Royal Marines put aviators through Arctic tests

Royal Marines Mountain Leaders are putting helicopter pilots and aircrew through their paces on demanding training in the Arctic wilderness.

Before taking to the skies over the Arctic Circle, the aviators of the UK’s Joint Helicopter Command must complete the cold weather survival course, which gives them vital insight into surviving and fighting in one of the planet’s most inhospitable environments, where the sun barely rises and temperatures can plummet to around -30C.

Specialist Royal Marines instructors of the Mountain Leader Cadre lead the fliers through this challenging training, which includes jumping into icy water to cope with cold shock and living out of survival shelters, plus moving on skis and snowshoes on long distance marches. 

Once completed, the fliers are ready to take to the skies and carry out their own specialist training in Arctic flying, engineering and refuelling and providing aerial support to Royal Marines on the ground – and hunting and destroying enemy targets over the mountainous terrain. 

Naval Airman Matt Vickers, an aircraft handler from 845 Naval Air Squadron of the Commando Helicopter Force, is living out of a brushwood shelter in the Arctic wilderness during the cold weather survival course. 

“We’ve just completed a shelter build using brushwood and larger chunks of wood for the structure. We’ve also built a fire pit to cook our food in and another to keep us warm,” he said.

“It’s taken us four to five hours. It’s important for that safety and warmth and the benefit of having something to cover you in conditions like this.

“It’s been an experience. There are more highs than lows. This will be our fifth night out surviving.

“We’re learning how to survive and fight out here and the basic combat skills the Royal Marines have shown us.”

We’ve just completed a shelter build using brushwood and larger chunks of wood for the structure. We’ve also built a fire pit to cook our food in and another to keep us warm.

Naval Airman Matt Vickers

Once he’s finished the course, Matt will be refuelling helicopters on the flight line at the base in Bardufoss, Norway.

Helicopters from Joint Helicopter Command fly to Norway every year to carry out Exercise Clockwork, which is now in its 52nd year and is run by the Commando Helicopter Force.

This time, Army Apaches from 656 Squadron have headed for the frozen high north to carry out exercises.

Training and flying in such extreme conditions is vital in ensuring that Joint Helicopter Command aircraft and people are ready to operate anywhere in the world at any time.

All deployed personnel have been through a rigorous quarantine period, with UK troops to conduct training in a bubble and in line with the Covid-19 guidelines of host nation, Norway.