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Helicopter history as last pilots get their wings

Lynx pilots parade for the last time - the class of 2015 and the class of 1978. Photo: RNAS Yeovilton

The last pilots to train on Lynx and Sea King helicopters have taken part in a parade in front of some special guests in Somerset.

Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, visited RNAS Yeovilton today to see the last pilots complete their flight training on the Lynx and Sea King helicopters and present them with their Wings.

They included Lt Danielle Welch - the first and last female pilot to do all her training on the Lynx.

I've been allocated to a flight and I'll be heading out operationally this Summer. Post that we're going to be converting ultimately onto the Wildcat aircraft in due course so again that's another challenge to look forward to and by all accounts that's going to be a brilliant aircraft to fly as well.

– Lt Danielle Welch, Pilot
Four of the pilots and observers presented with their Wings today - Lt Max Cosby, Lt Danielle Welch, Lt Rhydian Edwards and Sub Lt Christian Smith Credit: RNAS Yeovilton
Lt Tom Lofthouse and Lt Matt Clark have qualified to fly the Sea King Credit: RNAS Yeovilton

The Duke of York flew both Sea King and Lynx helicopters during his Naval career and he was back at Yeovilton today as guest of honour to present the final group of newly qualified pilots with their wings, in front of their proud families.

He paid tribute to the Squadrons that had trained the pilots and observers.

The Duke of York at the ceremony at RNAS Yeovilton Credit: RNAS Yeovilton

This is a very very important ceremony in the life of the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm and has bought back memories to me of when I stood where these six young people are, a very long time ago.

I don’t think you really realise how much hard work and time those who receive their Wings have actually put in.

The work the Royal Navy does is vital to the interests of the UK and the work that these young people do make a huge difference to all of us.

– The Duke of York
The Duke of York's own Lynx course photo (he's second from right) Credit: RNAS Yeovilton

The aircraft have been used in all major conflicts the UK has been involved in for the last three decades - but are now set to be replaced. Today the original Lynx pilots from 1978 joined the new graduates for a final Wings parade.

I flew as a flight commander and then later had a ship with a Lynx on board as well so yes we've seen it all the way around the world really.

– Cdre MARTIN MANNING Royal Navy (retired)
Today's new pilots pose in front of a Lynx with four of the very first Wings course recipients (from 1978) Credit: RNAS Yeovilton

To say the Lynx is "part of the furniture" at RNAS Yeovilton is something of an understatement. Designed and built at Westland just down the road in Yeovil, it's been in service since the late seventies. The Sea King is even older than that - it's been around since 1969 but both are reaching the end of their lives, soon to be replaced by the Wildcat and Merlin respectively.

A display by Lynx helicopters at Yeovilton airbase Credit: ITV News

Everyone who flies their own aircraft type falls in love with it at some point and it will be a wrench for some of us to see it go. In my opinion it's been the world's best helicopter for operating off ships and so it's going to be difficult to see it go but we're replacing it with something that's even better.

– Cdr ALASTAIR HAIGH Commanding Officer, 815 Naval Air Squadron

The Duke of York said today brought back memories for him and it is sure to have created lifelong memories for the six who received their wings today.