled the replacement large strike carrier, CVA-01. The Fleet Air Arm provides maritime attack and combat air support for the fleet and its task groups. Anti-submarine, AEW, SAR and replenishment tasks are conducted plus helicopter assault and support for the Royal Marines, together with the comprehensive training necessary to complete these missions. Some training and other second line duties are carried out by civilian contractors or in joint civilian-military teams.


From 1 Oct 1999 the Commando Helicopter Force joined with the support and battlefield helicopters of the Army Air Corps and the Royal Air Force in the new Joint Helicopter Command (JHC). JHC is unified under Commander-in-Chief, Land. The RN contributes aircraft (plus about 1,000 personnel) from 845, 846, 847 and 848 Squadrons plus other aircraft from an attrition reserve. The FAA also contributes 705 Squadron to the tri-service Defence Helicopter Flying School.
The main FAA operational shore bases are HMS Heron (RNAS Yeovilton, tail code VL) and HMS Seahawk (RNAS Culdrose, tail code CU). A SAR detachment was based at Prestwick (HMS Gannet, tail code PW) in Scotland, until Mar 2016

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Fleet Air Arm assets, bases and personnel are the responsibility of Flag Officer, Naval Aviation (FONA).