The Royal Navy helicopter pilot on board the Plymouth warship HMS Somerset has achieved 2,000 flying hours – a major milestone for pilots.
Lieutenant Nick Bell, 34, pilot of a Merlin with of Four Flight, 829 Naval Air Squadron, from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, in Cornwall, was congratulated by his flight crew and his ship’s captain Commander Mike Smith when they heard of his achievement.
Flight commander Bell, of Bicester in Oxfordshire, said: “It was a really nice surprise to see my colleagues and the flight gathered in the hangar when I landed on the ship. I was shocked to see my commanding officer and everyone standing there when the hangar door opened.
“2,000 hours is a milestone in a flying career. I feel very lucky to do the job that I do and have been very privileged with some of the deployments I have had in my short career.
“To be one of the few Merlin mark two flight commanders from 829 Naval Air Squadron doing this job, embarked in HMS Somerset is fantastic and something that I couldn’t do well without the support of a great team.”
Lt Bell attended Bicester Community College before graduating in 2001 from Loughborough University with an honours engineering degree in aeronautical engineering. He joined the Royal Navy in 2002 following a family tradition – his father was a petty officer from 1967 to 1980 and his grandfather an air engineering mechanic during the 1950s. When not flying with the Royal Navy he is a keen sportsman and supporter of Oxford United.
He added: “Being a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm is a huge honour and has given me the opportunity to travel the world and experience some amazing things. The variety of roles I had to undertake flying the Merlin helicopter has made it all the more interesting. Landing a Merlin helicopter on a Type 23 frigate in rough seas at night is one of the hardest challenges you can get as a pilot.”
One of Lt Bell’s favourite deployments was in 2008 flying from HMS Lancaster and his most rewarding appointment was as a qualified helicopter instructor with 705 Naval Air Squadron at RAF Shawbury.
Lt Bell said: “At Shawbury I taught the next generation of Army, RAF and Royal Navy pilots to fly helicopters at the Defence Helicopter Flying Training School. It was a very rewarding job to take a student who had never flown a helicopter before, through the course and see them pass.”