Royal Navy, November 02, 2011 - Sea King air and ground crews have completed the herculean task of moving their squadrons home from Afghanistan.
It’s taken a month to transfer the helicopters, equipment and personnel from the Commando Helicopter Force the 3,500 miles from Camp Bastion to their base at RNAS Yeovilton – with a little help from the RAF.
The Junglies of 845 and 846 Naval Air Squadrons completed their four-and-a-half-year mission over Helmand at the end of September, since when the helicopters have been prepared for the long journey home.
The helicopters were dispatched to Afghanistan in 2007 to support ground troops, since when they’ve ferried more than 80,000 personnel to various bases, carried 700 tons of supplies and clocked up some 12,500 hours in the skies of Helmand.
With the mission over, the team at ‘HMS Little Heathrow’ – the self-styled home of the Fleet Air Arm at Camp Bastion (there are also ‘eye-in-the-sky’ Airborne Surveillance and Control Sea Kings still flying over Helmand) – began the challenging task of moving all the relevant kit and caboodle home.
Some of the detachment’s vehicles, as well as their offices and infrastructure have been handed over to remaining Joint Helicopter Force (Afghanistan) units, but otherwise it was a case of ‘return and stow all gear’ in good old Royal Navy tradition.
Given the size of the task, it demanded the time and energy of every member of CHF based at Bastion. Each helicopter had to be specially prepared for transport in the back of a giant C17 transporter and the ten-hour flight back to the UK.
A team of seven personnel spent two days on each Sea King removing the tail rotor blades and antennae, fuel was drained and any secret kit aboard removed.
Finally, each six-tonne Sea King was ‘bug bombed’ – decontaminated to ensure that any of the micro organisms native to Helmand didn’t make the leap from Afghanistan to Blighty and cause havoc with the UK’s ecosystem.
With the aircraft safely stowed, the nice folk from the RAF flew them back to Brize Norton, where there was a specialist team to re-assemble the Sea Kings with all the relevant kit removed or stowed during transport. Finally, CHF crews jumped back in the cockpit and flew the helicopters on the final 70 miles of their marathon journey.
Now back at base, the Sea Kings are resuming their more usual role as the airborne workhorses in support of 3 Commando Brigade, which itself has just returned from Afghanistan.