RNAS Culdrose
Near Helston, Cornwall in England
The entrance to RNAS Culdrose (also known as HMS Seahawk) during 2015.
Culdrose is located in Cornwall
Location in Cornwall
Coordinates50°05′10″N 05°15′21″W / 50.08611°N 5.25583°W / 50.08611; -5.25583
TypeRoyal Naval Air Station
Area623 hectares (1,540 acres)
Site information
OwnerMinistry of Defence
OperatorRoyal Navy
Controlled byFleet Air Arm
WebsiteOfficial website Edit this at Wikidata
Site history
Built1947 (1947)
Built byJohn Laing & Son
In use1947 – present
Garrison information
Captain Stuart Irwin
Airfield information
IdentifiersICAO: EGDR, WMO: 038090
Elevation81.6 metres (268 ft) AMSL
Direction Length and surface
11/29 1,829 metres (6,001 ft) Asphalt
18/36 1,055 metres (3,461 ft) Asphalt
06/24 1,045 metres (3,428 ft) Asphalt
Source: UK Military Aeronautical Information Publication[1]

Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose (RNAS Culdrose, also known as HMS Seahawk; ICAO: EGDR) is a Royal Navy airbase near Helston on the Lizard Peninsula of Cornwall UK, and is one of the largest helicopter bases in Europe.[2] Its main role is serving the Fleet Air Arm's front line AgustaWestland Merlin helicopter squadrons.



Admiralty surveyors first started preliminary surveys of land near Helston in 1942. RNAS Culdrose was built by John Laing & Son[3] and commissioned as HMS Seahawk five years after these initial surveys. The station was originally designed to be a wartime airfield lasting about ten years.

The initial plans were for Culdrose to serve as a Naval Fighting School, it soon developed other roles. These varied roles included such things as the trials of the Navy's first jets, training of airborne early warning crews and as a home base for carrier-based aircraft. Over the years the station's emphasis changed from fixed wing aircraft to rotary wing, although its main role remains largely the same.[4]

In 1958, HMS Seahawk was given the Freedom of the Borough of Helston, a parade thanking the town was set up in 1958 and is still happening; on 20 September 2018, the parade celebrated its 60th anniversary.[5]

From 1968 it was one of the designated locations for plan PYTHON, the plan for continuity of government in the event of nuclear war.[6]

2000 onwards

On 18 May 2012, British Airways flight BAW2012 carrying the Olympic Flame, from Athens International Airport, landed at RNAS Culdrose. The aircraft, an Airbus A319 painted yellow and named 'The Firefly', carried dignitaries including Seb Coe, Princess Anne, and David Beckham.[7] The following day the Olympic Flame started its first leg from Land's End, through Cornwall, to Plymouth. Its final destination was the Olympic Stadium in time for the start of the 2012 Summer Olympics.[8]

The air base puts £100 million into the Cornish economy and is one of the largest single-site employers in Cornwall.[2]


Flying and notable non-flying units based at RNAS Culdrose.[9][10]

Royal Navy

Fleet Air Arm


Helicopter operations


814 Naval Air Squadron and 820 Naval Air Squadron operate the AgustaWestland Merlin HM2 primarily in the carrier based anti-submarine warfare role.[11] The Merlin is fitted with an advanced sensor suite of active/passive sonics, Orange Reaper Electronic Support Measures and Blue Kestrel radar and provides a strong force in under-water warfare and anti-surface unit warfare. The unit's various roles include protecting the Royal Navy against surface and sub-surface threats, command and control, transport, evacuation and Search and Rescue capabilities.

824 Naval Air Squadron is the Merlin Operational Conversion Unit, incorporating the Operational Evaluation Unit flight. The Merlin Training Facility (MTF) is part of 824 NAS, and is a first in that it encompasses pilot, observer, aircrewman and engineering training under one roof. The facility comprises a Cockpit Dynamic Simulator (CDS), three Rear Crew Trainers (RCT), six Part Task Trainers (PTT), computer-based training (CBT) classrooms, a Mechanical Systems Trainer (MST) and a Weapon Systems Trainer (WST).

Merlin Depth Maintenance Facility

Hangar W3, home to the Merlin Depth Maintenance Flight.
Hangar W3, home to the Merlin Depth Maintenance Flight.

The Merlin Depth Maintenance Facility (MDMF) performs depth maintenance on AW101 Merlin helicopters[12] of the Royal Navy. MDMF is located at RNAS Culdrose, and is a partnership between the UK Ministry of Defence and Leonardo Helicopters.[13]

For UK Merlin helicopters depth maintenance is centred on a four year cycle. MDMF has a crew-based maintenance philosophy, in which each aircraft is assigned a crew which oversee all activities from induction to output. Each Merlin has a bespoke package of calendar and hourly tasks, emergent repairs and modifications as detailed in a Statement of Work (SoW).

Naval Flying Standards Flight (Rotary Wing)

All rotary wing (helicopter) pilots, observers and aircrewmen are assessed annually by NFSF(RW) examiners. This covers all helicopter squadrons at RNAS Yeovilton as well as Culdrose. The assessment consists of a ground exam and a check flight, and may also occur if a squadron has referred them to NFSF(RW).

