848 NAS Training Hard to Fight Easy
CHF enjoys a reputation for professionalism and this is, in no small part, attributable to the thorough instruction provided by 848 NAS.
The Squadron, with its complement of 170, is responsible for the instruction of up to 50 pilots and aircrewmen each year. Operating the Sea King Mk4, pilots undertake an Aircraft Conversion Phase that includes learning to handle the aircraft including dealing with various emergencies and how to fly – before crewing up with the aircrewmen, taken from RN Ratings and Royal Marines, to learn how to operate the aircraft in a tactical environment during the Operational Conversion Phase. They also train more than 150 helicopter maintainers annually before sending them to the front line. Aircrew and maintainers receive military and amphibious training, when individuals are taught how to operate in the field and from the deck of a ship.
To ensure aircrew are fully prepared for future operations in Afghanistan, where other elements of CHF have been deployed, it’s essential the students are primed for the mountainous and high altitude environment. The Sea King Mk4 has to operate at the edge of its flight envelope, with temperatures in the summer reaching 50°C and a sand ridden environment that challenges both aircrew and engineers alike.
Afghanistan was not a location originally envisaged for the North Sea anti-submarine Sea Kings on which the Mk4 is based. In the knowledge that these challenges await anyone potentially joining CHF, 848 NAS continues their task of training both aircrew and support personnel to operate in both maritime and land environments.
During a wet and inhospitable week the aviators and engineers of 848 NAS were deployed to Okehampton Camp on Dartmoor to further hone their flying and military skills. The vast space and austere environment enabled the Sqn to establish a war fighting scenario working from a MOB. The objective was to provide the trainee aircrew a taste of operating the aircraft in a stressful environment without the comfortable margins available at Yeovilton. For most of the trainee Engineers, this would be the first time they have serviced aircraft away from Yeovilton’s well equipped hangars; they would also be rigorously tested on their Command Leadership and Management skills. Royal Marines from CHF were fully utilised to instruct on security and field skills and how to defend a full scale assault on a FOB that had been hastily established forward of the MOB.
In addition, Post Crash Management, which is crucial in risk mitigation and field engineering, is now a vital part of the training which the engineers undertook at Okehampton.
Sorties in the hilly terrain concentrated minds on the vital techniques of valley flying and approaches to pinnacles and ridges, with the end result of dropping off troops or stores. This resulted in some epic flying for the students, with the seasoned instructor in the left hand seat constantly pointing out all the potential pitfalls that await the unwary aviator.
The Okehampton detachment achieved all its aims and was an invaluable experience for the trainee aircrew and engineers alike, who were able to enhance and prove their leadership skills beyond what is required on a day to day to day basis. Commenting on the training, 848’s SEngO, Lt Cdr Paul Barker added, “The Exercise has always been an important test for aircrew as they complete their Operational Conversion training, but it is also a great opportunity for the engineers to demonstrate their leadership and professional aptitude in a challenging environment. The week was an overwhelming success, bringing together aircrew and engineers to work as a highly motivated team.”