- Fleet Air Arm
For the division of the Royal Australian Navy, see Fleet Air Arm (RAN).
Fleet Air Arm Founded 1937 Country United Kingdom Size 6,200 personnel
Part of Royal Navy Engagements World War II
Operation Musketeer (Suez Crisis)
Commanders Commodore-in-Chief HRH Prince Andrew, Duke of York Insignia Roundels Aircraft flown Attack Lynx Patrol Merlin
Transport Sea Kingof the British Armed Forces Components Surface fleet
Fleet Air Arm
Royal Naval Reserve
Nursing Service (QARNNS)
Royal Fleet Auxiliary
Royal Marines Reserve
Special Boat Service
History and future History of the Royal Navy
History of the Royal Marines
Customs and traditions
Future of the Royal Navy
Ships Current fleet
Personnel The Admiralty
Officer rank insignia
Ratings rank insignia
Related civilian agencies of
the Ministry of Defence
Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service
The Fleet Air Arm (FAA) is the branch of the British Royal Navy responsible for the operation of naval aircraft. The Fleet Air Arm currently operates the AgustaWestland Merlin, Westland Sea King and Westland Lynx helicopters. Helicopters such as the Lynx and Westland Wasp have been deployed on smaller vessels since 1964, taking over the roles once performed by biplanes such as the Fairey Swordfish.
The Fleet Air Arm was formed in 1924 as organizational unit of the Royal Air Force which was then operating the aircraft embarked on RN ships - the Royal Naval Aviation Service having been merged with the British Army's Royal Flying Corps in 1918 - and did not come under the direct control of the Admiralty until mid-1939. During the Second World War, the Fleet Air Arm operated both aircraft on ships and land-based aircraft that defended the Royal Navy's shore establishments and facilities.
BeginningsMain article: Royal Naval Air Service
British naval flying started in 1909, with the construction of an airship for naval duties. In 1911 the Royal Navy graduated its first aeroplane pilots at the Royal Aero Club flying ground at Eastchurch, Isle of Sheppey under the tutelage of pioneer aviator George Bertram Cockburn, but in May 1912 naval and army aviation were combined to become the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). The Naval Wing of the RFC lasted until July 1914 when the Royal Navy reformed its air branch, under the Air Department of the Admiralty, naming it the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS).
By the outbreak of the First World War, in August 1914, the RNAS had more aircraft under its control than the remaining RFC. The main roles of the RNAS were fleet reconnaissance, patrolling coasts for enemy ships and submarines, attacking enemy coastal territory and defending Britain from enemy air-raids, along with deployment along the Western Front. In April 1918 the RNAS, which at this time had 67,000 officers and men, 2,949 aircraft, 103 airships and 126 coastal stations, merged with the RFC to form the Royal Air Force.
Fleet Air Arm
On 1 April 1924, the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Air Force was formed, encompassing those RAF units that normally embarked on aircraft carriers and fighting ships. On 24 May 1939 the Fleet Air Arm was returned to Admiralty control under the "Inskip Award" (named after the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence who was overseeing Britain's re-armament programme)and renamed the Air Branch of the Royal Navy. At the onset of the Second World War, the Fleet Air Arm consisted of 20 squadrons with only 232 aircraft. By the end of the war the worldwide strength of the Fleet Air Arm was 59 aircraft carriers, 3,700 aircraft, 72,000 officers and men, and 56 Naval air stations.
Durign the war, the FAA operated fighters, torpedo bombers and reconnaisance aircraft. In the waters around the British Isles and out into the Atlantic Ocean, operations against enemy shipping and submarines in support of the RN were mounted by RAF Coastal Command with large partol bombers and flying boats and land-based fighter-bombers. The aircraft carrier had replaced the battleship as the Fleet's capital ship and its aircraft were now strike weapons in their own right. The top scoring fighter ace with 17 victories was Commander Stanley Orr, the only Royal Marine ace was Ronald Cuthbert Hay with 13 victories.
