Monday, July 26, 2010

1419 Flt - Wizards in Afghanistan's Green Zone

28 (Army Cooperation) Squadron B Flight arrived at Bastion Airfield in late May 2010. Following many detachments in Iraq over the past 5 years, this was their first taste of Afghanistan. They arrived with the bit between their teeth and were raring to get stuck into the new adventure ahead, albeit the crews were a little apprehensive given the environment which they found themselves in. Following the initial mandatory admin procedures and a very long day sitting on a hot rifle range, the aircrew from RAF Benson in Oxfordshire took to the skies and flew towards the green zone for the first time.

45 degree ambient temperatures mean that the cockpit and cabin of the aircraft is around 50 degrees. Add safety equipment, thermal fire protection, gloves and helmet and the result is some very hot and sweaty individuals. A great deal of water is consumed during any shift by the crews.

Loadmaster Sergeant Jock Forrester mans the general purpose machine gun (GPMG) on a Merlin helicopter.
Photo: Crown Copyright/MOD 2010

Landing sites in Helmnd Province vary dramatically between purpose-built, football pitch sized, tarmac areas to dust bowls; pilots regularly carry out the final stages of approaches almost blind. There are landing sites in the green zone with trees all around and there are landing sites on the pinnacles of mountains resulting in few hovering references for the handling pilots whilst operating at the limits of the aircrafts performance. All of the sites have their own challenges and the complexities encountered when landing within them cannot be understated or taken for granted at any time.

On the rare occasion that the Merlin can’t make it in to a landing site due to inclement weather or unserviceability then another helicopter and another crew will pick up the slack highlighting that the Joint Force Element which is operating in Helmand including RAF, Army and Navy works, and works incredibly well.

The Flight Engineers have worked 12 hour shifts every day since arriving in theatre. They have the unenviable task of trying to maintain the Merlin helicopters which are being flown in the most unforgivable of environments. The dust intake, the high altitude and the challenging flying puts a great strain on the Merlin, yet day after day the engineering force of 1419 Flt produce serviceable aircraft to operate with.

A Merlin lands at a FOB
Photo: Maj Paul Smyth/MOD

The squadron has had a detachment in Afghanistan fraught with the ‘expected’ unforeseen issues that arise during such a venture. They have worked every day in the heat and the dust and have achieved everything that they have been tasked with and more. The engineers have worked for 10 weeks without a whole day off. It is now time to go home, reunite with loved ones and enjoy some well deserved time off. As B Flight hand over to C Flight this week they reflect on a job well done.

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