February 21, 2019 – Aircrew and engineers from 847 Naval Air Squadron have found a new friend in the deep freeze of the Arctic Circle after training with Apache attack helicopters.
The Wildcat helicopter squadron based at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton have been in Norway since January as part of the annual Exercise Clockwork.
It is the first time the Apaches, of 4 Regiment Army Air Corps’ 656 Squadron, have worked in the region and their six weeks at Bardufoss air station gave 847 NAS the chance to test the capabilities of a class of aircraft they have never worked with before.
Both were put through their paces, learning to operate effectively and safely in the harsh, icy conditions of Norway, where temperatures can reach -30C.
Exercise Clockwork, run by Commando Helicopter Force (CHF), prepares naval service aviators to support Royal Marines while they operate in cold weather. It is this year celebrating 50 years, an occasion marked with a visit from His Royal Highness, the Duke of Sussex in his role as Captain General of the Royal Marines.
During their time working together, CHF were able to give advice to 656 Squadron on how to get the most out of the Apaches from firing their guns to landing safely in the snow.
847 NAS also went through the training, known as environmental qualifications.
Pilot Lieutenant Mark Hanson is in Norway for the first time. The 29-year-old said: “It has been really good out here and thanks to the engineers, we have been able to do lots of flying.
“The environmental qualifications see us do mountain flying, snow landings and allows us to get used to the pressures of operating in a cold environment.
“The weather is a big factor and the first few times flying in the snow is a little disorientating.
“We do prepare in the UK with simulators but there is only so much you can do. A lot of it is learning once you’re out here and in the environment for real.
“One of the challenges I have found is recirculation when landing because the snow limits visibility. That is why the Aircrewman are invaluable in helping us.”
Aircrewman Sergeant Ryan Skeats said challenges like snow recirculation are why spending time in Norway is so important as well as the need for 847 NAS to support Royal Marines, the military’s extreme cold weather warfare experts.
With the environmental qualifications nearly over, the squadron will be moving on to the next step of their training.
Sgt Skeats said: “Over the next few days we will start with live firing, tasking and working with the Norwegians on some exercises. We are all really looking forward to that.”
Lt Hanson added: “For some of us it is our first time doing the live firing so it will be good to move on to the next phase of our time out here.”
The freezing temperatures can present challenges for the engineers. Twenty-two year old Air Engineering Technician Harry Sheeran has been in Norway for the past few weeks. It is his first time abroad with 847 NAS.
He said: “The work we do out here is the same as what we do in the UK but we have to deal with the harsher environment. It is all about improving the capability of the squadron to operate in this sort of weather.
“Despite the cold it has been really enjoyable working in Norway. It has been a good experience and I liked dealing with the challenges we’ve had to face.”
While in Norway, the personnel of 847 NAS have to complete their cold weather survival training. This is a week-long course which sees them learn how to survive in the snow, including in tents ranging from four-men to 10-men, how to build a snow shelter known as a Quincey and finally, how to get themselves out of a frozen lake in drills known as ice-breaking.