January 23, 2019 – More than 30 years after it was first rolled out of the hangar at Yeovil, a veteran Navy helicopter has made its final journey – by sea and road.
This green Sea King Mk4 will serve as a permanent reminder of the affection and gratitude of sailors and Royal Marines for the Norwegian people – and their armed forces.
To mark the 50th anniversary of training British personnel for combat in the Arctic, the Commando Helicopter Force has donated one of its retired warbirds to act as a ‘gate guardian’ – effectively a giant statue which greets any visitor to Bardufoss air base.
The airfield, roughly half way between Narvik and Tromsø, is home to Exercise Clockwork, where generations of naval aviators and engineers have learned how to maintain and operate helicopters to support the operations of Royal Marines – the UK’s cold weather warfare specialists – on the ground.
This year troop-carrying Merlins and reconnaissance Wildcats from RNAS Yeovilton have been joined for the first time by the Army’s Apache gunships.
The aircraft donated to the Norwegians for this 50th anniversary year is one of the most battle-hardened helicopters in modern Fleet Air Arm history.
Since being delivered from Westland in 1985, ZE427 has seen action in both Gulf War and the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s – it was hit by nine machine-gun rounds while heading for Sarajevo in September 1994, damaging the fuel tanks, tail and main rotor blade.
It remained part of the CHF fleet until 2016 when the Mk4s were retired in favor of the faster, more powerful and more advanced Merlins.
After a spell at the home of naval engineering in Gosport, HMS Sultan, the Sea King was flown for the last time – slung beneath an RAF Chinook – the short distance to Marchwood Port in Southampton Water to be loaded on to a ship for transportation to Sørreisa, from where it completed its journey to Bardufoss on a low-loader.
It will be formally handed over to the Norwegians/dedicated next month.