Trainee Commando aircrew learn to operate from ship

Trainee aviators who will fly Royal Marines into battle are one step closer to earning their "Wings" after two weeks learning how to operate from a ship.

Rookie pilots, aircrewmen and engineers/technicians with 846 Naval Air Squadron's Operational Conversion Flight deployed for a fortnight to RFA Argus - the Royal Navy's dedicated aviation training vessel - to practise deck landings, refuelling and replenishing stores.

Being able to land and take off from a ship is crucial for the Yeovilton-based squadron, which, as part of the Commando Helicopter Force, will spend its time transporting troops from sea to shore.

To gain their deck qualifications, the 846 NAS students have to know how to navigate the Merlin helicopter to and from a ship both during the day and at night - and land it safely.

Lieutenant Harry Saunders said: "Operating at sea differs from over land in a number of ways. The ship moves which from an aviation point of view can be problematic if we're operating from shore and then have to make our way to the ship.

"Doing this in bad weather at night is probably one of the most challenging things we'll ever have to do."

Doing this in bad weather at night is probably one of the most challenging things we'll ever have to do.

Lieutenant Harry Saunders

The Operational Conversion Flight is the last phase of flying training for the students before they get their coveted Wings, the badge of honour worn by all fully-qualified fliers, and join front-line operations with 846's sister squadron 845, also based at Yeovilton.

As well as deck landings, the deployment also saw the trainees conduct in-flight refuelling from the ship and vertical replenishment - flying with an underslung load.

The state-of-the-art Mk3 helicopter can operate in the desert, Arctic and temperate climate of western Europe, carrying up to two dozen Royal Marines in the rear cabin or 105mm guns, supplies, even vehicles slung beneath the fuselage.

Leading Aircraft Engineering Technician Harrop, an avionics supervisor under training, said: "While on RFA Argus I have been overseeing the air engineering technicians that are working on deck to lash down the aircraft and all kit and equipment.

"My job is to make sure the aircraft is chocked [secured] correctly and the supervision of their safety working out on the deck day and night."

Training ends with a number of tactical exercises where the squadron will be tested on leading missions, flying as a formation and dropping off troops as part of an amphibious assault.