RAF Benson Embraces the Royal Navy
The transition of the Merlin Mk3 from the RAF to the CHF, replacing the Sea King Mk4, has begun in earnest at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire. Capt Matt Briers RN, CO CHF recently spent the day at Benson to meet up with the first CHF personnel who are now working with the RAF Merlin Force.
The thirty-four RN maintainers, six pilots and six aircrewmen have hit the ground running and are learning the skills needed to operate and maintain such a complex aircraft. Capt Briers said “I am absolutely delighted that transition has got off to such an excellent start, the RN contingent have been warmly welcomed by their RAF counterparts and have already started to make a notable contribution to the engineering effort.”
The RN maintainers who arrived at RAF Benson are made up of experienced Merlin Mk1 and Sea King Mk4 engineers from both RNASs Culdrose and Yeovilton.
Captain Briers added, “The professionalism and drive of our people to get involved in all aspects of the RAF Merlin Force has made an excellent impression across both frontline squadrons at RAF Benson. They have also got heavily immersed on deployed operations, both on pre-deployment-training in Jordan and in Afghanistan on Op HERRICK. In this Joint environment, a number of the key engineering posts are now occupied by Royal Navy senior ratings as the two services fuse together with a common aim – operational output. That said, while working in an RAF Sqn, the RN ethos is strongly enforced through the Divisional system, robust Jackspeak and the occasional outburst of good natured banter!”
The six flying crews have now been embedded within 28 (AC) Squadron on the Merlin Operational Conversion Flight (OCF) for two months, completing an in depth ground school and simulator package prior to flying in the aircraft. The crews are made up of experienced aviators with significant ‘Junglie’ credentials. All the pilots are Qualified Helicopter Instructors and five of the crewmen are Qualified Aircrewmen Instructors, but despite their previous experience they have all had to adapt to the digital cockpit and computer based training in both the Simulator and classroom. Their RAF counterparts instructing on the OCF are keen to pass on their extensive knowledge of operating the Merlin on operations in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, much of which was working alongside the Junglies in these difficult environments. Since their arrival the aircrew have experienced a very warm welcome and positive start.
The Future for CHF
The Sea King Mk4 aircraft of the Commando Helicopter Force will gradually be retired from service by April 2016. Its intended replacement, the Merlin Mk4, will be derived from Merlin Mk3 airframes currently in service with the RAF’s 28 and 78 Sqns at RAF Benson.