CHF Aircrew Prove it’s Snow Problem

CHF Aircrew Prove it’s Snow Problem gett ing an Arct ic in the Box for Winter Training.

Each year over 50 Commando Helicopter Force aircrew deploy to Bardufoss in northern Norway for specialist flying training and the aircrewmans responsibilities being well in advance of this annual winter deployment.

Two months prior to deployment, all the maps, on-route aviation supplements and survival equipment have to be ordered, this needs to be done in good time to enable the aircrew to plan a route from RNAS Yeovilton up to RNoAF Bardufoss. This is a challenging task as not all the desired re-fuel stops have the correct fuels, the stores and engineers carried on the transit have to be carefully balanced to ensure endurance to reach those stops safely, factoring in weather issues especially once the North Sea has been crossed.

Engineering preparations then begin, ensuring the correct role fit and the servicing required for the aircraft to be fit for the three to four day transit. This is often a difficult task with aircraft are still being utilised on other  exercises or deployments right up to the last minute. This year the Sea Kings did not return from Op Patwin in the Philippines until two weeks prior to flying to Norway which required a fast turn around time from the engineers who worked incredibly hard to ensure the aircraft were ready.

In the run up to deploying, the aircrew are busy ensuring they are current in accordance with JHC flying regulations and that all their survival drills are in date until the end of the deployment. Some personnel deploy to Norway early in order to complete the Cold Weather Survival course which is run by the unit Royal Marine Mountain Leader. This training enables crew to survive in the freezing environment in the event of any problems in adverse weather conditions or forced landings during the deployment.

On arrival at the JHC CLOCKWORK site in the Royal Norwegian Air Force Base Bardufoss, a period of ground training takes place to refresh crews on snow and ice limitations, local air traffic procedures and the task of making up new maps. The maps produced in Norway are very good but occasionally can be missing some low level hazards that may be encountered during sorties, such as major power cables. Some of these are notorious and can be suspended hundreds of feet up across valleys the aircraft are flown down.

With ground training complete the flying starts in earnest. The course involves snow landings by day and night and with night vision goggles. These are conducted both above and below the tree line. Flying above the tree  line presents the student pilots and aircrew with some very challenging conditions. It becomes very difficult to judge rates of closure, height above the ground and seeing some of the contours is a tricky business as they blend in with the backdrop. This is even more challenging when conducted at night with NVG.

Deploying to Norway is often the first time that the aircrew will have experienced the incredibly cold temperatures associated with operating 200km inside the Arctic Circle. A Sea King preparing for a field landing at about 70mph with an outside air temperature of -25°C will mean the air crewman will experience a wind chill of about -70°C. They also have to deal with the recirculation produced by the rotor downdraft, dependant on how much snow has fallen, this can often be severe so the aircrewman’s commentary is vital for the pilot as it allows him to anticipate losing all his hover references immediately prior to landing. The students also learn the value of dressing appropriately for the freezing weather conditions!

The training then moves to the next phase, up into the mountains to operate the aircraft at a much higher altitude and in stronger winds. Here, the student crew are presented with some significant performance limitations to work with to enable them to land on a ridge or in a valley.

Operating in the mountains can be an uncomfortable and intimidating feeling initially. It takes the eye time to adjust to the scale of the mountains, becoming accustomed to closure rates and, for the air crewman, vertigo can sometimes be experienced on approach to the mountaintops with the ground being thousands of feet below the aircraft until the very final stages of landing.

Also included during this training is low level navigation, load lifting by day and night, formation sorties to include landings at field landing sites.

These skills are vital as they enable the Commando Helicopter Force to deliver effect for future deployments, operations and exercises. The snow ‘white-out’ mirrors the same effect as desert ‘brown-outs’ experienced in Afghanistan for example.

The training culminates with a FOBEX (Forward Operating Base Exercise) which involves the aircraft, aircrew and engineers living in the field while they support troops exercising all over northern Norway.

While this training is taking place, planning the return trip commences with the students being given this task to plan and execute as a climax to the course.


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