America’s Green Zone, El Centro, USA
661 Squadron of 1 Regiment Army Air Corps swapped the cool ranges of Gütersloh, Germany for the hot Californian desert. They have been honing their skills at El Centro Air Base where they can gain the most realistic training before being deployed to Afghanistan.
El Centro is some 50 miles inland from the west coast, bordered on one flank by a mountain range, and by desert on the other. It is effectively an area of irrigated land in the middle of the desert, known as America’s ‘Green Zone’.
The air base once played a starring role in the film TOP GUN. As you would expect it is a little different to that which troops visiting Salisbury Plain might be familiar with. It allows military units from the UK, the US and Canada come not only to train their own pilots, but wherever possible they will work together with other nationalities, like they do on Operations. 661 Sqn made good use of the training opportunity, even flying with AH1 Cobra Helicopters of the United States Marine Corps.
As well as environmental and Mission Specific Training, the 50 members of the Squadron have been using their experience of the Lynx Mk7 helicopter to prepare them for flying the most up-to-date model, the Lynx Mk9a. The advantages of the upgraded Lynx Mk9a is that the engine has 45% more power than the previous Mk7 or Mk9. It has the most up-to-date weapon, the M3M gun and there is a brand new surveillance system.
OC 661 Sqn said: “El Centro is becoming a Centre of Excellence for this type of training, giving 661 Sqn the space and environment that’s needed to get them as fully prepared as possible.”