Royal Navy, March 09, 2019 - Heavy-duty Royal Navy helicopters have been battling the extreme conditions of Norway to get experience of flying in the Arctic Circle.
Three Merlin from 845 Naval Air Squadron, based at Yeovilton in Somerset, have joined Wildcat helicopters in northern Norway for Exercise Clockwork.
The annual winter training deployment of Commando Helicopter Force, the wings of the Royal Marines, ensures naval aviators are ready to support the marines on their operations all around the world.
At the Norwegian air base at Bardufoss, experienced fliers from 845 NAS have been spending time teaching newly-qualified pilots how to operate in the harsh environment, where temperatures have been as low as -27C.
845’s sister squadron 847 NAS have been in the region since January carrying out Arctic flying qualifications and working with the Army Air Corps’ Apache attack helicopters.
Merlin pilots, aircrewmen and engineers have been learning or refreshing their skills in all disciplines, both during the day and at night. They have conducted snow landings, under-slung load lifting, navigation, mountain operations, troop drills and formation operations.
Crews have also been taught how to fly in ‘white-out’ conditions of snow landings where visibility is often obstructed by a cloud of snow.
For the engineers, their time in Norway is spent learning how to keep the Mk3A flying safely and effectively in the unforgiving environment.
Pilot Lieutenant Tom Lennon said: “Part of our tasking out here includes working with deployed units of the Royal Marines and Norwegians. We also do an annual re-stocking of emergency supplies to the remote refuge huts located around the mountain wilderness.”
He added: “The weather in Norway is as biblical as the scenery. At one location, we landed in full white-out conditions in heavy snow before departing 15 minutes later with 50km visibility.
“The mountainous coastal terrain is among the most impressive I’ve ever seen. The scale and beauty of the Arctic landscape and the opportunity to operate our awesome aircraft here makes all the hard work worthwhile.”
845 took three days to travel the 1,400-miles to from RNAS Yeovilton to Bardufoss. The squadron flew east over England, across the Channel, over the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, staying overnight in Aalborg, and then continued across the sea following the Norwegian coast.
Along the way, the squadron stopped several times to refuel – including the air base at Ørland near Trondheim, home to Norwegian F-35 stealth fighters.
Lt Lennon said: “A lot of detailed planning goes into the process of flying three military aircraft through several foreign countries with overnight stops and refuels.
“We have a great team of pilots, aircrewmen and engineers on 845 NAS who worked hard together to make this possible.”
The Merlin arrived in time to meet His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, who was visiting Exercise Clockwork, which in 2019 celebrates 50 years, in his role as Captain General of the Royal Marines. During his visit, 845 showed the Duke around the Mk3A and discussed the difficulties of flying and maintaining the aircraft in the cold environment of Norway.