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847 Lynx head to Helmand for final time

847 Lynx head to Helmand for final time


The commando fliers of 847 Naval Air Squadron have left Somerset to begin a five-month tour of duty in support of the Royal Marines and other Allied troops in Afghanistan. It’s the final time the squadron will fly the trusty Lynx on active service. Once they return from Helmand in the spring, they’ll begin converting to its successor, the Wildcat.

We're really excited that when we return around May time we will be the first to work with the new Wildcats in service. They are incredible machines.
Lt Col Nick Venn RM

The wings of the Royal Marines have headed out to Afghanistan for the final time – in their current guise at any rate.

Air and ground crew of 847 Naval Air Squadron left their home at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset this week to begin a five-month stint in support of Allied troops on the ground, including their brethren from 40 Commando on patrol in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand.

It’s the final time the squadron – one of three front-line units in the Commando Helicopter Force – will fly the trusty Lynx helicopter on active service after four decades.

When they return from Afghanistan, the squadron will begin converting to the new Wildcat, successor to the Lynx, as it begins to enter service with the Army Air Corps and Fleet Air Arm.

Until then, however, the final variant of the Lynx the 847 men and women will be using – the Mk9A – remains a potent weapon.

The Mk9A has more powerful engines which provide an all-year capability with the helicopter’s performance not too badly affected by extreme temperatures.

The 7.62 mm General Purpose Machine Gun on the old skidded Lynx, which were phased out by 847 last year, has been replaced by the .5in M3M Browning on the Mk9A, which has a longer range, improved accuracy and multi-role ammunition.

The squadron spent much of 2012 preparing for its current mission, including more than a month in southern California at El Centro air base, where conditions to some degree replicated those in Afghanistan – certainly far better than anywhere in the UK might.

While deployed, 847 will be based at Camp Bastion, from where the helicopters will carry out essential surveillance and reconnaissance missions while also supporting ground troops.

“In many ways it is the end of an era as the Lynx has served us and the Army so well since the 1970s.

"The variant we are taking over to Helmand is the Lynx Mk 9A, which is optimised to deal with harsh conditions such as the heat, dust and mountain ranges in Afghanistan,” said Lt Col Nick Venn RM, 847 NAS’s Commanding Officer.

“It is ideal for the environment and the boys and girls of this squadron have been training really hard over the past few months to prepare themselves for theatre.

“We're really excited that when we return around May time we will be the first to work with the new Wildcats in service. They are incredible machines.”

One of the Lynx teams now deployed consists of 24-year-old pilot Lt Alex Lovell-Smith, AET Tom Wallis, 22, and Royal Marine L/Cpl Ross Howling, 25, who’s on his second tour of duty; for his colleagues, this is their first taste of Helmand… and their last taste of the Lynx.

“You do build up an attachment to the aircraft,” said Lt Lovell-Smith.

“The Lynx continues to serve the Armed Forces extremely well and will be missed.

"But we are looking forward to the opportunity of being the first to work on the Wildcat as it is always exciting to work on brand new aircraft.”

The Wildcat, built and designed by AgustaWestland in Yeovil, is due to enter active service later this year.

It is fitted with more powerful engines so it operates well in extreme heat such as in Afghanistan, where the air is thinner and dustier.

The £26 million aircraft has a maximum speed of 181mph and can carry forward-firing rockets, machine guns, door-mounted machine guns. RNAS Yeovilton will become the home of the entire Army and Navy Wildcat fleet, with a centre-of-excellence training academy.

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