The British Royal Navy’s first Merlin ‘Crowsnest’ helicopter has entered service to prepare for the UK Carrier Strike Group mission.

Dubbed as ‘eyes in the sky’, Merlin will soon start operational training. The UK’s flagship aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, will begin its maiden deployment this spring.

The helicopter features a large radar dome and will provide airborne surveillance and the control of other aircraft (ASaC) in the carrier’s strike group.

Each Merlin helicopter has two observers (mission and tactical specialists) and one pilot. The aircraft will be based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose.

RNAS Culdrose commanding officer captain Stuart Finn said: “The delivery of this first aircraft at Culdrose represents an enormous amount of hard work, dedication and passion across the defence and industry enterprise. It marks a significant moment for the Royal Navy as we become a carrier task group navy capable of deploying around the world as a sovereign group or with our allies.

“It is especially poignant that these aircraft are based here at Culdrose, the home of ‘the eyes of the fleet’, and we are proud of our association with airborne surveillance and control and before that, airborne early warning.

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“These aircraft will work side by side with the rest of the Merlin Mk2 force to provide a world-class line of defence for our global navy, adding above water expertise to our already renowned submarine hunting skills.”

Lockheed Martin UK was awarded a £269m contract for the Crowsnest Airborne Surveillance Programme in 2017. Thales and Leonardo are subcontractors under the programme.

The Crowsnest helicopters replace the Sea King ASaC.7 DRLO helicopters in the (retired) 849th Navy Aviation Squadron.