In a first for RAF Benson and Oxfordshire, a mixed formation of civilian and military helicopters took to the skies today.

The three helicopters all operate from RAF Benson’s airfield and are all manufactured by Airbus Helicopters, which is based in Kidlington, Oxford. They were accompanied by a fourth aircraft that allowed for the capture of imagery of the historic event as they flew a circuit around the local area, including a flypast over the Airbus Helicopters headquarters.

The Royal Air Force Puma HC Mk2 is flown by 33 and 230 Squadrons, collectively known as the Puma Force, and is currently supporting Operation TORAL in Afghanistan. Today it was joined in the skies above Oxfordshire by the civilian Airbus EC135 helicopter of the National Police Air Service (South East) and Airbus H135 of the Thames Valley Air Ambulance.

While at first glance the aircraft are markedly different, closer inspection reveals striking similarities in the roles they perform. The Puma HC Mk2 is a support helicopter that is currently providing lifesaving helicopter lift capability in support of the ongoing NATO training mission in Kabul, Afghanistan. While usually fitted with seats to carry up to 16 passengers, the Puma can also be fitted with stretchers to perform a casualty evacuation role similar to that of the Air Ambulance.

In the past the Puma Force has also provided an air security role, such as that carried out by the Puma HC1 during the Olympic Games in 2012. The air security role is something that the upgraded Puma HC Mk2 is also capable of undertaking and it is likely to see them working alongside civilian security forces such as the National Police Air Service team. The three aircraft are also all capable of operating by day and by night to provide their complementary and vital lifesaving and air security roles.

With the aircraft all based at RAF Benson it is imperative that the teams work closely together on the ground and in the air to ensure smooth operations for all and safety when operating in the often congested skies above Oxfordshire and beyond. Air Traffic Control at RAF Benson also plays an important role in ensuring that the teams can work well together and that essential military training and emergency responses are deconflicted.

RAF Benson is incredibly proud of the relationships built between the Station and its lodger units over the years and operates with a strong ‘Team Benson’ ethos.

Group Captain Hamish Cormack, Station Commander, explains:

“We work in such close proximity to our National Police Air Service and Thames Valley Air Ambulance colleagues on a daily basis that it’s imperative we work effectively as a team. While we perform different roles, essentially we all do the same thing: delivering helicopter support where it is needed the most. It was fantastic to see the three aircraft flying together today to celebrate our team work and to reinforce the ‘Team Benson’ spirit.”

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