RNAS Yeovilton – also known as HMS Heron – was commissioned in 1940 and is one of the Royal Navy’s two principal Fleet Air Arm bases. The base is located near Yeovil in Somerset and covers around 1,400 acres at the main airfield adjacent to Yeovilton village, with a satellite airfield - Merryfield - 13 miles to the west-south-west, bordering Ilton village.
It is home to more than 75 aircraft, from the Lynx and Wildcat Maritime Force (LWMF), the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF), elements of the Royal Navy Fixed Wing Force (FWF) and the Army Air Corps Aviation Reconnaissance Force (ARF).
LWMF fly the Lynx and Wildcat helicopters that operate primarily from Royal Navy frigates and destroyers. The Lynx is being replaced by the AgustaWestland Wildcat - the Wildcat (pictured above) looks similar to the Lynx but is a significantly improved and advanced helicopter. Deliveries of the Wildcat to RNAS Yeovilton began in 2012. As well as replacing the Navy's Lynx, the Wildcat is replacing the Army’s Lynx, all of which will be based at RNAS Yeovilton. Over the next 3 years the number of Army Air Corps (AAC) Wildcat will increase and these form 1 Regiment AAC and 652 (Wildcat Fielding) Squadron AAC. When the transition is complete, the ARF will command approximately 600 Army personnel at RNAS Yeovilton.
The Sea King Mk 4 helicopters of CHF are being replaced by the battlefield variant of the Merlin helicopter previously operated by the RAF. The Sea King Mk 4 will be phased out by April 2016. Two Fleet Air Arm Squadrons are migrating to the Merlin and will operate at RNAS Yeovilton with their new aircraft. The first squadron arrived in March 2015 and the second moves from RAF Benson mid-2016.
The elements of the FWF based at RNAS Yeovilton are: the Navy’s flying grading squadron of Grob trainer aircraft; and a Hawk detachment of 736 Squadron from RNAS Culdrose.
The air station is also home to the RN School of Fighter Control, the RN School of Aircraft Control, and the Helicopter Underwater Escape Trainer. The Fly Navy Heritage Trust incorporates the world famous Fleet Air Arm Museum, the vintage aircraft of the RN Historic Flight and the Fleet Air Arm Memorial Church - St Bartholomew’s in Yeovilton village.
In addition, the air station hosts a large number of staff from the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) Defence Equipment and Support organisation. Some 4,300 personnel, Service and civilian, including MoD employees and permanent contractors are employed at RNAS Yeovilton.
The Role of Community Relations
Since it was commissioned in June 1940, RNAS Yeovilton has striven to maintain good relations with its neighbours, and will continue to do all that it can to achieve this whilst meeting the changing and challenging operational training demands of today. To help achieve this, the post of Community Relations Officer (CRO) was established in 1976.
The CRO's primary function is to ensure that favourable relations are promoted, fostered and maintained between RNAS Yeovilton and the local community.
The Air Station maintains regular contact with the Parish Councils surrounding both Yeovilton and the satellite airfield Merryfield (adjacent to Ilton and 2½ miles north of Ilminster). When required, representatives of the Air Station meet with the Flying Liaison Advisory Group (FLAG), an established body of parish representatives from the local area.
In addition, the CRO spreads the word about the Air Station's activities in a number of ways and encourages contact with the local community at large. This is achieved by:
• Talks to local bodies (Rotary, Probus, WI etc.) - an illustrated presentation on Yeovilton covering its history, activities and future. Talks may be arranged by contacting the CRO;
• Support of local events - Yeovilton has always supported local events in any way that we can; however, the scope is increasingly limited because of financial constraints. The support available can include the loan of some equipment (tables/chairs/bunting), performances by the Volunteer Band, limited non-financial prizes, and even a Static Helicopter if assets are available. Contact the CRO early to establish what might be possible;
• Engagement with the local horse-riding community, primarily through the British Horse Society - this site has a separate page for 'Engagement with Horse Riders';
• Merryfield Open Evening - our satellite airfield is opened annually to the local community to allow them to:
- see the various aircraft that operate at Merryfield and meet some of the crews;
- witness a range of flying evolutions that take place from the airfield;
- allow them to meet representatives of Service and civilian organisations that make use of the Merryfield estate.
• Visits to Yeovilton. In the past we have welcomed many diverse groups of visitors to the Air Station; unfortunately, manpower streamlining resulted in the disestablishment of the RNAS Yeovilton Visits Officer post and our ability to accept ad hoc visits is much reduced. Requests for visits to the Air Station should be made to the Community Relations Officer (01935 455226).
• Visits to Merryfield. Local people around the satellite airfield may visit the Control Tower to see the day to day training activity. A visit may be arranged by contacting the Officer in Charge at Merryfield (01460 52018).