847NAS returns from USA
After a gruelling month long training package in the hot and arid deserts of California, it was time for 847 Squadron personnel to pack up all their belongings, along with their Lynx Mk 9A aircraft, for their 6000 mile return journey to the rather damp, cold and somewhat bleak environment that is Somerset and RNAS Yeovilton.
Why did 847 Squadron go all the way to the Naval Aviation Facility El Centro in California, well it replicates many of the climatic and geographical features that the Squadron will encounter in Helmand Province, Afghanistan and provides excellent value in terms of training. Like El Centro, the base at Camp Bastion is high above sea level and the air can be extremely hot and dusty in the summer and also extremely cold when operating in the mountainous regions in the winter. The locality in which the Lynx Mk 9A helicopter will be operating will no doubt challenge both aircrew and ground crew alike from the battle hardened Helicopter Instructors and particularly the inexperienced aviators and engineers.
El Centro also provided easy access to a number of outstanding firing ranges, unlike anything available in the UK, where the air door gunners can hone their airborne gunnery skills with the 0.5 inch M3M Browning, a weapon that has a longer range, improved accuracy and uses a variety of multi-role ammunition. The Squadron also managed to squeeze in some mutual training with 42 Cdo who were also conducting Pre Deployment Training at the base.
However, it was not all about work. A very welcome fringe benefit of operating at El Centro is its close proximity to San-Diego which proved to be an excellent run ashore and enabled all to recharge some very weary batteries.
Returning the aircraft and support equipment to the UK prove to be a challenge for the Squadron engineers. Fitting all 4 aircraft into the hold of the Antonov 124 looked an extremely difficult and daunting task but with considerable precision and skill they managed to gently manoeuvre their treasured aircraft into the available space.
Lt Cdr Graeme Spence, Senior Pilot 847 added. ‘The training in the USA has now provided the Squadron the essential fighting skills required when they deploy to Afghanistan in January 2013 and we have all appreciated the quality of the training that El Centro provided. The challenging conditions at the base tested many of the Junglies’ skills and, from an aircrew perspective, were able to understand how they and their aircraft performed in the intense hot and dusty environment.’
Photographer – Petty Officer ‘Mez Merrill’