Nine new Junglies get their wings
Nine new aviators from the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) were awarded their coveted “wings” on graduating from 848 Naval Air Squadron at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton. The ceremony was the culmination of many years of hard work and was the final hurdle in their flying training before becoming fully qualified aircrew.
Trophies were awarded to acknowledge particular individual achievements during training, this year presented by the recently retired guest of honour Rear Admiral Charlier CBE, himself an experienced helicopter pilot. The Westland prize for best overall student was presented to S/Lt Simon Jones RN, whilst the Bill Murton Trophy for best ‘Commando aviation ethos’ went to Lt Tom Morris RN. The Bill Murton trophy is named after a distinguished CHF pilot, killed in a flying accident in 2003.
For the graduating pilots, the ceremony and award of their wings marks the end of three years of flying training. Initial flying grading assessments, lasting two weeks, are followed by flying fixed-wing training aircraft at RAF Barkston Heath in Lincolnshire. They then spend six months flying basic Squirrel helicopters at RAF Shawbury in Shropshire before being chosen for their final operational aircraft types. For Commando-role students this involves 8 months with 848 NAS, converting to the Sea King Mk 4 helicopter and learning the operational tactics that will enable them to operate in any environment and operational theatre, day or night.
The five Commando Aircrewmen have undergone similarly rigorous training, initially with four weeks of aviation military skills training at RAF Henlow and RAF St Mawgan, then five weeks initial flying grading, five weeks basic ground school and seven weeks navigation instruction at RAF Shawbury, followed by four weeks Winchman training at RAF Valley. Cpl Stuart Pirie RM was awarded the ‘Doc’ Love Trophy for the best overall student on course. This trophy is named in honour of a Commando Aircrewman killed during the Falkland Conflict in 1982.
The graduates will now join 845 Naval Air Squadron, the front line Commando Sea King Squadron which is on five days notice to move anywhere in the world. The Origins of the Commando Helicopter Force lie in Naval ship to shore helicopter operations in the jungles of Malaya during the 1963 Malayan Conflict. As a result, members of the force are known as ‘Junglies’ and have a proud heritage built on since that time, serving in Northern Ireland, the Falklands, both Gulf Wars and more recently Afghanistan. All the students will now face a busy period, with amphibious exercises and operational tours of Afghanistan in the near future, where they will have to put their new skills to the test in a demanding environment.