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Fleet Air Arm

There are several navies around the world that refer to the organisation that controls the aircraft on board their ships as a Fleet Air Arm. The oldest of these organisations in origin is the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy. Thus, it is often customary when referring to the Fleet Air Arm in a context that is clearly not related to one navy of those that have Fleet Air Arms to assume that the Royal Navy is being referred to.

The Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm has a long and distinguished history. That story is told very effectively at an important museum situated on the edge of Yeovilton airfield in Somerset.

Fleet Air Arm currently operates BAe Sea Harriers and Westland Commando helicopters. Usually some of these are embarked on the aircraft carriers of the Royal Navy. Smaller, attack helicopters such as the Westland Wasp and Lynx have been deployed on smaller vessels since about 1960, taking over the roles once performed by fragile biplanes such as the Fairey Swordfish.

Wasps and Sea Harriers played an active part in the 1982 Falkland Islands conflict, whereas Lynxes played a significant attack role against Iraqi patrol boats in the Gulf War and Commandos assisted in suppressing rebel forces in Sierra Leone.

Many pilots and seafarers owe their lives to air-sea rescue missions flown by the fleet's helicopters. The effectiveness of the Fleet Air Arm has thus been repeatedly demonstrated.


The Royal Naval Air Service[?] (RNAS) was established in January 1914. By the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the RNAS had more aircraft under its control than the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). The main roles of the RNAS were fleet reconnaissance, patrolling coasts for enemy ships and submarines, attacking enemy coastal territory and defending Britain from enemy air-raids. The leading RNAS WWI ace was Raymond Collishaw with 60 victories.

In April 1918 the RNAS, which at this time had 67,000 officers and men, 2,949 aircraft, 103 airships and 126 coastal stations, was merged with the RFC to form the Royal Air Force.

In 1937, The Naval Air Branch, later known as the Fleet Air Arm, was returned to Admiralty control. At the onset of the WWII Second World War, the Fleet Air Arm consisted of 20 Squadrons and 232 aircraft. By the end of that War the strength of the Fleet Air Arm was: 59 aircraft carriers, 3,700 aircraft, 72,000 officers and men and 56 air stations all over the world. The aircraft carrier had replaced the battleship as the Fleet's capital ship and its aircraft were now strike weapons in their own right.

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