After the war the FAA needed to fly jet aircraft from their carriers. The jet aircraft of the era were considerably less effective at low speeds than propeller aircraft, but propeller aircraft could not effectively fight jets at the high speeds flown by jet aircraft. The FAA took on its first jet, the Sea Vampire, in the late 1940s. The Sea Vampire was the first jet credited with taking off and landing on a carrier. The Air Arm continued with high-powered prop aircraft alongside the new jets resulting in the FAA being woefully outpowered during the Korean War. Nevertheless, jets were not yet wholly superior to propeller aircraft and a flight of ground-attack Hawker Sea Furies downed a MiG-15 and damaged others in an engagement.
As jets became larger, more powerful and faster they required more space to take off and land. The US Navy simply built much larger carriers. The Royal Navy had a few large carriers built and completed after the end of the war but another solution was sought. This was partly overcome by the introduction of a Royal Navy idea to angle the flight deck away from the centre line so that the aircraft landing had a clear run away from the usual forward deck park. An associated British invention, intended to provide more precise optical guidance to aircraft on final approaching the deck, was the Fresnel lens optical landing aid. Another Royal Navy invention was the use of a steam powered catapult to cater for the larger and heavier aircraft (both systems were adopted by the US Navy).
Defence cuts across the British armed forces during the 1960s led to the withdrawal of existing carriers and cancellation of replacements including the CVA-01 design. A new series of small carriers, the Invincible classanti-submarine warfare ships (known as "through deck cruisers") were built and equipped with the Sea Harrier a derivative of the Hawker Siddeley Harrier VTOL aircraft. These carriers incorporated an upswept forward section of the flight deck that deflected the aircraft upward on launch and permitted heavier loads to be carried by the Harrier, for example in weaponry, and the system was used extensively in the Falklands war. The Harrier went on to form the basis of the Royal Navy's fixed-wing strike forces.
Two new Queen Elizabeth class carriers able to operate the navalised version of the US Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II aircraft are under construction; it is not certain if both carriers will enter service no the number of aircraft that will be purchased.
Helicopters also became important combat vehicles starting in the 1960s. At first they were employed on the carriers alongside the fixed-wing aircraft, but later they were also deployed on most smaller ships. Today at least one helicopter is found on all ships of frigate size or larger. Wasps and Sea Harriers played an active part in the 1982 Falkland Islands conflict, while Lynx helicopters played an attack role against Iraqi patrol boats in the 1991 Gulf War and Commando Sea King HC4s as well as the Lynx HMA Mk 8 from HMS Argyll, assisted in suppressing rebel forces in Sierra Leone.
In 2000 the Sea Harrier force was merged with the RAF's Harrier GR7 fleet to form Joint Force Harrier. The Fleet Air Arm began withdrawing the Sea Harrier from service in 2004 with the disbandment of 800 NAS. 801 NAS disbanded on 28 March 2006 at RNAS Yeovilton (HMS Heron). 800 and 801 NAS were then combined to form the Naval Strike Wing, flying ex-RAF Harrier GR7 and GR9s. On 1 April 2010, NSW reverted to the identity of 800 Naval Air Squadron. The Harrier GR7 and GR9 retired from service in December 2010 following the 2010 SDSR.
The Fleet Air Arm has a museum near RNAS Yeovilton (HMS Heron) in Somerset, England at which many of the great historical aircraft flown by the Service are on display, along with aircraft from other sources. There is also a Fleet Air Arm museum inside the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) in Auckland, New Zealand. On display there is a full-size replica Fairey Swordfish, along with historic items and memorabilia.
The FAA today
The Fleet Air Arm has approximately 6,200 personnel, which is over 15% of the Royal Navy's total strength.
Chief of Staff (Aviation and Carriers) and Rear Admiral Fleet Air Arm
REAR ADMIRAL TOM CUNNINGHAM April 2010-?
