The Royal Navy’s experts in remotely-piloted air systems (RPAS), the 700X Naval Air Squadron (NAS), have reached two major milestones in recent weeks.
The squadron flew its Puma drone successfully in the harsh conditions of the Arctic Circle for the first time while back at their Culdrose base, instructors trained their 700th student.
It has been a hectic few months for the squadron who have been testing and operating the latest technology. It comes as the Royal Navy is embracing and investing in innovation to enhance future operations and show its commitment to being a leader in technological advancements.
In the Norwegian wilderness, unmanned aerial vehicle Puma underwent environmental training in a series of flight trials.
700X worked alongside Royal Marines from 29 Commando Royal Artillery, small boat specialists 47 Commando, 45 Commando and Royal Navy flagship HMS Albion. In each scenario, they wanted to see how Puma performed and reacted to below-freezing temperatures and icy landing sites.
On the water, as part of unmanned trial Exercise Autonomous Advance Force (AAF), Puma was launched from a 539 Squadron LCVP (landing craft vehicle personnel) for the first time. Data and information from its flight was fed into HMS Albion using an artificial intelligence system – also a first for 700X and Puma.
The squadron also worked alongside a fleet of Norwegian stealth corvettes, testing how Puma could work in amphibious operations.
Lieutenant Commander Justin Matthews, commanding officer of 700X, said: “This has proven to be a testing and challenging arena and has provided a great deal of information in the successful operation of Puma.
“700X will be looking ahead to the next stages which will include flying from larger ships and follow-on work from AAF.”
Alongside its work developing remote air systems for use on warships, 700X also trains people across defence in using quadcopters. These are useful tools which can be deployed by forces such as the Royal Marines or the British Army.
They have now trained 700 students and completing this latest course was Able Rate Sean Esson, from Fleet Diving Unit.
The instructors, a mix of aircrew, air traffic controllers, engineers and a Royal Marine, teach the first part of the course in the classroom, on the basics of how to fly remotely and how to use the technology for tactical benefit.
Then the students take to the skies for practical training from the nearby Second World War airfield at Predannack, on the Lizard peninsula. Their last test is a training mission on the spectacular, rocky coastline of north Cornwall.
Handing over the 700th certificate, Lt Cdr Matthews said: “I congratulate AB Esson on completing his course. This is an important milestone for us, as we continue to increase the capability of this technology across the whole of defence.
“There is no doubt that remotely-piloted technology is the future and we are making significant strides in this field of expertise. As we move forward, we shall continue to research, develop and test these systems, especially in their use with the Royal Navy.”