849 Naval Air Squadron






849 Naval Air Squadron are the ‘Eyes of the Fleet’ through their role as Airborne Surveillance and Control or Airborne Surveillance and Control.  It operates the Sea King Mk 7 Airborne Surveillance and Control both at its home of RNAS Culdrose in South West Cornwall and abroad wherever they may be required.  A single pilot flies the aircraft with two observers operating the radar and surveillance systems in the back of the helicopter. One of the observers occupies the spare front seat for take off and landing and to assist the pilot during any aircraft malfunction. 

The Sea King Mk 7 is equipped with the Searchwater 2000 radar, a state of the art long-range radar, which is capable of remarkably accurate detections of both surface and air targets. The roles that the Squadron can conduct are constantly evolving as the potential of the new radar system is realised.  Also fitted is Orange Crop Electronic Support Measures equipment. This is capable of passively detecting enemy ship and aircraft radar emissions. 

The core squadron tasks are:

Surveillance for the Fleet.  The Searchwater 2000 radar in this airborne platform greatly enhances the detection ranges of inbound air raids, allowing surface units more time to react and combat the attack.  Once enemy aircraftare detected the two Observers operating the mission system can direct friendly fighters to intercept the attack or report the target for a ship-fired missile engagement.  Additionally, using its radar, the Sea King Airborne Surveillance and Control Mk 7 can also be employed to achieve long-range detection of hostile ships and Fast Attack Craft.  Friendly aircraft or surface-to-surface missiles can then be guided on to the target using over-the-horizon targeting techniques.

The Squadron has three flights, Headquarters (HQ) Flight, A Flight and B Flight.

849 Headquarters, based at RNAS Culdrose, provides support to the front line flights and is a training facility for AEW Observer aircrew. It operates three aircraft to achieve this. Continuation training has recently involved 849 HQ detaching to Norway and the Netherlands to participate in NATO exercises.

849 A and B Flights embark as required in the aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal and Invincible respectively, each operating three AEW Mark 7 Sea Kings. During the 90’s both flights were involved in numerous supporting missions around the globe. Including Operation Sharp Guard in the Adriatic, blockading the coast of Montenegro and also Operation Southern Watch in support of UN Resolutions against Iraq in the Persian Gulf. In 2000, B Flight took part in Operation Palliser (Sierra Leone) and also in the largest ever, amphibious exercise to take place in the Middle East, Exercise Saif Sareea In January 2003 A’ Flight embarked on HMS Ark Royal for the first Far East deployment since ‘Ocean Wave’ in ’97.

In December 2006 849A flight were recommissioned as 854 squadron and 849B flight reformed as 857 squadron.

Each flight comprises approximately 60 personnel. A skilled workforce of 43 men and women provides engineering support. Trained in all aspects of air engineering, they are employed in a variety of challenging roles and can carry out any task from changing a filament to complex sheet metal repairs and re-wiring aircraft looming. Mechanics are employed in three trade areas (Mechanical, Electrical and Radio) and are supervised by their respective trade supervisor. At any time a mechanic may be called upon to work on any aircraft system or component and all aspects of flight servicing.
Additionally, each of the flights has 15 aircrew and an Air Engineering Officer. The standard crew of each aircraft is one pilot and two observers and tasking can vary from the control of fighter Jet operations to anti surface warfare to support of overland and amphibious operations.

Historic aircraft
Formed in 1943, the Squadron operated Avenger aircraft until the end of the Second World War, winning battle honours at Palembang, Okinawa, Japan and Normandy, until decommissioning in November 1945. The Squadron reformed in 1952 with the Skyraider AEW aircraft, which was replaced in 1960 by the Gannet AEW Mark 3. The Gannet continued to operate with great success until the decommissioning of the Royal Navy's last conventional Aircraft Carrier, HMS Ark Royal, in 1978.

In 1982 the Falkland Island campaign highlighted the need for the Fleet to have integral Airborne Early Warning and within nine weeks the Nimrod's Searchwater radar had been adapted and fitted to the Sea King Mark 2, providing the AEW variant. 849 NAS was re-commissioned in 1984 and the Squadron continues to provide AEW flights of three aircraft to each of the Invincible class carriers.



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