Commando Fliers Hone Their Mountain Flying Skills

Three CHF Sea Kings recently decamped from Yeovilton to southern Germany to give air and ground crews a chance to hone their mountain skills.

The men and women from 848 NAS, the training unit which feeds the front-line CHF squadrons with pilots, aircrewmen and technicians, spent a fortnight at Penzling, west of Munich, where they learnt the skills and techniques which are vital to CHF’s mission in Afghanistan by practising the essential skills they require by flying around the snow-covered peaks of Bavaria.

Every two years, they head to the mountains for a critical part of training which turns men and women who can already fly helicopters into CHF air and ground crew who can handle Sea Kings in all conditions on the front-line to support Royal Marines on the ground.

Throughout their time in Bavaria, the Junglies were hosted by Lufttransportgeschwader 61 (Air Transport Sqn 61) in Penzing, Landsberg – west of Munich (and, for history buffs, the town where Hitler was imprisoned in the 1920s for his failed attempt to overthrow the German government).

From Penzing they carried out valley flying, pinnacle and ridge approaches and, importantly, wind-finding and assessment techniques. All these sorties are identical to those carried out by CHF crews currently flying in Afghanistan. The training is extremely valuable for both student aircrew, operating in an unfamiliar and challenging environment, and also the engineering crews working in a foreign country away from the comforts of their home base.

The Alpine passes they flew around were not the only thing which was monumental; there was a mountain to climb in terms of planning to get to Bavaria as well. It took the three helicopters two days to reach Bavaria from Yeovilton, as explained by AB Ashleigh White, a student aircrewman: “We were all looking forward to getting there. As a trainee, I and the other ten students spent weeks planning the route. There are plenty of additional considerations we needed to think about: diplomatic clearance, flight plans, foreign laws and regulations – all this on top of the usual factors such as diversion plans, foul weather routes, ‘down bird’ and emergency procedures. We also got to practise some rapid re-planning when one of the airfields we were going to refuel at closed at the last minute due to weather. Whilst you can’t plan for all eventualities safety is our number one priority.”

No matter how thorough the planning, the crews have to maintain a degree of flexibility and forethought. Sub Lt Dan Howes, a trainee pilot, experienced this first hand as he guided his Sea King over Germany. “Just as we crossed into Germany, the aircraft had a generator failure,” he explained. “This is when our training kicked in and we reacted accordingly. We diverted to a nearby airfield and our skilful engineers we had on board swiftly resolved the problem and we re-planned the route. Due to the delay we now knew that it would take two days to finish the transit, so we planned for an overnight stop in Wiesbaden – a USAF base. “The following morning we arrived at Penzing with no further snags and began preparation for the mountain flying.”

A trip to Bavaria would not be complete without a trip to Neuschwanstein, Ludwig II’s 19th-Century Romanesque castle – as featured in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the inspiration for Disneyland’s ‘sleeping beauty’ castle – It lies about 40 miles south of Penzing.

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