Fleet Air Arm flying squadrons are formally named Naval Air Squadron (NASs), a title used as a suffix to the squadron number. The FAA assigns numbers in the 700-799 range to training and operational conversion squadrons and numbers in the 800-899 range to operational squadrons. During WWII the 1700 and 1800 ranges were also used for operational squadrons.
Squadrons active in the FAA are:
1. Designated 705 Squadron rather than a NAS due to being an integral part of the Defence Helicopter Flying School.
Culdrose (HMS Seahawk) is near Helston in Cornwall and Yeovilton (HMS Heron) is near Ilchester in Somerset. Their satellites or relief airfields are at Predannack and Merryfield respectively.
Squadrons that were active at some point can be found in the List of Fleet Air Arm aircraft squadrons.
In 1938, Admiralty Fleet Orders 2885 announced the formation of an Air Branch of the Royal Naval Reserve. Thirty three unmarried men signed up for 18 months full-time flying training; however, before these first volunteers were able to gain their wings Britain was at war.
At the end of hostilities in 1945 the RNVR(A) was 46,000 strong, with over 8000 aircrew. Post war the RNVR(A) comprised 12 dedicated reserve squadrons, grouped regionally into Air Divisions. However, defence cuts in 1957 disbanded the five Air Divisions, and the following year the RNVR was merged with the RNR.
The RNR Air Branch was commissioned at RNAS Yeovilton on 16 July 1980, and shortly afterwards 38 ex-regular aircrew began refresher training. Today the Air Branch comprises approx 250 ex-regular service Officers and Ratings, covering all aviation trades, tasked to support the Fleet Air Arm.
The FAA operates fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. The FAA uses the same designation system for aircraft as the RAF.
Three types of fixed-wing aircraft are operated by the FAA for training purposes: pilot training is carried out using the Grob Tutor while, from March 2011, observer training is done using four Beechcraft King Air 350s. The third type is the Hawk T1, which is used to simulate enemy aircraft for training purposes including AEW Fighter Control, air-to-air combat and ship attack.
Today the larger section of the FAA is the rotary-wing part. Its aviators fly four types of helicopter, and within each type there are usually several marks/versions which carry out different roles.
Pilots designated for rotary wing service train at the Defence Helicopter Flying School, RAF Shawbury. The School is a tri-Service organisation consisting of civilian and military instructors (including Naval instructors and a Naval Squadron) that take the student from basic flying through to more advanced flying such as instrument flying, navigation, formation and captaincy.
The oldest aircraft in the fleet is the Westland Sea King, which performs missions in several versions. The Sea King HC4 serves as a medium-lifter and troop-transporter in support of the Royal Marines. The HAS5U model operates in the search and rescue and utility roles, while the Sea King HU5 is designed for search and rescue work (although the HAS5Us are often called HU5s as well). The HAS6C is used for assault transport training; and the ASaC7 operates in the AEW role.
Intermediate in age is the Westland Lynx. The Lynx AH7s serve the FAA in the observation and anti-armour helicopter roles, but are mainly a light-lift helicopter. Along with the Sea King HC4s, they are part of the Commando Helicopter Force, which provides support to 3 Commando Brigade of the Royal Marines.
The surface combatants of the Royal Navy have their helicopters provided for the most part by the Lynx HAS3 and HMA8 aircraft. These Lynxes have primarily an anti-submarine warfare role and anti-surface vessel role. They are able to fire the Sea Skua anti-surface missile, which was used to combat the Iraqi navy in the 1991 Gulf War. It can be armed with Stingray air-launched torpedoes and depth charges for anti-submarine warfare, as well as a machine gun. The Lynx was originally envisaged for surface combatants that were too small for the Sea King, but now equips most surface ships of the Royal Navy.
The newest helicopter in the FAA is the AgustaWestland Merlin HM1. This has now replaced the Sea King HAS6 in the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) role, and is deployed on the various ships of the Royal Navy. The EH101 airframe is to replace the Sea King ASaC7s in the AEW role on Britain's planned new aircraft carriers.
