First all Navy crew for Merlin destined for CHF
Junglies based at RAF Benson have completed another milestone in the future transfer of the RAF’s Merlin helicopters to the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF). Lt Sam Hodgkinson’s crew has completed the first Merlin Mk3 sortie flown entirely by Royal Navy personnel. The flight was a routine training sortie as part of their ongoing conversion course. Lt Hodgkinson said after the flight, “It is rewarding to be the first of many RN crewed green Merlins and to be part of an exciting period of change for CHF.”
The venerable Commando Sea King Mk4 helicopter of CHF will gradually be retired from service by April 2016. Its intended replacement, the Merlin Mk4 will be derived from Merlin Mk3 airframes currently in service with the 28 Sqn and 78 Sqn Royal Air Force. 65 RN personnel, including Pilots, aircrewmen, engineers and support staff are permanently based at RAF Benson and numbers are progressively growing with time. With the assistance and support of RAF personnel on the Squadron they are making significant progress.
With CHF Sea Kings deployed on Operations in Afghanistan and ongoing preparations for Exercises within the UK and in the Mediterranean the pressures on CHF to ensure a smooth transition are immense. CHF Sea King Qualified helicopter Instructors (QHIs) from 848 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) have already started to fly the Merlin Mk 3/3a operationally in Afghanistan and also on the first RN training course.
Lt Cdr Rob Stephens PRO for CHF added, “There have been a number of challenges facing RN and RM personnel transitioning to the Merlin Mk3 at RAF Benson, but the atmosphere at the base has been superb and a great learning environment for CHF to transfer their skills and experience onto the Merlin. CHF’s primary role is amphibious aviation operations, and the Force’s current Sea King Mk 4s are optimised for this role. Many of its aircrew, engineers and support personnel have a great deal of experience of embarked aviation and fully understand the maritime and littoral environments. The challenge is now to migrate this capability using the new Merlin aircraft and continue to support the Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade at sea and on land. The Commando Merlin will provide CHF with a much more capable helicopter than the Sea King as it promises more payload, range and speed.”