COMMANDO HELICOPTER FORCE MERLIN COURSE STUDENTS GRADUATE
Fifteen graduate aviators from the Commando Helicopter Force reached the culmination of months of hard work as they were awarded their prestigious ‘Wings’ and graduation certificates by Commodore Matt Briers, after completing the 22 Merlin re-role course at RAF Benson.
The CHF Merlin courses are currently run by 28(AC) Squadron, Royal Air Force until the Operational Conversion Flight return to RNAS Yeovilton in mid 2015 when it will embed in 846 Naval Air Squadron. After 28 (AC) Sqn is disbanded 845 NAS will perform this role.
Lt Cdr Richard Bartram, a graduating convertee to the Merlin Mk3 and the new Operations Officer at 846 NAS said, “The Operational Conversion Course to Merlin Mk3 has been another string to my bow as a Naval Aviator. Having previously flown maritime (Lynx Mk3 and 8) and light battlefield helicopters (Lynx Mk7 and Mk9) before converting to the support helicopter role which has been another variation in the discipline of flying naval helicopters. Everyone here at RAF Benson have been great at assisting the Naval personnel with getting to grips with a new aircraft type and now we, the Naval service, look forward to the move back to our spiritual home of RNAS Yeovilton in April and developing the aircraft's capabilities further”.
He went on to explain his role in the new squadron, “As the Operations Officer I am in charge of the day to day and future programming of the Squadron. I align our Squadron capability with the requests for our services, such as troop carrying for the Royal Marines or Army, Under Slung Load movements for the RAF or any other requests for our new and highly capable aircraft”.
For the eight Pilots and seven Aircrewmen, this ceremony signified the end of six months of Merlin flying training at 28(AC) Squadron being trained by both RN and RAF instructors. The training comprised five phases; Basic, Advanced, Instrument Flying, Night and Operational. They now look forward to an extremely busy and challenging period on their Front-Line units, operating in Norway and deployments around the world.
The training concluded with the Merlins being deployed to the field on a tactical exercise on Salisbury Plain for a week for Exercise MERLIN STORM, where the students were taught to fight the aircraft. Learning to operate in a more austere environment and working with troops in realistic tactical scenarios.
The students had to plan how they were going to complete their tasking, utilising the skills taught during their training in order complete the mission; all within a tactical scenario set by the instructors which included air threats and Battle Space Management constraints, and operating with ground troops.
Of the 15 students, 14 are ex Sea King aircrew re-roling and facing the training challenges of operating a more modern ‘digital’ aircraft. The Merlin Mk3 controls are similar to the Sea King so for the conversion students the training is about learning how to fight a more complex aircraft.
The students will now move to their front line unit, 846 Naval Air Squadron. This marks the end of the operational phase of training which will be followed by a period of consolidation training lasting approximately six months on the front line.