Shipboard Helicopter Operations

Retired Royal Navy Captain Mike Sant and Alan Porter

Retired Royal Navy Captain Mike Sant has experienced a full and varied 35 year career on land, sea and in the air. He gave a presentation to the Probus Club of Basingstoke for retired professional and business managers, recounting his flight training and operating helicopters around the globe for the Senior Service.

Mike joined the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth in 1958. Initially cutting his teeth training as a young naval officer he spent weekends and summer camps learning to fly the legendary Tiger Moth biplane. This propeller driven aircraft from the 1930s was a basic trainer with an open cockpit and most did not have a radio. It was often described as easy to fly but very difficult to fly well.

Probus Mike Sant talk 1
Tiger Moth Flying Training

Then selected for fixed wing flying training Mike underwent joint service jet instruction with the RAF at their Linton on Ouse base in Lincolnshire, but due to chronic air sickness while instrument flying, was re-streamed to fly helicopters. He attended the elementary Royal Naval helicopter flying school at Culdrose in Cornwall and was awarded his Wings in 1964.

Mike illustrated the basic principles of helicopter aerodynamics and its controls describing the many problems he encountered when learning to fly the early types of single engine machines including how to land the aircraft on engine failure.

Probus Mike Sant talk 2
Wasp Landing on HMS Eskimo

Posted for anti-submarine duties flying the then new Wessex helicopter, he was on board the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious in the Far East. The Wessex had a crew of four; two pilots, sonor operator and observer. Operating day and night, he explained how they searched for submarines and what life was like on board an extremely busy, congested ship alongside fast jet aircraft. A Wessex had to be airborne every time a jet took off or landed should one go overboard and the crew needed rescuing.

Promoted to be the Flight Commander on the Frigate HMS Eskimo, Mike and his men flew the single engine Wasp helicopter in the anti-submarine role. Perched precariously on a tiny platform cum hangar at the aft end of the ship, he described operating and managing a team in an inhospitable Arctic Ocean environment.

Probus Mike Sant Talk 3
Wasp on its landing pad on HMS Eskimo

He was promoted to be the Senior pilot of 819 RN Squadron based at Prestwick, positioned on the west coast of Scotland. They were equipped with modern Sea King helicopters, its main role being an anti-submarine aircraft. However, the base was ideally geographically positioned to support the deployment of nuclear submarines from nearby Faslane together with search and rescue emergency cover for both sea and the Scottish mountains. Mike’s last flying job was as Commander (Air) at Portland where he flew Wessex V.