Engineering Training Section

The Engineering Training Section (ETS) at RNAS Culdrose is a unit of the Air Engineering Department that is dedicated to the instruction of Merlin Mk2, Mk3 and generic air engineering training. The primary task of the ETS is to train sufficient air engineering personnel to enable the front line to achieve operational capability. It comprises approximately 20 personnel including both service and civilian instructors and is headed by a lieutenant who is responsible to Commander of Air Engineering.

Observer training

750 Naval Air Squadron provides grading and Basic Observer Training for the Fleet Air Arm's observers and operates the Beechcraft Avenger T1.[14]

Unmanned aerial vehicle operations

700X Naval Air Squadron is the Royal Navy's first squadron of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) using ScanEagle aircraft. In 2014, 700X Naval Air Squadron was one of the smallest naval units with twelve personnel but numbers could double the following year.[15]

Other units

1700 Naval Air Squadron

1700 Naval Air Squadron provides qualified specialist personnel to man, operate and maintain all Royal Naval controlled systems in all aviation capable platforms in both the Royal Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. The unit provides tailored teams, ranging in size and specialisms and can comprise aircraft handlers, aircraft controllers, fire-fighters, military police officers, logistical personnel, engineers, medics and other specialists to allow the continued operation and protection of naval aircraft worldwide. Established in December 2007, the unit was previously known as the Maritime Aviation Support Force (MASF). It was renamed 1700 Naval Air Squadron on 31 October 2017.[16]

Motto: Auxilio Ad Alta (Reaching The Heights With Help)

School of Flight Deck Operations

A dummy deck laid out to practise aircraft handling and manoeuvring in a confined space

The Royal Naval School of Flight Deck Operations provides professional training for all naval aircraft handlers. The school also trains other Navy personnel and personnel from the RAF and Army who will be involved in operating aircraft at sea.

Trainees are trained in activities they will be required to carry out during their career, such as tackling aircraft fires and aircraft deck handling. Equipment used includes; mock-up can be produced and adjusted at the instructors control and the "Dummy Deck", a full-sized replica of an Invincible class aircraft carrier's deck allowing trainees to practice their roles in realistic environments, experiencing training with live aircraft with reduced risk and danger compared to operating on a real aircraft carrier.[17]

Motto: Nostris in Manibus Tuti (Safe in our Hands)

Predannack Airfield

RNAS Culdrose has a satellite airfield at Predannack which it uses primarily as a relief landing ground and night flying for helicopter pilot training; it also houses a small arms range and aircraft fire fighting facilities.[18]

HMS Seahawk Volunteer Band

HMS Seahawk Volunteer Band at the 2016 Royal Navy Volunteer Band Association Festival in Portsmouth

The HMS Seahawk Volunteer Band is one of the nine volunteer bands under the Royal Marines Band Service. It performs regularly around Culdrose and Helston, performing a mainly Ceremonial role on events such as the Freedom of Helston Parade.[19][20] Although mainly a wind band as well as a marching band, it also includes jazz ensembles and a corps of drums.[21]

In July 2003, the band was awarded the Bambara Trophy, the recipient of which is considered to be the best band in the Fleet Air Arm.[22] On 7 June 2016 the band performed a dawn fanfare on the King Harry Ferry to honour the official birthday of HM Queen Elizabeth II.[23]

The list of bandmasters are as follows:

Former Squadrons based at RNAS Culdrose

700 Naval Air Squadron
The squadron was disbanded on 31 March 2008. With two Merlin helicopters, Squadron 700M carried out trial modifications and developed tactics and operational procedure. The Motto was : "Experienta Docet" – "Experience Teaches"

Fleet Requirements Air Direction Unit (FRADU)

FRADU was operated by the contractor Serco Defence and Aerospace as part of the RN MAC 2004, using 13 BAE Hawk T1 advanced jet trainer aircraft on lease to the Royal Navy from the RAF and based at RNAS Culdrose. Two of these aircraft were permanently detached to Naval Flying Standards Flight (Fixed Wing) at RNAS Yeovilton where they were flown by RN pilots, but maintained by Serco engineers.

With the draw-down of the Sea King force and the return of British forces from Afghanistan, 854 NAS & 857 NAS were merged back into 849 NAS in 2014.

