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Meet the Wasp Pilots

Keith Copus (left) with John Beattie and Simon Thomas (right)

Keith Copus

Keith joined the Royal Navy as a Junior Naval Aircraft Mechanic (JNAM) at HMS Ganges in October 1961, aged 15 years old. After a year at Ganges, his training continued at HMS Condor in Arbroath, Scotland and in 1963 Keith was drafted to RNAS Yeovilton to work on The Sea Vixen aircraft. After a tour on 890 Squadron in HMS Ark Royal Keith went to the Mobile Aircraft Transport and Salvage Unit (MARTSU) at HMS Daedalus, Lee on Solent. In 1968 Keith was selected for advanced engineering training and attended a 2 year Mechanicinans Course at HMS Condor. The intention was to align the Mechanicinans qualifications with the Artificer Apprentices. On completion of the Mechanicinans course Keith was drafted to the Engine Repair Shop at HMS Heron. At this time, Keith applied for a Commission as aircrew and then successfully passed the Flying Grading and Admiralty Interview Board and Joined BRNC Dartmouth in September 1970. On completion of flying training on the Chipmunk, Hiller 12E and Whirlwinfd Mk 7 helicopters, Keith was selected to fly as a Junglie and trained to fly the Wessex Mk5, joining 848 squadron in 1972. On completion of a tour on 848 Keith was appointed to the Inter Service Hovercraft Trial Unit at Lee on Solent as a trials Pilot. The Royal Navy were investigating the viability of using Hovercraft in the Minesweeping role. In 1976 Keith was appointed to fly the Wasp and after training at RNAS Portland, was appointed to be Flight Commander of HMS Yarmouth, a type 12 Frigate. In 1978 Keith retired from the Royal Navy and obtained my Commercial Pilots Licence.

Keith has flown a total of 12 different Helicopter types in South Africa, Ras Al Khaimeh (UAE), 15 years in the North Sea flying Super Puma 332L with Bond Helicopters. A Dauphin A365N Air Ambulance in Glasgow and finally in 2000, setting up the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance at Henstridge, Dorset, flying a Bolkow 105. In 2004 Keith retired from professional flying.

Since 2013 Keith has been involved with Navy Wings in its various forms and is delighted to be given the opportunity to fly the iconic Wasp helicopter, the type that he flew in 1978. The Wasp was the first purpose designed helicopter for small ship operations and they formed the basis of Lynx and Wildcat shipborne operations that the RN conduct today.

Simon Thomas

Simon joined BRNC Dartmouth on the 13th September 1972, at the age of 18 and spent a term at Dartmouth, a term cruising the Caribbean in HMS Intrepid, and two more terms at Dartmouth were followed by Fleet Training in HMS Lowestoft in 1974. Simon then joined to HMS Kingfisher as Navigating Officer for first-of-class trials and then commissioning into the Fishery Protection Squadron. At the end of that appointment, a lucky turn of fate gave Simon a couple of months navigating HMS Tenacity. With three Rolls Royce Proteus gas turbines, that was something of a change of pace, particularly when it came to a speedy blind pilotage up the River Tay.

After flying training on the Bulldog and Gazelle, Simon flew the Wasp 1978-81, in Ajax, Eskimo and Juno Flights. Then a Sea King conversion and two years of challenge and variety on 819 Squadron at Prestwick. From December 1982 to July 1984, Simon had the privilege of commanding HMS Crichton, once again in the Fishery Protection Squadron. Followed by another conversion, and a couple of years flying the Lynx on HMS Brilliant and then to the Sea Kings as a Senior Pilot of 820 Squadron in HMS Ark Royal. Simon then went on to FOF3 staff, and then Pilots’ Appointer December 1990 to July 1993. Simon left the Royal Navy in 2008.

After Simon left the Navy he started work with the Lynx/Wildcat Project Team at Yeovil,  running the strip and disposal programme for the Navy’s and Army’s Lynx before retiring in 2019

Simon now flies his own Piper Arrow and now the Wasp for Navy Wings Heritage Flight.