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    RAF Valley's Search and Rescue Team is Busiest in UK

    A team based at RAF Valley on Anglesey have been named as the UK's busiest search and rescue helicopter unit in the UK, for the second year running.

    Number 22 Squadron's C Flight was scrambled 323 times in 2013, helping 298 people.

    RAF Search and Rescue Force Commander, Group Capt Sara Mackmin, said she was "incredibly proud".
    Prince William flew with the team before he left Anglesey last year, and took part in some of the missions.

    He carried out his first rescue in October 2010 during his first full operational shift as a pilot based at Valley.
    He and the Duchess of Cambridge left Anglesey last summer, describing it as "beautiful" and "welcoming".

    'Protracted winter'

    Valley's C Flight is one of six RAF search and rescue units around the UK, and its members face demanding missions in terrain ranging from beaches and cliffs to the mountains of Snowdonia.

    Its crews accounted for more than a quarter of the 1,202 alerts the helicopters were called to in the UK last year.

    Their work includes rescuing people in difficulty, as well as transferring seriously ill patients to hospital.

    Paying tribute to the Anglesey members, Group Capt Mackmin, said: "The harsh, protracted winter that lasted from January through to early April saw C Flight complete not only a higher than average number of rescues, but was also accomplished in some of the worst weather conditions Snowdonia has seen for many years."

    'All weathers'

    On the UK's six search and rescue helicopter units and three RAF mountain rescue teams, she said: "I'm incredibly proud of all the men and women under my command who go out by day and night, in all weathers, united with one common aim - the preservation of life."

    Last March, it was announced that helicopter search and rescue will move to Caernarfon from Anglesey, and a new base be set up at St Athan, after a US-based firm won the contract to run the service.

    The Bristow Group has won a 10-year contract from 2015.

    Under the deal, 22 helicopters will operate from 10 UK locations.

    The £1.6bn deal ends 70 years of search and rescue from the RAF and Royal Navy.

  • #2
    DFC for RAF Chinook Pilot

    A Devon helicopter captain has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery under fire in Afghanistan.

    RAF Flight Lieutenant Charlie Lockyear, 34, from Teignmouth,, and Master Aircrew (MACR) Bob Sunderland, 44 from Englefield Green, landed their Chinook helicopter under fire from Afghan insurgents.

    The crew were inserting British forces into a high-threat area of Afghanistan when they came under fire from nearby insurgents.

    Flying shrapnel wounded MACR Sunderland, leaving him bleeding from the groin, while further rounds disabled the aircraft’s radio and intercom systems.

    With a hail of bullets hitting the Chinook, Flt Lt Lockyear was forced to abort the landing and move the helicopter away from the enemy fire.

    But with no working radio, he was unaware that some British troops had already left the aircraft and were on the ground returning fire.

    Advised on the extent of the damage by MACR Sunderland, Flt Lt Lockyear carefully re-landed the Chinook and evacuated the remaining troops on the ground, with MACR Sunderland doggedly returning suppressing fire from the helicopter’s gun.

    Flt Lt Lockyear, the Captain, was given the Distinguished Flying Cross while MACR Sunderland was awarded a Mention in Dispatches.


    • #3
      RAF May Have to Cull Kites

      RAF Benson says it may have to cull Red Kites in the wake of a growing number of bird strikes including two incidents with helicopters during the past two months.

      The base was granted a licence by Natural England last year to shoot the birds but it has not yet used it.

      The Red Kite may have to be culled within the vicinity of RAF Benson

      Wing Commander Colin West, the base commander, said: “A growing number of bird strikes, coupled with the size and nature of the Red Kite, mean that the threat to aircraft safety has increased.”

      The birds, reintroduced into The Chilterns in a conservation project after becoming extinct, have become increasingly widespread across the area.


      • #4
        RAF Merlin into Manston Yesterday

        Campaigners protesting the closure of Manston airport were treated to a flyover from an RAF helicopter yesterday.

        A Merlin HC3 helicopter flew over Manston supporters at low altitude, while one crew member waved from the back of the aircraft.

        Eyewitness Helen Smith said: “All of a sudden this Merlin came right over the road, banked over us then landed. It took off again less than 5 minutes later.

        “The back door was open with one of the crew waving madly to us. It was such an exhilarating moment.

        “It was so nice to have a show of support from the military- I don’t know whether they were supposed to be showing their support!”

        Editorial Comment:

        "I don’t know whether they were supposed to be showing their support!”
        Given that you are supporting the livelihood of a former RAF base and that you were displaying a RAF flag .. I don't see why they wouldn't!


