The final phase of the Merlin Operational Conversion Force (OCF) training course took place last week on Salisbury Plain for eight Commando Helicopter Force students, as they deployed on Exercise Merlin Vortex.
Operating out of Rollestone Camp; two Merlin Mk3 helicopters, four trainee crews and a support staff of over 40 personnel, supported 3 Commando Brigade and other Land Force elements in various operational taskings in addition to course based tactical scenarios to test the students flying skills.
Exercise Merlin Vortex is the culmination of the students flying training which tests their tactical flying abilities. The students deployed to a semi austere field environment, away from their Main Operating Base in RAF Benson.
This course, No. 23 has two ab-initio students, as well as six Sea King convertees, but all the students completed the same demanding flying training.
This type of training puts the students under pressure in a more challenging environment, similar to what they may face on operations, and provides more realistic training for both the Merlin OCF students and the tasking units.
With an impressive 100% availability, the Merlin crews flew approximately 15 hours a day in direct support of tasking from Land Forces.
One of the taskings for the students was load lifting out of Bickleigh Barracks,Plymouth, in support of 42 Cdo RM, in order for 20 Royal Marine troops to complete their Landing Point Commander qualification.
Lt Cdr John Wilson, Officer Commanding Merlin OCF, said,
“We are here to operate with and support troops, so training with live troops is vital for the student pilots and aircrewmen. Deploying to field exercises like Merlin Vortex is ideal for us to train and to provide training for the units we support.”
The next step for the Merlin students will be moving to their front line Squadron, for most this will be 845 Naval Air Squadron, where they will undergo further front line training to achieve their Certificate of Competency and accredited as Aircraft Commanders.
Lt Pete Crease, Merlin Student said,
“The Merlin training has been a great challenge and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m very much looking forward to deploying on Exercise Black Alligator, in the USA, in the summer to learn more advanced flying techniques, such as dust landings, it will also be the first time I have flown abroad.”
The Merlin Operational Conversion Force will relocate to RNAS Yeovilton in July to rejoin 846 NAS who moved earlier in the year.