Deploying at short notice to locations across the globe is something all Merlin and other Commando Helicopter Force aircraft must be ready for.
So pilots, aircrew and engineers left their base at RNAS Yeovilton for a day-long journey to Gibraltar via France, Spain and Portugal with two of the green Merlin Mk3 helicopters of 846 Naval Air Squadron.
The Royal Marines flying wing was taking part in Exercise Barbary Commando 16, the aim of which is to train students from the Operational Conversion Flight and complete one of the final elements they need to become qualified Commando Merlin pilots and aircrew.
“This has been yet another first for the Commando Merlin,” said Detachment Commander Lieutenant Commander Alex Hampson.
“We have proved the utility of range and speed available with Merlin by deploying at short notice to an airfield over 1,400 flying miles away with just two stops for fuel in a single day.”
While in Gibraltar, the Junglie squadron also teamed up with the Gibraltar Boat Squadron for some winching training.
HMS Scimitar, her sister ship Sabre and three Pacific Rigid Inflatable Boats crewed by Royal Navy, Royal Marine and Royal Naval Reserve personnel together make up the Royal Navy Gibraltar Squadron.
They are tasked with protecting the seas surrounding Gibraltar and supporting exercises and operations in the area.
Lieutenant James Bradshaw, the Commanding Officer of HMS Scimitar said:
“Gibraltar Squadron regularly assists with the training of other units as they pass through Gibraltar’s waters, such as the arrival on the Rock of 846 Squadron.
We may be required at short notice to operate with helicopters and this exercise has proved invaluable, ensuring we would be ready to do so.”
Lt Cdr Hampson added: “These skills are wholly perishable and the opportunities don’t appear very often. It was a pleasure to operate with these RN vessels while assisting their mission.”
846 Squadron’s air crew spent a few days in Gibraltar before completing the flight back to Somerset.
Instructor Lieutenant Jon Moore said:
“This route is absolutely perfect – it gives the students two sea transits, multiple countries and a fair distance to comprehend in the lead up planning and the flying.”
Merlin Mk3 helicopters are the newest wings of the Royal Marines, following the retirement of the veteran Sea King. The battlefield Merlin is bigger, faster, more powerful, has a greater range and is easier to board/disembark than the helicopter it replaces.
It’s also designed for operations over land – unlike the grey submarine-hunting Merlins the Royal Navy has flown for the past 15 or so years.
“Exercise Barbary Commando 16 has yet again proven the ability of Commando Merlin to deploy at range, with aircrew and engineers keen to support the contingent capability which continues to evolve within CHF,” said the newly-appointed Commanding Officer of 846 NAS, Lieutenant Colonel Will Penkman.