Sea King in the hills

203(R) Squadron

203 Squadron 202 Sqn Badge

203 Squadron was formed with the birth of the RAF having existed under Naval unit numbers previously dating back to 27th August 1914. It operated in France during the Great War and was serving in Iraq at the outbreak of WWII. It was subsequently based all round the globe during the conflict operating many different aircraft types, engaged predominantly in convoy and anti-submarine roles around the Mediterranean and North Africa. By the end of the war, the unit was operating in India and the Far East. After the Japanese surrender 203 Squadron remained in the Far East ferrying repatriated and released personnel from the Far East to India.

The Squadron returned home in May 1946 and was stationed at Leuchars in Coastal Command where it carried out Air/Sea rescue operations. No. 240 Squadron was re-numbered No. 203 Squadron on 01 November 1958, and flew Shackletons on maritime patrols duties from Northern Ireland until the beginning of 1969, when the Squadron moved to Malta. Early in 1972, having converted to Nimrods, difficulties arose over the use of Maltese bases and No 203 was transferred to the NATO base at Signonella in Sicily, returning in April to Luqa.

The Squadron was disbanded on 31st December 1977. On 01 April 1999 the RAF Sea King Operational Conversion Unit (SKOCU) was given Squadron status and became No. 203 (Reserve) Squadron. It continues to this day training aircrew for Search and Rescue duties flying Sea King Mks 3 and 3a aircraft.

In its various guises, 203(R) Sqn has operated the following aircraft:

  • Southamptons
  • Rangoons
  • Singapore flying boats
  • Blenheims
  • Baltimores
  • Wellingtons
  • Liberators
  • Lancasters
  • Neptunes
  • Shackletons
  • Nimrod
  • Sea King

203(R) Squadron is a No 2 Group asset equipped with Sea King HAR 3 helicopters and is part of the RAF SAR Force.

The squadron is commanded by a Squadron Leader and the staff comprises of up to eight Qualified Helicopter Instructors (QHIs) and eight Qualified Helicopter Crewman Instructors (QHCIs). 203(R) Squadron engineering support is provided by VT Aerospace under contract to Augusta Westland.

The primary task of 203(R)Squadron is to provide initial and refresher training for aircrew employed on Search and Rescue duties with the two Sea King HAR 3 operational squadrons, No 22 and No 202 Squadron.

In addition, the squadron provides SAR operations when directed by the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) based at RAF Kinloss, QHI and QHCI training, staff officer familiarisation courses, and Sea King HAR Mk3A to Mk3 conversion courses.


Ground School consists of a 3 week package taught by the Royal Navy at RNAS Culdrose.

During the ‘A’ phase, students undergo familiarisation with the Sea King and progress to general handling, emergency procedures, instrument flying and introduction to Reversionary Night Flying (RNF). A simulator based procedural Instrument Flying (IF) element introduces the student to upper air work and approaches into controlled airspace at any convenient time in the course.

The ‘B’ Phase introduces the student to use and management of the Sea King Flight Control System procedures, as well as handling of specific malfunctions and over water hovering.

The ‘C’ Phase introduces the students to role specific flying such as deck, situation and wet winching by day and night.

The final phase brings together all elements previously learned on the course but with a more operational bias, as well as introducing under slung loads, mountain flying and advanced navigation. Other than mountain flying, the elements of this rely on previous experience being translated to the Sea King.

During the mountain flying trip, students are taught advanced techniques, moving away from the Central Flying School (CFS) basics and applying Search And Rescue (SAR) scenarios. The final element of the D Phase is exercise Yellow Scorpion, a two day real time SAR exercise where the students are assessed in both seats.

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