A Navy helicopter pilot was surprised to find that it was more than just his engine purring during a 300-mile drive back to base.

Instead he had picked up a furry hitchhiker for the journey from Birmingham Airport to the Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, near Helston in Cornwall.

Tigger the kitten spent the ride clinging to the rear bumper of Lieutenant Nick Grimmer's BMW, and it was not until the following day, when he heard a "very quiet meowing" coming from his car, that he began to investigate.

The 32-year-old, who flies submarine-hunting Merlin helicopters with 814 Naval Air Squadron, known as the Flying Tigers - said: "I'd landed at Birmingham after a holiday and travelled via Bristol and Bath before arriving in Cornwall quite late.

"I looked in the boot, under the bonnet and climbed all over and under it and still couldn't find what was making the noise.

"I called up some of our air engineers who came and helped me to start dismantling my pride and joy. On taking off the rear bumper we were greeted by a tiny tiger-striped kitten.

"He must have had a long journey but remarkably is unharmed. I am never late for work and was left with no option but to take my new friend in with me.

"The place he has felt most comfortable is in my flying helmet, which is the only place he is able to sleep."

The squadron wasted no time in naming the tiny creature Tigger, not least because he has markings similar to their multimillion pound grey and white helicopters.

Efforts are now being made to trace the kitten's owners, but the team is also happy to take it under their wing.

Commander Brendan Spoors, Commanding Officer of the Flying Tigers, said: "We are more than happy to adopt Tigger as a mascot. After all, it is a tradition for Royal Naval units to have a ship's cat."

He added that the kitten must have an owner somewhere between the base and Birmingham, and that his team has been instructed to launch "Operation Tiger Kitten".

"With the help of social media they are hoping to be 'mission complete' by the end of the week.

"They'd better be, as we are due to join the rest of our squadron who are currently embarked on HMS Ocean on exercise in the Baltic before sailing for the Mediterranean," said Commander Spoors.