- Vice-Admiral Richard Bell Davies (1886–1966) - the first naval aviator to receive the VC and the first naval aviator of the Fleet Air Arm to reach flag rank
- Vice-Admiral Sir Lumley Lyster (1888–1957) - drew up attack plan in 1935 that was used for the Battle of Taranto five years later
- Admiral Sir Reginald Portal (1894–1983) - naval aviator who was the younger brother of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Portal (1893–1971)
- Henry Allingham (1896–2009) - last survivor of Battle of Jutland (Royal Naval Air Service then Royal Air Force, never a member of the Fleet Air Arm).
- Captain Henry Fancourt (1900–2004) - a pioneering aviator, he had a distinguished career in naval aviation until 1949. Worked for Short Bros and Hartland.
- Ralph Richardson (1902–1983) - English stage and screen actor, volunteered as a navy pilot during Second World War and rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander in the Air Branch
- Admiral of the Fleet Sir Caspar John (1903–1984) - First Sea Lord 1960-63 and the first British naval aviator to reach the highest rank within the RN.
- Admiral Sir Walter Couchman (1905–1981) - naval observer who earned his pilot's wings too, he led the fly-past for the Coronation Fleet Review in June 1953.
- Laurence Olivier (1907–1989) - English stage and screen actor and director, volunteered as a navy pilot during the Second World War and rose to the rank of Lieutenant in the Air Branch.
- Lieutenant Commander (A) Eugene Esmonde (1909–1942) - posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for leading 825 Naval Air Squadron Swordfish torpedo bombers in an attack on German capital ships during the "Channel Dash".
- Michael Horden (1911–1995) - actor, served as fighter controller during World War II.
- Kenneth More (1914–1982) - actor, including films such as Reach for the Sky and Sink the Bismarck.
- Commander Charles Lamb (1914–1981) - author of the Second World War Fleet Air Arm autobiography War in a Stringbag
- Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Compston (1915–2000) - served briefly in the British Army, then in the RAF for two years, before transferring as a pilot to the Royal Navy in 1938.
- Admiral Sir (Leslie) Derek Empson (1918–1997) - naval pilot who joined the Royal Navy as a naval rating. In his flying career, executed 782 aircraft carrier landings without a mishap.
- Rear-Admiral Cedric Kenelm Roberts (1918-2011) - (always known as 'Chico') a distinguished naval pilot who joined the Royal Navy as a naval rating in 1940. He was personal pilot to Vice-Admiral Lumley Lyster in 1943, commanded three Naval Air Squadrons and was shot down during the Korean War. Later, he commanded three Naval Air Stations and ended his naval flying career as Flag Officer Naval Flying Training 1968-71 Link to obituary, The Daily Telegraph, 5 September 2011.
- Lieutenant-Commander Charles Wines ("Charlie Wines") (1917–1991) - joined the Royal Navy as a Supply Assistant, flew Swordfish torpedo bomber as a rating pilot in the Second World War. Commissioned as a pilot in 1944 he later spent more than twenty years, in the same job as a serving and retired officer, as the FAA Drafting Officer and as such the career manager for thousands of FAA ratings.
- Rear-Admiral Dennis Cambell (1919–2000) - inventor of the angled flight deck for aircraft carriers in 1951.
- Rear-Admiral Nick Goodhart (1919-) - inventor of the mirror-sight deck landing system for aircraft carriers in 1951.
- Captain Eric "Winkle" Brown (1919-) - holds the world record for the most types of aircraft flown by an individual (487 types). As a test pilot he made the first ever a jet landing on an aircraft carrier in December 1945.
- Lieutenant Commander John Moffat (1919-) - crippled the German battleship Bismarck on 26 May 1941.
