The arrival of two AS350 BA Squirrel helicopters of 723 Squadron on the flightdeck of the Spanish Armada oil replenishment ship ESPS Cantabria signalled a significant moment for both the Armada and the Royal Australian Navy, the first occasion of a foreign helicopter embarkation for both navies.
Cantabria has been in Australia on extended deployment with the RAN since February this year, participating in training and exercises with Australian naval ships and helicopters. This deployment will culminate with Cantabria’s participation in the Australian International Fleet Review in October.
The 723 Squadron Cantabria flight, comprising two aircraft and 25 personnel, was the culmination of months of planning by both navies. The opportunity for 723 Squadron Flight 1 to embark in Cantabria provided training and experience in operating rotary-wing aircraft at sea.
“A unique element of the deployment is the coordination and management of operating two aircraft simultaneously to a single spot,” said LCDR James Hawley, FLYCO in ESPS Cantabria. “This is a process that requires a high level of cooperation from Cantabria’s bridge, operations room, deck team, 723 (squadron) bmaintenance and aircrew,” he said.
“A graduated approach to these operations was adopted to build the necessary expertise and ensure aviation safety, with the end-state being two aircraft conducting simultaneous visual and instrument approaches to the flightdeck including vertical replenishment, rotors turning refuels and crew changes for nine sorties without a break in flying operations.”
Cantabria shares many systems in common with the RAN’s forthcoming Canberra class LHDs and Hobart class AWDs, both of which are designs from the same Spanish company, Navantia, thus providing an opportunity for RAN personnel to familiarise themselves with Cantabria’s systems.