771 Naval Air Squadron
771 was responsible for search and rescue in Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and the western English Channel, in total an area of approximately 200 nmi (370 km; 230 mi). It also administered the Sea Kings on detachment at HMS Gannet.[2] The squadron was stood down on 1 January 2016, decommissioned on 22 March 2016 and was responsible for saving over 15,000 lives on more than 9,000 missions.[26]

Between October 2004 and March 2018, 829 Naval Air Squadron provided up to three ship's flights capable of deploying with Type 23 frigates.[27] The squadron decommissioned on 28 March 2018, with the unit's aircraft and personnel becoming part of 814 Naval Air Squadron, creating the largest ever Merlin squadron.[28]

849 Naval Air Squadron disbanded in April 2020.[29] This previously provided the Royal Navy's airborne surveillance and control.[30]

Airborne threat simulation

Two Hawk T1 at RNAS Culdrose in 2013

Hawk T1s of 736 Naval Air Squadron provided a maritime aggressor squadron for Royal Navy ships and vessels of other foreign navies, simulating missile attacks and fast jet attacks on warships in the naval exercise areas south and west of Plymouth. The unit was an evolution of the previous Fleet Requirements Aircraft Direction Unit (FRADU) and was supported by the defence contractor SERCO. 736 Sqn was decommissioned in Spring 2022, with the Hawk jets leaving Cornwall on Thursday 24th March 2022.

The squadron was decommissioned on 31 March 2022.[31]

See also



  1. ^ "UK MIL AIP – Culdrose – AD 2 - EGDR - 1 - 1" (PDF). UK MIL AIP – No 1 Aeronautical Information Documents Unit. Archived (PDF) from the original on 8 September 2021. Retrieved 26 March 2020.
  2. ^ a b c "RNAS Culdrose". Royal Navy. Archived from the original on 22 March 2019. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  3. ^ Ritchie, p. 102
  4. ^ RNAS Culdrose History Archived 5 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "RNAS Culdrose - Freedom of Helston 60th anniversary Parade". Archived from the original on 8 September 2021. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  6. ^ "If nuclear war had broken out between Russia and the west, HMS Osprey on Portland would have been a remote hideaway for the government". Dorset Echo. 28 January 2017. Archived from the original on 4 April 2017. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  7. ^ "Olympic torch: Flame arrives in UK for 2012 torch relay". BBC News. 18 May 2012. Archived from the original on 16 October 2013. Retrieved 18 May 2012.
  8. ^ "BBC – Olympic Torch Relay – Land's End to Plymouth". bbc.co.uk. Archived from the original on 22 October 2016. Retrieved 12 September 2015.
  9. ^ "RNAS Culdrose". Royal Navy. Archived from the original on 7 November 2017. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  10. ^ "Navy's drone experts 700X NAS ready to deploy on warships". Royal Navy. 17 August 2020. Archived from the original on 30 September 2020. Retrieved 20 September 2020.
  11. ^ "814 Naval Air Squadron". Royal Navy. Archived from the original on 7 November 2017. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  12. ^ "Integrated Merlin Operational Support Goes Live". defencetalk.com. 4 October 2006. Archived from the original on 1 August 2013. Retrieved 12 September 2015.
  13. ^ "Markets". Serco. Archived from the original on 8 April 2010.
  14. ^ "750 Naval Air Squadron". Royal Navy. Archived from the original on 27 March 2015. Retrieved 5 May 2015.
  15. ^ "Royal Navy launches first 'drone' unit". BBC News. 27 November 2014. Archived from the original on 30 November 2014. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  16. ^ "Maritime Aviation Support Unit becomes 1700 Squadron". Royal Navy. 2 November 2017. Archived from the original on 7 November 2017. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  17. ^ School of Flight Deck Operations Archived 9 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ Predannack Airfield Archived 5 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ "Watch out for sailors marching through Helston today". 20 September 2018. Archived from the original on 25 December 2019. Retrieved 25 December 2019.
  20. ^ "Sailors and Airman Parade Through Helston". 18 June 2015. Archived from the original on 25 December 2019. Retrieved 25 December 2019.
  21. ^ "UK Amateur Orchestras - West Country". Archived from the original on 25 December 2019. Retrieved 25 December 2019.
  22. ^ "Band are on top form". 31 July 2003. Archived from the original on 25 December 2019. Retrieved 25 December 2019.
  23. ^ "A Dawn Fanfare for HM Queen on the King Harry Ferry :: Fal River". Archived from the original on 16 July 2016. Archived 24 June 2019 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ "Trophy-winning musicians". 7 December 2005. Archived from the original on 25 December 2019. Retrieved 25 December 2019.
  25. ^ "Culdroses' HMS Seahawk band on the hunt for musical volunteers". 22 September 2014. Archived from the original on 25 December 2019. Retrieved 25 December 2019.
  26. ^ Graeme, W B. "Final ceremony disbands navy 771 search and rescue squadron at RNAS Culdrose Helston". The Cornishman. Retrieved 22 March 2016.[permanent dead link]
  27. ^ "829 Naval Air Squadron". Royal Navy. Archived from the original on 14 November 2014. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  28. ^ "829 Naval Air Squadron". Royal Navy. 29 March 2018. Archived from the original on 30 March 2018. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  29. ^ "Freedom of Information Request - 849 NAS" (PDF). 19 July 2020. Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 September 2020. Retrieved 10 August 2020.
  30. ^ "849 Naval Air Squadron". Royal Navy. Archived from the original on 7 November 2017. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  31. ^ Armstrong, Paul (31 March 2022). "'Sad and poignant day' as 736 Naval Air Squadron decommissioned". Falmouth Packet. Newsquest Media Group. Retrieved 5 April 2022.