Commodore Jock Alexander, Commanding Officer of Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, welcomed guests to a Rider Engagement Day, organised in conjunction with The British Horse Society, where senior aviators from RNAS Yeovilton exchanged information about low flying with riders before taking the guests on a flight in a Sea King helicopter.
Representatives from the Society were joined by proprietors of BHS approved centres, Pippin Equestrian, Bicton College and Cannington Equestrian Centre as well as members of the local and equestrian press – along with a BBC film crew.
Commander Neil Thompson, who is in charge of flying operations at RNAS Yeovilton, talked about the challenges of low flying, the limitations imposed on low flying in helicopters in the UK and the aircrew’s awareness of the impact of low flying. “Our task is to train our aircrew to be as professional and effective as possible, but we also have a responsibility to the local communities and we won’t fly lower than is necessary for the task and, wherever possible, we vary our flight paths to distribute the disturbance.
“If the aircrew see horses with riders, they will do all they can to avoid them but, in some cases, last-minute manoeuvring near the horse can be more disturbing than a gentle climb to increase height.”
Squadron Commanding Officer, Commander Richard Sutton, explained how aircrew are trained and gave an insight into the challenges of operational low flying. “Flying training, particularly low flying, is a highly technical challenge requiring regular practice and tight control,” he said. “We fly at 55 metres per second and were able to show our guests how difficult it can be to see horses and their riders – particularly if they don’t help us by wearing high-visibility garments.”
BHS Development Officer Julie Garbutt worked closely with the Air Station on the programme for engagement and said: “We and all military aircrew have a shared interest, and that is the safety of riders and aircrew. My work with the Naval Air Station at Yeovilton epitomises the respect we have for each other. They have a very important job to do and it is a testament to their commitment to the local communities that they elect to engage as extensively as they do. This was a most successful event and we were delighted to be able to assist.”
Sheila Hardy, Senior Executive (BHS Safety), has also worked very closely with the MOD on low flying issues for many years and said: “I completely support Commodore Alexander’s request for all riders to wear hi-viz clothing on themselves and their horse. While it may not always be seen in every situation by a low flying helicopter, the research by RNAS Yeovilton and the MOD has shown that without it you are unlikely to be seen at all. If you can be seen, the pilot will make every effort to avoid you, which has been evidenced in reports received by the BHS from many riders. Please do help the aircrew to help to keep you safe.”
More information on low flying aircraft can be found on the BHS website.