Royal Marines fliers ready for front-line action after demanding training

There are ten new aviators ready to carry the Royal Marines into battle after completing their demanding training with the Commando Helicopter Force.

There are ten new aviators ready to carry the Royal Marines into battle after completing their demanding training with the Commando Helicopter Force.

Friends and family were invited to RNAS Yeovilton to join some of them at a passing-out parade with 846 Naval Air Squadron.

The four trainee pilots have already moved on to front-line duties with the battlefield Merlin Mk4, which deploys wherever the Royal Marines go – such as the Caribbean where three of the helicopters are on hurricane relief standby aboard RFA Argus – allowing six new aircrewmen to take centre stage.

Each Merlin Mk4 requires two pilots and two aircrewmen (the latter ensure the safety of the 16 commandos in the cabin, assist with navigation, provide vital guidance to the pilots when operating in tight confines, oversee winching, search and rescue and lifting loads, and operate the machine-guns among other duties).

Typically all trainee pilots and aircrewmen arrive at 846 having learned the basics of their trade at RAF Shawbury in Shropshire on the Juno helicopter, before undergoing specific Merlin/commando operational instruction at Yeovilton.

On this particular course, however, the pilots were all experienced commando fliers having flown the Merlin’s predecessor, the Sea King Mk4.

It was designed in the 1960s, its cockpit a bewildering array of dials, knobs, switches. Not only is Merlin fully digital with a computerised cockpit, it’s faster and much more powerful – all of which the convertee pilots had to master.

They trained side-by-side with the rookie aircrewmen, culminating in two weeks with support ship RFA Fort Victoria to learn the art of operating the Merlin at sea by day and night, including very challenging winching operations with marines raiding craft, and an assault ferrying troops ‘behind enemy lines’ on to Dartmoor.

Loved ones were given an insight into the men’s training with a capability demonstration by their colleagues during the passing-out parade, as well as the more formal presentation of certificates in a socially-distanced ceremony, while the successful pilots were mentioned – and applauded – in absentia.

He’s now at five days’ notice to deploy anywhere in the world with 845 Naval Air Squadron.

The successful trainees were: Pilots: Lt Cdrs Thomas Burrows, Timothy Frost and Adam Dean and Lt Stephen Ingamells. Aircrewmen: Sgts Brendan Feeney, Samuel Hardy and Jack Warwick RM, PO Elliot Hulme and LACMN Tomas Curtis and Luke Gillatt.


Pictures credit: Jason Bryant

We can look forward to a fully-packed year of deployments including Arctic training in Norway, desert training in Jordan and a six-month stint on the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier as she embarks on her first deployment. It’s a very exciting reward for over two years of hard work.

Sergeant Jack Warwick Royal Marines