Joint Helicopter Support Squadron (JHSS) is a highly deployable unit with a specialised skill set in Helicopter Handling (HH).

These skills are utilised within the UK and throughout the world on numerous operations and exercises where support from the Joint Helicopter Command is required. Flt Lt Matt Snape explains what a Mobile Air Operations Team (MAOT) is and what their role was whilst deployed in the USA on Ex NOCTEM WARRIOR in support of the Chinook Force.

The MAOT consists of six JHSS personnel, on Ex NW we provided support to Chinook aircrew in achieving Environmental Qualifications (EQ) and we were based at Naval Air Facility El Centro (NAFEC) in the desert area of Southern California.

Whilst deployed, the team is responsible for providing HH capabilities, including underslung load provision, the selection, laying and marking of ‘Desert Box’ Landing Sites (LS) as well as IR Illumination training for the helicopter crews. My team is made up of an RAF Ops Officer (me), three RAF Movers, a RLC Driver and a RLC Communications Specialist; our ranks range from SAC to Flt Lt.

To give the MAOT the flexibility to split down into smaller teams and operate simultaneously at different sites, all personnel maintain different Heli Handling qualifications, from Rigger Marshal to Helicopter Landing Site Manager.

Our Comms Spec is trained in all forms of tactical radio communications equipment and is primarily responsible for the ground to air comms with approaching aircraft at the LS.

“As a Comms Spec my role is to provide ground to air communications to the aircraft and HHT by using a variety of manpack radios. I inform the aircrew and HHT of any changes to the original plan, such as the safe approach direction and LS heading, notification of any obstacles within the immediate area, and an update of the wind direction. This information is critical as it may affect the pilot’s decisions during their approach to site. As a Landing Point Commander (LPC) I am also on hand to assist the rest of the team with setting up Desert Boxes and the rigging and hooking of under slung loads”. – LCpl Jason Lewis, LPC, Ex NW.

In preparation for our day-to-day activities during the sortie planning phase, the Team Leader receives a brief consisting of where the team will be required to be, what time the site needs to be operational, and how the LS is to be marked.

The team then deploy by vehicle and ensure that the site is set up accordingly, on the correct heading, suitably marked for day or night operations and, most importantly, is safe before the aircraft arrives. In some cases, due to the vast expanse of the area that the aircraft cover, some of the sites are up to two hours’ drive away. Most sites are in remote areas of the California desert and reaching them can be quite challenging with conditions ranging from soft sand dunes to remote rocky tracks which can really test the team’s off-road driving skills! Recently, we have supported the specialised Low Ambient Light Operations (LALO) phase of the Chinook Sqn deployment.

This was a good opportunity for the MAOT to appreciate how the aircraft operate at night and the difficulties that can be encountered with low light levels as well as the immense dust cloud that can be produced during the final phases of the approach in to the LS. This problem is amplified when the use of a double Desert Box is required as this means we must lay two landing sites 60m apart, both on the same heading. Accuracy is vitally important to mitigate any risk of potential mid-air collision when the aircraft approach and depart from the LS consumed by dust clouds.

As a newly qualified MAOT Leader this deployment has been invaluable for me to consolidate my training and further understand my role within such a close-knit team of experienced soldiers and airmen. It has allowed me to develop and work through scenarios that I may encounter during my future planned deployment on Op NEWCOMBE where timely and effective decision making will be critical.

Written By: Flt Lt Matt Snape MAOT Leader

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