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847 Lynx ready for Afghan mission after California desert training

A Lynx Mk9A over the Colorado Desert near El Centro


The Lynx and air and ground crew of 847 Naval Air Squadron have returned to a very wet Somerset after completing a month’s desert training in southern California. The squadron used the terrain and the live ranges around El Centro to prepare for their imminent tour of duty in Afghanistan.

We’ve all appreciated the quality of the training that El Centro provided
Lt Cdr Graeme Spence, 847 NAS

READY to support their Royal Marines comrades on the ground in Afghanistan are the Commando fliers of 847 Naval Air Squadron who’ve completed a month’s desert training in California.

Come January the Lynx Mk9A will be back in the skies of Helmand – where the green berets of 40 Commando are currently deployed alongside their Army brethren – for their latest tour of duty in Afghanistan.

To prepare for the ‘hot and high’ experience of Helmand in summer – and ‘cold and high’ in winter – four Lynx Mk9As, plus air and crew, were flown 6,000 miles from home at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset to El Centro in southern California.

Although El Centro itself is actually below sea level, the environment of the Colorado Desert (named after the eponymous river which flows 50 or so miles to the east) and the close proximity of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains means conditions are similar to those 847 will experience in Helmand: hot and dusty on the plains, cold and snowy among the mountains.

The other benefit of using Naval Air Station El Centro is its vast ranges – where crews can blast away with live ordnance. There’s nothing comparable in the UK.

It gave 847’s door gunners the chance to hone their airborne marksmanship with the 0.5 inch M3M Browning, a weapon that has a longer range, greater accuracy and can fire multi-role ammunition, making it a marked improvement on the 7.62 mm General Purpose Machine Gun it replaces.

The squadron also managed to squeeze in some mutual training with 42 Commando who were carrying out their own desert warfare and live firing training just 100 miles away on the US Marine Corps ranges at Twentynine Palms.

The training in the USA provided the squadron with the essential fighting skills required when they deploy to Afghanistan in January,” said 847’s senior pilot Lt Cdr Graeme Spence.

We’ve all appreciated the quality of the training that El Centro provided. The challenging conditions at the base tested many of the Junglies’ skills and, from an aircrew perspective, were able to understand how they and their aircraft performed in the intense hot and dusty environment.

The month-long spell in southern California wasn’t all about work. Squadron personnel got involved in a community project handing out food packages to struggling local families. And there was a chance for some down time in San Diego, just 90 miles away, which proved to be an excellent run ashore and allowed every to recharge some very weary batteries.

Which was needed because returning the aircraft and support equipment to the UK proved to be a challenge for the 847 engineers.

The helicopters and their kit were flown to and from California in specially-chartered Antonov transporters – the third largest cargo planes in the world.

The Russian-built jets can carry up to 150 tons of cargo – which in theory means over 40 Lynx in weight, but given their size and delicate nature, it was enough of a task fitting all four helicopters in the gigantic Antonov’s hold.

With considerable precision and skill, the technicians managed to gently manoeuvre their treasured aircraft into the available space ready for the return flight.

Pictures: PO(Phot) Mez Merrill, CHF 

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