Royal Citadel visit for Commando Helicopter Force Merlin
A Commando Helicopter Force Merlin Mk3 aircraft, flown by CHF Aircrew from 28 (AC) Sqn based in RAF Benson, supported 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery training from their Royal Citadel base in Plymouth.
With the weather conditions on the day poor at Plymouth and Dartmoor, cloud bases down to around 400 ft and visibility, at times, of less than 2km, the aircrafts first move was from the confined area of the Citadel with an eleven man team in patrol order with a simulated 500kg pallet of ammunition underslung on the cargo hook onto Dartmoor.
Returning to the Citadel, the second move took the 1900kg L118 105mm Light Gun, also underslung, from the Citadel up to Dartmoor.
Flt Lt Tim Thorogood, the aircraft Captain said, “It was extremely good training. The Royal Marine Helicopter Handlers were quick and professional.
"The loads were well rigged which is important as a gun can topple when lifted if poorly rigged.
"It was a very satisfying day that covered several vital skills and also proved the effective interoperability between the different services."
Typically this training would be carried out with two or more helicopters simultaneously, however using a technique known as piggybacking, which allows multiple loads to be lifted at once it is possible to use a single aircraft, reducing the time spent in a potentially high risk environment.
This technique requires the highly talented pilots to remain perfectly still in the hover whilst the second load is attached close to the first.
The training is not only beneficial to the aircrew in practicing useful, operational Support Helicopter skills, but to also reassure that a pair of Merlin aircraft would be able to deploy a gun, gun team and ammunition quickly from a ship or other confined location to wherever needed in most operational contexts.
This provides invaluable integration between ground and aviation assets and demonstrates how the Merlin will provide an excellent Littoral / Maritime replacement for the venerable Sea King Mk4.