- Admiral Sir John Treacher (1924-) - naval pilot who was promoted Rear-Admiral at the age of 45 and held four important flag appointments before leaving the Royal Navy in 1977, despite many expecting him to become First Sea Lord, for a career in business. Was at the helm of Westland during the political drama of the 1980s.
- Admiral Sir Ray Lygo (1924-) - naval pilot who joined the Royal Navy as a naval rating in 1942 and who reached First Sea Lord in 1978. led a successful career in industry and was Chief Executive and Deputy Chairman of British Aerospace in the 1980s.
- Sir George Martin (1926-) - record producer for the Beatles.
- Admiral of the Fleet Sir Ben Bathurst (1936-) - First Sea Lord 1993-95 and the last Royal Navy officer to be promoted to five-star rank.
- Rear-Admiral Sir Robert Woodard KCVO (c.1939-) - naval aviator commanded two Naval Air Squadrons, two warships, a Naval Air Station, the Clyde submarine base and ended his career as the Flag Officer Royal Yachts 1990-95, the only aviator to command HM Royal Yacht Britannia.
- Rear-Admiral Iain Henderson (c.1948-) - the first officer, and first naval officer, to hold the modern appointment of Air Officer Commanding 3 Group 2000-01.
- Vice-Admiral His Excellency Sir Adrian Johns (c.1952-) is the first naval aviator to hold the post of Governor of Gibraltar.
- Sub-Lieutenant Prince Andrew, Duke of York (1960-) - served during the Falklands War 1982 and for some years afterwards.
Some 64 naval pilots and 9 observers have reached flag rank in the Royal Navy and 4 Royal Marines pilots general rank in the Royal Marines. Four of these admirals with pilot's 'wings' were air engineering officers (test pilots) and two were supply officers; two of the non-executive officers reached four-star rank: a supply officer, Admiral Sir Brian Brown (1934-), and a Royal Marine, General Sir Peter Whiteley (1920-).
- At least 21 naval air engineering officers have reached flag rank (including the four test pilots (see above).
- Fleet Requirements and Aircraft Direction Unit
- List of air stations of the Royal Navy
- List of Fleet Air Arm aircraft squadrons
- List of aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm
- Royal Australian Navy Fleet Air Arm
- List of active United Kingdom military aircraft
- Royal Air Force
- List of RAF stations
- ^ Naval Aviation History & FAA Origins - Fleet Air Arm Archive
- ^  Flight Magazine, 13 May 1911
- ^ The Australian Naval Aviation Museum (1998). Flying stations: a story of Australian naval aviation. St Leonards, NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86448-846-8.
- ^ Sea Your History - Interwar: Fleet Air Arm
- ^ Fleet Air Arm Officers' Association - Notable Dates
- ^ "Naval Strike Wing". www.royalnavy.mod.uk. Royal Navy. http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/operations-and-support/fleet-air-arm/naval-air-squadrons/naval-strike-wing/. Retrieved 25 June 2010. [dead link]
- ^ a b Naval Air Squadrons royalnavy.mod.uk
- ^ Royal Navy unveils its new King Air
- ^ "Jutland Veteran Celebrated as Hologram". IWM. Archived from the original on 2008-06-27. http://web.archive.org/web/20080627080404/http://www.iwm.org.uk/server/show/ConWebDoc.3699. "Britain’s oldest man and the last known survivor of the Battle of Jutland, Henry Allingham aged 109 has been captured as a hologram"
- Ray Sturtivant & Theo Ballance, The Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm, first edition 1994, Air Britain, Kent UK, ISBN 0-85130-223-8.
- Fleet Air Arm website
- Fleet Air Arm archive
- RUM RATION - The unofficial Royal Navy forum - sister site to the famous ARRSE
- Fleet Air Arm Rating Aircrewmans Association
- Fleet Air Arm Association
- Fleet Air Arm Officers' Association
- Aircraft Handlers Association
- Telegraphist Air Gunners (TAGS) Association (Disbanded)
- Aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm Flight 1940.
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