        • #5
          RAF Handover Merlins to Navy

          A ceremony to mark the handover of the RAF's Oxfordshire-based Merlin helicopter force to the Royal Navy has been held.

          Twenty five aircraft will transfer from RAF Benson to the 846 Naval Air Squadron in Somerset over two years.

          Senior officers were joined by the Duke of York and Prince Michael of Kent at a ceremonial parade and air display.

          Station commander Nigel Colman said there was an "emotional attachment" to the aircraft at the base.

          "The Merlins' role will continue, they are on extremely high readiness to deploy just as they have been over the past 10 years, but operated by the Royal Navy," he added.

          The aircraft have served in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan where they were used to transport troops, supplies and civilians.

          As part of the government's Strategic Defence Review, they are due to replace the navy's Sea King fleet which goes out of service in 2016.

          Staff from 78 and 28 Squadrons which are being disbanded, have been reallocated to other posts within the RAF.

          The standard of 78 Squadron was marched off for the final time

          A flypast of Merlins, Sea Kings and a Chinook was held as the Merlin helicopters were ceremonially handed over to the Royal Navy​

          The Duke of York and HRH Prince Michael of Kent attending the Merlin handover at RAF Benson


          • #6
            Report on Exercise 'Agile Spear' and preparation for Merlin handover:


            • #7
              Exercise Hot Blade

              The UK’s new Puma HC2’s traveled to Portugal to test their capability in the European Defence Agency’s Hot Blade Exercise while preparing for wider Aviation Task Force role.

              Three of the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) new Puma HC2 helicopters from 230 Squadron flew to the Ovar airbase in Portugal during July to take part in their first major foreign exercise since being upgraded by manufacturer Airbus Helicopters.

              The occasion was the annual European Defence Agency’s (EDA) Hot Blade Exercise that was taking place for the third year in succession at the Ovar base. This is the first time that the RAF has been able to participate in the exercise for several years. It was an opportunity to test the new Puma HC2 in challenging hot and high conditions.

              RAF Puma HC2's

              According to Andy Gray, EDA’s program manager, the Hot Blade missions were designed to increase in complexity as they progressed, while maintaining a fluid and changeable situation so typical of real-life deployments. One early mission combined “four Portuguese F-16s, providing over-watch and close air support; two Belgian A109s providing escort to a Portuguese EH-101, which will do the CSAR [Combat Search and Rescue] pick up. The diversionary attacks will be carried out by two British Pumas, two Dutch CH-47 Chinooks, three Austrian AB212s and five German UH1-Ds carrying infantry from Portugal, Germany and the Netherlands.”

              Based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, UK, the Puma HC2 detachment was commanded by Squadron Leader Trevor Simpson, second in command of 230 Squadron. Fifty RAF personnel were in the group that made the journey. Two aircraft arrived at the beginning of the two week exercise which began on July 16. A third aircraft joined for the second week when the daily tasking became more frequent and complex. The helicopters completed the transit in one day, flying down through France and Spain.

              The $422 million (£260 million) Puma Life Extension Program was largely carried out by Industria Aeronautică Română (IAR S.A. Brasov) at Airbus Helicopters’ Romanian joint venture facility. The aircraft were then completed and prepared for delivery at Airbus’ UK facility near Oxford. The Puma’s power has been boosted by Turbomecca Makila 1A1 turboshaft engines which, according to the RAF, provides 35 percent more power with added fuel efficiency. This effectively doubles their range on the performance of the Turbomeca Turmos IIIC4 in the Puma HC1. When fully operational they will feature the Selex ES Helicopter Integrated Defensive Aid System (HIDAS), glass cockpit with four-axis dual duplex digital flight control (DAFCS) autopilot, new communications and navigation systems (Rockwell Collins), self-sealing fuel tanks (GKN Aerospace), together with other modi-fications and strengthening and added ballistic protection (Permali).

              There are currently 15 Puma HC2s at RAF Benson, eight of which are in the forward fleet flying with limitations (with seven in depth maintenance). Both 33 and 230 Squadrons operate the Puma HC2 as the Puma HC1 was decommissioned in December 2012.

              A total of 24 Puma HC2s will be split between the two squadrons. Currently, there are 22 crews that are trained on the aircraft. The Puma simulator at the Medium Support Helicopter Aircrew Training Facility (MSHATF), also based at RAF Benson, was upgraded by training operator CAE over a year ago and completed ahead of schedule. It took five months to physically convert the dedicated Puma simulator which was a virtually new-build system. Another new feature to the training will be the first course of a digital ground school for ab initio pilots. With the aircraft converting to digital from the old analogue systems, CAE has created a fully interactive ground school that will focus on systems familiarization and procedural training.

