The Worshipful Company of Distillers were once again kindly invited to attend Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Yeovilton in Somerset as VIP guests to witness the graduation ceremony of some truly inspiring individuals finishing their course at 825 Naval Air Squadron. Myself, Matthew Russell, and Renter Warden, Nicholas Carr, attending as the Master’s representative, were fortunate to be able to attend the day.
After many years of dedication, perseverance, and intense training, only an elite few pass the Wildcat course. Once they have, these remarkable individuals move to operational roles either piloting or operating as the observers of the multi-million-pound Royal Naval helicopters, operating all over the world.
For those of us less familiar with Naval Aviation, I thought I should let you know a little about the Navy’s Wildcat, without giving away any national secrets. The Wildcat operates at sea, taking off and landing on naval ships of all manner of sizes. It undertakes reconnaissance missions such as tracking drug trafficking vessels covertly from many miles away over the horizon of the sea. It is deployed to protect the fleet, monitoring the air and the sea all around with its sophisticated radar systems. It is used to hunt and attack submarines and can deploy troops of Royal Marines for missions and of course the Wildcat is often the first glimmer of hope in far flung disaster zones bringing aid and support. These are just a few of the many roles that the Wildcat and its crew will undertake.
825 Squadron does not only train the pilots and observers of the future, but it also has the responsibility to train the crews that maintain the aircraft. Without these highly skilled and dedicated engineers, working in difficult conditions for long periods of time with little or no support, the Wildcat simply cannot operate and perform the vital tasks demanded of it across the globe.
The Worshipful Company of Distillers offers a prize to the individual engineer (a rating not an officer) that has scored the highest in their class with this year’s winner being LAET Thomas Lewis. His citation read as follows:
LAET Lewis passed his evaluation board, covering all aspects of the marking syllabus above and beyond the standard required. He displayed signs of nerves at the start of the board assessment but gained confidence as it progressed. He started with a ‘downbird’ scenario where an aircraft had an electrical system fault and had to land at a nearby airfield. LAET Lewis was able to ask precise questions to the aircrew which helped him identify the cause of the fault expediently. By use of a detailed electrical system diagram, he confidently displayed that he possesses the trade knowledge required of a supervisor. He was also able to articulate the composition of the team needed to recover the aircraft, including the range of ranks and authorisations required. He detailed the equipment they would need to facilitate a repair, as well as the logistical process for obtaining new components. Perhaps more remarkable, LAET Lewis undertook his assessment whilst serving on board HMS Queen Elizabeth at the end of a busy and challenging embarkation. It is to his credit that he was able to perform so well on board as a Stage 2 Supervisor, and simultaneously revise for his evaluation board, often at the end of busy 12-hour shift rotations.
We can all be proud of his achievement and our wider affiliation with 825 Naval Air Squadron.