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Observer Badge

Observers are the Fleet Air Arm's (FAA) Airborne Combat Systems Officers. Skilled tacticians and sensor operators, who when the situation dictates act as aircraft commanders, they co-ordinate the employment of their own and other aircraft in both the air and maritime environments. Initial screening of up to 600 candidates a year applying for both Pilot and Observer takes place at the tri-service testing centre at RAF Cranwell where motor and psychometric testing takes place. Then after successful completion of the Admiralty Interview Board some 45 students are offered Observer places at Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) during which they complete flying grading. Up to 36 students a year, including some in-service candidates, then commence Basic Observer Course (BOC) at 750 Naval Air Squadron at RNAS Culdrose flying the Jetstream.

This 6 month course takes them from young men and women who have probably never flown as part of a crew before to aviators skilled in basic aviation techniques, employment of navigation and detection aids, asset prioritisation, multi-tasking and emergency handling. They will have also learnt along with the other RN aircrew about aviation medicine, be qualified in first aid and also the skills required to survive in hostile territory.

The successful students who complete this demanding training are streamed into three aircraft types which, although they all operate in the maritime environment, have subtly differing roles. 6 students a year are streamed for the Sea King Airborne Surveillance and Control (SKASaC) Course, 9 for the Lynx Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) and 12 for the Merlin OCU. OCU training converts Observers, Pilots and Aircrewmen on to their frontline types and then teaches to fight them. On completion they achieve limited Combat Ready status and are deployed to the frontline where after some consolidation they achieve Combat Ready and are awarded certificate of competence.

The SKASaC Observers operate across all the warfare boundaries with their sensor and command system able to contribute to the air, sea and land battles. The course consists of 52 weeks of air, ground and sea surveillance, aircraft control and command training and ends with a deployed phase where the Observer will control NATO aircraft in a busy joint service exercise environment. Thereafter the Observers will join their frontline flight deploying on one of the operational aircraft carriers.

The Merlin is the most advanced Maritime Patrol Helicopter in the world and the crews will find themselves operating from a range of platforms from carriers and Royal Fleet Auxiliaries to Type 23 frigates. Again fitted with ESM and radar this fully digital modern aircraft also carries passive and active sonar devices for submarine detection and prosecution with stingray torpedoes. The Observers spend 12 months on OCU learning initially secondary roles including Search and Rescue and then progressing through the state of the art simulator to the aircraft training for its combat roles.

The Lynx is a Maritime Attack Helicopter and primarily operates by itself or in small groups from frigates and destroyers; the Mk 8 is equipped with radar, electronic surveillance equipment (ESM) and a forward looking infra red device as well as the Sea Skua missile and torpedoes. Observers sit beside the pilots and spend up to 9 months at RNAS Yeovilton learning secondary roles, how to navigate and fight the aircraft and, as for the Merlin training, culminates in an embarked phase where everything is drawn together on a ship at sea. In the frontline both pilots and observers do a probationary period before joining their first flights.