Motto: - 'Experentia docet - Experience teaches'

Role: - Royal Navy Elementary Flying Training school

Base: - RAF Barkston Heath


703 Naval Air Squadron formed in 1942 as a long range catapult squadron operating Kingfisher float planes and Walruses. Flights were deployed on various armed merchant cruisers to carry out convoy patrol work until the Squadron disbanded in 1944. It reformed again in 1945 as the Air Sea Warfare Development Unit, later becoming the Service Trials Unit. New roles included trials of the flexible deck, testing of catapult and arrester gear on all carriers after refits and trials on the Carrier Approach System.

In 1972 703 NAS reformed again, this time at Portland as the Wasp training squadron, a role it would continue to fulfil until disbanding in 1981. 703 NAS reformed again as a training squadron in 2003 at RAF Barkston Heath as the Royal Navy's Elementary Flying Training Squadron operating the Slingsby Firefly as part of the Defence Elementary Training School.

World War II

On 3 March 1942, 703 Naval Air Squadron was formed at RNAS Lee-on-Solent as a long-range catapult squadron flying Fairey Swordfish, and later other aircraft types including Hawker Hurricanes. Flights were deployed in Armed Merchant Cruisers for patrolling duties. The squadron also operated three Supermarine Walrus amphibian aircraft from an airfield in South Africa. On 1 May 1944, the squadron was disbanded.

Air Sea Warfare Development Unit (1945 - 1950)

In April 1945, the squadron was reformed as the Air Sea Warfare Development Unit (ASWDU) at RAF Thorney Island, to conduct experimental trials on a large variety of aircraft including the Grumman Avenger, Fairey Barracuda, Fairey Firefly and de Havilland Sea Mosquito.

Service Trials Unit (1950 - 1955)

In April 1950, the squadron moved to RAF Ford (now the site of HM Prison Ford), and was renamed the Service Trials Unit. At Ford it experimented with British innovations in aircraft carrier operations, including the mirror landing aid and the steam catapult. Another esoteric idea, which was not put into operation, was the plan to land jet aircraft on to a flexible deck, without the use of an undercarriage; trials were conducted by the squadron using a de Havilland Sea Vampire. New aircraft types were also evaluated, and 703 NAS conducted trials on the Fairey Gannet AS1 and Westland Wyvern. In August 1955, 703 NAS and 771 NAS amalgamated to form 700 Naval Air Squadron.

Wasp training squadron (1972 - 1981)

On 22 January 1972, 703 NAS was re-formed at RNAS Portland to conduct training on the Westland Wasp, including from February 1975 advanced training, a role it took over from 706 Naval Air Squadron. On 1 January 1981, after 9 years of training aircrew on the Wasp, the squadron was disbanded.

Elementary Flying Training (2003 - present)

In 1993, the RAF and RN Elementary Flying Training was merged to form a single school at RAF Topcliffe, and from 1995, at RAF Barkston Heath. In 1996, after taking on Army Air Corps training, the unit was renamed the Joint Elementary Flying Training School (JEFTS). In 2003, the RAF withdrew from the organisation, and the unit was renamed the Defence Elementary Flying Training School (DEFTS) operating the Slingsby Firefly until 2006. At this time, the Royal Naval element was organised as 703 Naval Air Squadron, and the Army element became 674 Squadron Army Air Corps.

703 NAS trains about 60 Royal Navy pilots every year. The Squadron previously used the Grob Tutor up until 2018, before transitioning to the Grob Prefect, a Turboprop trainer provided under the new UKMFTS contract.


Kingfisher, Seafox, Swordfish, Barracuda, Reliant, Avenger, Anson, Attacker, Meteor, Sea Balliol, Blackburn YA 8, Corsair, Dominie, Firebrand, Firefly, Sea Fury, Gannet, Sea Hawk, Hellcat, Sea Hornet, Hoverfly, Mosquito, Sea Mosquito, Oxford, Seafire, Vampire, Sea Vampire, Sturgeon, Wyvern, Wasp, Firefly



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This webpage was updated 11th June 2021