Posted: 31.07.20 at 14:55 by Kurt Robson
A Cornishman who used to watch Royal Navy helicopters flying off the coast as he was surfing is now in command of his own squadron.
Commander James Taylor, who grew up in Holywell Bay on Cornwall’s north coast, has taken on the responsibility of training the ground and aircrews of the Royal Navy’s Merlin Mk2 helicopters.
The 40-year-old is now the commanding officer of 824 Naval Air Squadron, based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose at Helston – the home of the navy’s anti-submarine warfare and airborne early warning helicopter force.
He said: “It is a real honour to take command of this fantastic naval air squadron.
"The work that we do here in training the next generation of air and ground crews is critical for defence – to protect the UK’s nuclear deterrent and aircraft carriers.”
From his office, Commander Taylor can look down on the airfield where the squadron’s six Merlin Mk2 helicopters prepare for daily training sorties.
Around him, in the large office building, hangar and nearby Merlin Training Facility, are 350 men and women of the squadron.
There are around 30 trainee aircrew – either helicopter pilots, observers or aircrewmen - and about 100 trainee engineers.
Running the squadron are an extra 150 engineering staff, 50 staff aircrew and 20 civil servants.
He added: “For some of the aircrew students, this is the culmination of three years of flying training. The pilots, for example, spend a year at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, a year of elementary flying training and then they come to us for their final year at the school of Merlin.
“As well as training with live helicopters, we’ve got seven simulators in the Merlin Training Facility and we are pioneering the use of virtual reality.
"We pride ourselves as an academic environment for learning, right up to an honours’ level degree.
“The first half of their training here is learning how to fly the aircraft. The second half is learning how to use that aircraft to fight.
Then they go to the front line and after that, they come back again for more training with us. Their learning never stops.”
Commander Taylor, a former pupil of Truro’s Penair School and student of Truro College, said that despite growing up in Cornwall which has strong links to the navy, he did not initially think of a military career.
“I remember seeing Royal Navy helicopters flying off the beach when I was surfing,” he added, “but it wasn’t until I went away, to university at Cardiff, that I realised what Cornwall has to offer.”
He said that it took a hateful university careers’ fair to demonstrate to him all the jobs he did not wish to do – many of which involved talking jargon and sitting in front of a computer all day looking at spreadsheets.
“I hated that careers’ fair. I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I started to leave when I saw a navy lieutenant playing a Top Gun video. It took her to show me what I already had in Cornwall. Later I joined a boxing gym and my sparring partner was an observer in the navy, and it was then I knew what I wanted to do.”
Commander Taylor went on himself to become a helicopter observer, a job which combines the roles of mission commander and weapons’ officer, an airborne early warning with 849 Naval Air Squadron.
He took command of 824 Naval Air Squadron in July.