              Simpson said that the Pumas will not reach their Initial Operating Capability (IOC) until April 2015 and were restricted to basic trooping operations without the use of fast rope, winching, or dropping paratroops. They did fly throughout the days on combined air operations (COMAOs).

              “The aircraft has the same autopilot as the Caracal (EC725),” explained Simpson. “The DAFCS is making the dusty landings that we are practicing here a lot safer.” Having flown Pumas since 2001, Simpson says that the power available in the new version is impressive. “It leaps into the air; we also have safe single-engine flight performance wherever we are operating here.”

              “We get our guys to fly in a circuit – hands-off – so they gain confidence in auto-pilot without touching the controls. This is really providing a lot more confidence for getting into confined areas, and using the hover height adjustments to bring the aircraft safely down. The aircraft has been cleared to 5,000 ft density altitude so we have been slightly limited about taking part in all of the exercises, but we have been using both aircraft simultaneously to trial ‘dust offs’ during the missions,” said Simpson.

              There is a fifth fuel tank in the back of the helicopters that flew down from the UK which allowed another half an hour of flying time. The Puma HC2 with extra fuel can now fly for approximately two and a half hours – about 45 minutes more than the old HC1.

              Said Simpson: “[We] hope to build on this year and attend in the future, and have learned a number of valuable lessons – not only in the flying phases. Smaller expeditionary equipment, such as deployable units for mission planning and communications which some of the other nationalities have brought with them, would have been good to have.” These included ISO-styled containers but modified with fold down integral sides that provided roomy, weather-protected spaces from which units could operate.”

              Since returning from Portugal, the Pumas have also deployed on Exercise Agile Spear as part of the UK Joint Helicopter Command’s (JHC) Aviation Task Force (ATF).

              The exercise in early September centered around Merrion Camp in Castlemartin, Wales. It tasked the ability to rapidly deploy a force for contingent operations. In addition to the Pumas, the aviation group also comprised RAF CH-47 Chinooks and AW101 Merlin HC3 helicopters, together with British Army Air Corps (AAC) Lynx AH9s. Exercises such as Agile Spear are designed to test the readiness and assist in the conceptual development of an AFT which the Ministry of Defence (MoD) states can be deployed globally on five days’ notice.

              The next exercise will involve a foreign deployment to Jordan as Exercise Jebel Blade in October 2014, when an AFT will deploy in support of three Commando Brigade, Royal Marines.


              • #8
                Change of Command at RAF Benson

                A new station commander has been appointed at RAF Benson. Group Captain Nigel Colman has handed over control of the base to Group Captain Simon Paterson.

                Gp Capt Colman, the final RAF Merlin force commander, has spent the last two years in the role as well as serving as a Puma force commander. His successor, who will take charge of the Puma force, joins the station after several staff tours.

                After joining the RAF and completing flying training, he served as a search and rescue pilot flying the Sea King at Wattisham before transferring his expertise to the Chinook, where he completed operational tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

                Group Captain Nigel Colman hands over control of RAF Benson to Group Captain Simon Paterson

                After a staff tour that saw him contribute to the purchase of additional Merlin helicopters, he arrived at RAF Benson as the Officer Commanding 28 (Army Co-operation) Squadron, flying the Merlin and completing further operational and command tours in Afghanistan.

                He returns to RAF Benson after completing a conversion course to fly Puma helicopters.

                Gp Capt Colman, an experienced helicopter navigator, leaves Benson to take up the higher command and staff course at the Defence Academy of the UK.

                He said: “Commanding RAF Benson for the last two years has been a genuine privilege. The station has seen significant changes as we have withdrawn from Afghanistan, brought the exciting new Puma Mk2 helicopter into service and handed command of the Merlin force to the Royal Navy.

                “Throughout it has been the professionalism, commitment and self-sacrifice of the service personnel and their families that has made the last two years an absolute pleasure.

                “As I hand command of the station to Gp Capt Paterson, I could not hope for a better person to take RAF Benson forward and ensure that it continues to deliver excellence in support of the defence of the United Kingdom.”

                Gp Capt Paterson said: “It is an honour and privilege to have the opportunity to command a unit as fine as RAF Benson. I am very excited about leading the extraordinary group of people that live and work here, who contribute so much to the defence of this nation.

