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History of the Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton

Sea Fury
Sea Fury

The Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton was commissioned HMS Heron on 18 June 1940 as a base for Naval fighter aircraft. Since then it has grown to become a multi-role station and has become the base of the Commando Helicopter Force with Sea King Mk IV, and Lynx Mk7  and the Lynx Helicopter Force providing the Lynx Mk3 and Mk8 Flights to ships at sea. It is also the home of Heron Flight, a communications unit of Jetstream aircraft, together with the Royal Navy Historic Flight which fly the Swordfish, Seahawk, and Sea Fury at air shows around the country during the summer. It is also due to receive the squadron of Grob aircraft from Plymouth, which are used for initial aircrew grading, and air experience flying for potential naval aircrew.

The Station is one of the busiest military airfields in the United Kingdom and is amongst the largest in Europe, normally housing seven squadrons and around one hundred aircraft of varying types. It is also the biggest aviation establishment in the Royal Navy, employing over 3000 service personnel and civilians to operate and support squadrons, and to provide the many facilities required to run an Air Station.

Yeovilton Squadrons played a key part in the Falklands Campaign in 1982 with some 120 aircraft involved. It also played a vital role during the Gulf War 1991 providing aircraft in support of the 1st Armoured Brigade in the desert, and naval forces at sea. 

From 1992 until 2000 Sea Kings of the Commando Helicopter Force were based in Bosnia to support UN and NATO operations in that theatre, and by the time they left were the longest serving UK unit in that region.  Commando Helicopter Force assets were also involved in operations in Sierra Leone. In addition embarked Sea Harriers were actively engaged in operations over Iraq policing the No Fly zones established in 1991, in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Sierra Leone.

Most recently helicopters from Yeovilton from both the Commando and Lynx Forces were engaged in operations during the Gulf War in 2003 – the operations in support of land forces involved the largest amphibious heliborne landing since Suez as well as significant anti-armour operations by Lynx and Gazelles.

Aircraft and personnel from Yeovilton continue to provide day to day support to operations at sea and on land around the world - Iraq, Afghanistan, and the anti drugs effort in the West Indies being particular examples.

The Air Station is co-located with a large support staff element of the MoD Defence Logistics Organization, as well as the Fleet Air Arm Museum which houses a wonderful collection of naval aircraft, and an extensive records and research department.

Since its commissioning in 1940, Yeovilton has always enjoyed very strong links with the local community especially Yeovil, and Ilchester with the Freedom of the Borough of Yeovil in 1962, and as honorary parishioners of Ilchester in 1990.

HMS Heron has changed much over the years and the final departure of the Sea Harrier from naval service in 2006 was a milestone, however, it remains very much at the heart of Fleet Air Arm and Royal Navy and will continue to do so.