Merlin Transition from RAF to RN
The transition of the Merlin Mk 3 from the RAF to the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF), replacing the Sea King Mk 4, has begun in earnest at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire. Captain Matt Briers RN, CO CHF recently spent the day at Benson to meet up with the ”vanguard” of CHF personnel who are now working on the RAF Merlin Force. The thirty-four RN maintainers, six pilots and six aircrewmen have hit the ground running and are learning the skills needed to operate and maintain such a complex aircraft. Capt Briers said “I am absolutely delighted that transition has got off to such an excellent start, the RN contingent have been warmly welcomed by their RAF counter-parts and have already started to make a notable contribution to the engineering effort.”
The RN maintainers formed the initial manpower to arrive at RAF Benson in February of this year and are made up of experienced Merlin Mk 1 and Sea King Mk 4 engineers from both Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Culdrose and RNAS Yeovilton.
Captain Briers added, “The professionalism and drive of our people to get involved in all aspects of the RAF Merlin Force has made an excellent impression across both frontline squadrons at RAF Benson. They have also got heavily immersed on deployed operations, both on pre-deployment-training in Jordan and in Afghanistan on Op HERRICK. In this Joint environment, a number of the key engineering posts are now occupied by Royal Navy senior ratings through the Flight and Watch system as the 2 services fuse together with a common aim – operational output. That said, while working in an Air Force Sqn, the RN ethos is strongly enforced through the Divisional system, robust Jackspeak and the occasional outburst of good natured banter!”
The six flying crews have now been embedded within 28 (AC) Squadron on the Merlin Operational Conversion Flight (OCF) for two months, completing an in depth ground school and simulator package prior to flying in the real aircraft. The crews are made up of experienced aviators with significant “Junglie” credentials. All the pilots are Qualified Helicopter Instructors and five of the crewmen are Qualified Aircrewmen Instructors, but despite their previous experience they have all had to adapt to the digital cockpit and computer based training in both the Simulator and classroom. Their RAF counterparts instructing on the OCF are keen to pass on their extensive knowledge of operating the Merlin on operations in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, much of which was working alongside the Junglies in these difficult environments. Since their arrival two months ago the aircrew have experienced a very warm welcome and positive start.