                “I also acknowledge how important the continued support from the people of Oxfordshire is to Benson and I look forward to meeting and working with them over the next few months.”


                • #9
                  DFC Awarded to Charles Lockyear

                  An RAF pilot whose helicopter was riddled with bullets and badly damaged as he dropped off troops in Afghanistan has been decorated by the Queen for his bravery returning to rescue them.

                  Flt Lt Charlie Lockyear, from Teignmouth, was presented with a Distinguished Flying Cross at Windsor Castle for his courage returning to the scene where his helicopter was shot up, so he could pick up troops left behind.

                  Flt Lt Charlie Lockyear from Teignmouth with his Distinguished Flying Cross

                  His Chinook helicopter was damaged and one of his crew wounded by intense Taliban fire as he came in to drop of his passengers during the mission in May 2013.

                  The fire was so heavy, he aborted the drop off and withdrew, but because the radio and intercom had been shot up, he was unaware some troops had already got off and were left behind in a firefight with the insurgents. The 35-year-old then made the decision to go back and get them.

                  Flt Lt Lockyear, of 18 (B) Squadron based at RAF Odiham in Hampshire, said: "People were getting shot, rounds were going off. “I thought: 'This is not the place to stay'. We sorted out the aircraft, things quietened down a little bit, then we did an assessment. "It was a remarkably easy decision to make because you know you've got a small group of guys stuck in a field and you know for a fact they are under contact (with the enemy). "The GPS was one of the systems that had gone down as well as engine instruments, flight instruments, radios, the autopilot – and we had to find them. "They were camouflaged and they weren't waving because they were still in a firefight but we found them."

                  During the first approach, flying shrapnel had left Master Aircrew Bob Sunderland wounded in the groin, but as they returned to the landing site, he was able to lay down suppressing fire with the helicopter’s machine gun. MACR Sunderland was awarded a Mention in Dispatches for his actions.

                  Once the troops had been picked up, and despite the damage to the helicopter - including bullet damage to the rotor blades, Flt Lt Lockyear guided the aircraft back to Camp Bastion’s hospital, where the injured were treated.


                  • #10
                    Putting Puma 2 Through its Paces

                    The Royal Air Force has been demonstrating its newest helicopter, the Puma 2, ahead of its entry into service. It won't be combat ready until next Spring, but the two squadrons which will fly it have been showing the upgraded aircraft to a defence minister and other visitors.

                    RAF Puma HC2 RAF as seen at RAF Benson, Summer 2014 (Photo: Rob Lovesey)
                    ​See video


                    • #11

                      UK Defence Helicopter Training Bid Details Emerge

                      Three bidders – and three different aircraft manufacturers – are in the running to supply a new fleet of helicopters for use by the UK armed forces under the Military Flight Training System (MFTS) programme.

                      Run by Lockheed Martin-Babcock joint venture Ascent, which delivers MFTS, the contest has attracted responses from Airbus Helicopters UK, Cobham and Elbit Systems.

                      No further details have been released on any of the bids, but Flightglobal understands that rotorcraft from three separate airframers have been proposed.

                      Airbus Helicopters is thought to be offering its EC135 and EC145 light and medium twins, Cobham is pitching an AgustaWestland-based solution – likely to be the skid-equipped AW109 Trekker light twin – and Elbit is utilising Bell Helicopter products for its proposal, believed to be the 407.

                      Paul Livingston, Ascent managing director, declines to reveal the specifics of the offers, but says its request for proposals did not specify a particular rotorcraft type, nor whether it needed to be single- or twin-engined, nor the number required.

                      “They will pick a platform and work out how many they need in order to provide the number of training hours the Ascent syllabus demands,” he says. “We are confident from Ascent’s point of view that the competition is going to present us with a diverse range of options across these bidders.”

                      However, Livingston confirms that all the types proposed are “modern helicopters with full glass cockpits”.

                      Ascent hopes to be able to present its recommended solution to the UK Ministry of Defence by the third quarter of 2015, with a contract award anticipated in early 2016.

                      Training delivery is scheduled to start from April 2018 at the Royal Air Force's Shawbury base in Shropshire, following the end of Cobham’s contract covering service provision at the Defence Helicopter Flying School at the site in March that year.

                      The new rotorcraft will replace the current training fleet, which Flightglobal's Ascend Fleets database records as comprising 24 Airbus Helicopters AS350 Squirrel HT1s and 11 Bell 412 Griffin HT2s.

                      All the bidders decline to comment.