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Wings for the wizards as Commando Merlin crews earn their badges of honour
15 March 2017

Six months of intensive training on the Royal Marines’ new airborne battlewagon – the Junglie Merlin – came to an end for 14 pilots and aircrewmen.

Their families were treated to a spectacular Wings Parade at RNAS Yeovilton to celebrate the achievements of loved ones.

Pictures: PO(Phot) Si Ethell, CHF

LET’S go to work.

Fleet Air Arm and Royal Marines pilots and aircrewmen stroll away from their ‘steed’ after earning their wings – the end of a journey 18 months long at its shortest, three or four years for those going from civilians to qualified Merlin pilots.

Their friends and families were invited to 846 Naval Air Squadron’s home of Yeovilton to watch the coveted wings badges being presented… before the newly-qualified crews’ comrades in Commando Helicopter Force laid on a demonstration to give the audience an idea of what is expected of their loved ones on the front line.

And what is expected of them? Delivering Royal Marines to the battlefield by day or night. At sea. Over land. Rain or shine.

All 14 successful candidates at the Wings parade had completed six months of training on the Merlin Mk3, the green battlefield variant of a helicopter which has only been in the Fleet Air Arm’s hands for two or three years.

Having learned how to navigate the Merlin at low altitude, fly wearing Night Vision Goggles, carry loads of up to six tonnes beneath the fuselage – a Land Rover, BV tracked vehicles, 105mm gun or stores – mountain flying, formation and embarked operations, training reaches its climax with five intense days’ of assessment in the field to determine whether they are ready to carry Royal Marines into battle anywhere in the world.

The Commando Helicopter Force regularly runs Merlin Storm as the culmination of either conversion training from other front-line helicopters, or for ‘ab initio’ personnel – who’ve learned the basics of rotary-wing flight at RAF Shawbury and now must learn how to first operate, then ‘fight’ the green Merlin.

Sgt Mike Stenhouse RM Proudly displays his Aircrewmen wings and shares a family moment in a Merlin’s cargo door

Armed with up to three machine-guns and able to carry around 20 commandos in full kit, Merlin requires two pilots in the cockpit and two aircrewmen in the large rear compartment to carry out various duties: manning the guns, securing loads, ensuring the troops are properly strapped in, operating the rear ramp and guiding the Merlin safely down in confined spaces.

Like the grounds of BRNC in Dartmouth. With the surrounding terrain in ‘enemy’ hands, the moment had come to evacuate the ambassador as part of the scenario (think Saigon 1975) – testing the ability of the aircrew to plan and carry out a ‘hot’ extraction of personnel from a confined and contested landing site.

The rest of Merlin Storm was focused around Rollestone Camp on Salisbury Plain – about three miles down the A360 from Stonehenge – with ten instructors, 30 engineers and other support personnel from 846 NAS, one of two Junglie Merlin squadrons, assessing and helping the trainees to qualify.

On the ground, the helicopters found the red berets of 2 Para, the Gurkhas and other troops to support throughout the exercise.