High in the Sky Above Helmand
As reported in the last issue of LZDZ, 847 NAS spent the last months of 2012 preparing for their deployment to Afghanistan. They have now arrived and are once again providing the critical task of protecting troop movements in and around Helmand province.
The small and highly agile Lynx AH9 helicopters are perfectly suited to being the ‘eyes in the sky’, protecting the larger Chinook helicopters as they shuttle the troops to where they need to be in the area of operation. Lt James Nottingham, a pilot with the squadron, said: “What the Lynx aircraft can offer is fantastic. They are perfectly suited to protecting our troop moves and they free up the Apache attack helicopters for other tasking.”
Even though the Lynx helicopters in Afghanistan belong to the Army, the crews flying and operating them on this tour are Royal Navy. They are ideally suited to do this and have trained hard for their deployment.
“We spent a month training in the desert in California so we were ready to deploy” said pilot Lt Alex Lovell-Smith. “The climate there is very similar to the winter here in Helmand but the most challenging thing to deal with both here and there are the dust landings.”
The helicopters, which always travel in pairs, have seen a real change in the pace of operations since the last time the squadron was deployed to Afghanistan. As the numbers of troops are reduced, air moves are less frequent and reconnaissance flights for future operations are fewer.
In spite of this, they are still required to be at the ready and equipped with the latest in military hardware and weaponry, including the formidable 50 cal machine gun. “This weapon is ideal for what we are doing here” said L/Cpl Jordan Schofield, a Royal Marine Aviation Crewman with the squadron.
The Sqn Ops O, Capt Ian Moore RM went on to say “It’s enough that we are there as a deterrent, but with a fire rate of 17 rounds per second, everyone we’re working with feels much safer when we are around.”
The Lynx Mk9 helicopters used in Afghanistan look different to the older variants seen flying around the skies in the UK. They have bigger engines to cope with the harsh climate in the Afghan desert. These are the same engines fitted to the new Wildcat helicopters, which 847 NAS will start training on when they return home.