Culdrose Merlin trainees see life from the front

Trainee Air Engineer Technicians (AET’s) currently on 824 Naval Air Squadron have recently embarked onboard the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ship Argus along with the Royal Navy’s Newest Anti-Submarine Hunters Helicopters.

Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose based 824 NAS is the training Unit providing the three front-line Merlin squadrons with engineers and aircrew needed to fly and maintain their multi-million pound helicopters.

Much of their training is carried out at Culdrose’s Merlin Training Facility (MTF) which has some of the most advanced computer simulators in the world for teaching aircrew and ground crew.

Getting onto the deck of a real Ship, working with Merlin MK 2 and undergoing the extreme conditions the weather can throw at them, brings home to trainees what the ‘Front line’ will be like.

It’s important the ‘Phase 2 B’ trainees get onboard and learn what it’s like to operate from a multi-spot Ship like RFA Argus.

Petty Officer AET Jonathan Tonkin

“Getting onboard for the first time is what our training’s all been leading to,” said AET Jack Charles, one of the trainees.

"Experiencing a cold wet flight deck, struggling with sleeping routines, eating when you can and working watches day and night, are all strange at first but I’ve been pleasantly surprised how easily I’ve taken to it all.”

Getting the young AET trainees to this stage are a dedicated team of experienced Instructors who have all seen time at Sea and worked on Frontline Squadrons who provide that leading edge to Royal Navy Operations around the Globe.

“It’s important the ‘Phase 2 B’ trainees get onboard and learn what it’s like to operate from a multi-spot Ship like RFA Argus,” said Petty Officer AET Jonathan Tonkin.

"There are about 52 trainees at Culdrose and they complete a 23 week course, learning all about the Merlin. 

"What we do and how we do it, as well as appreciating living conditions and understand what our business is when we do embark is all part of their learning cycle.

"Each trainee has a task book which has to be completed before moving onto the next stage of their training; embarked is an ideal place to get some of it signed off.”

Now back at RNAS Culdrose the trainees are into the final phase of their course before being let out into the world and drafted to 814, 820 or 829 NAS where they could find themselves on a deployment to a Frigate, Destroyer or Aircraft Carrier and part of an operations for an extensive periods at Sea.

“We are ‘ramping-up’ to the New Queen Elizabeth Carriers going to Sea in the near future,” continued PO Jon Tonkin.

“Merlin Force will be leading the Carrier Air Groups and these AET will be running the routines and training when it’s needed, it’s vital we show them professionally how to adapt to their surroundings and safely get aircraft off the deck and away on their missions.”