Commando fliers spend six weeks training in punishing desert conditions.
Nearly two years after their last experience of operating in desert conditions, 845 Naval Air Squadron decamped from their base at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset to Aqaba in southern Jordan for Exercise Pashtun Commando.
The squadron – which spent four years in Afghanistan with its sister Commando Helicopter Force unit 846 NAS – is using the unique environment offered by Aqaba and nearby Wadi Rum to train aircrew, engineers and ground support teams alike.
Although there may be a wealth of experience of desert operations in 845 Naval Air Squadron, these veterans of Afghanistan still need to top up their skills, especially with an influx of new members.
Pilot Lt Chris Gayson, said: “I was initially quite apprehensive and unsure what to expect from the hostile desert environment. Nevertheless, I couldn’t wait to get started and add to the skills I had already learned in flying training.
“The prospect of losing all visual references during the final approach was a touch unsettling, but under the watchful eye of experienced instructors, I was able to apply the techniques and get to grips with desert flying.”
As if landing in a dust cloud wasn’t a big enough challenge, the syllabus soon progressed on to load lifting and formation landings by day and night. As well as making landing difficult, the Jordanian dust also makes life difficult for 845’s engineers.
“The characteristics of the dust in Jordan really put an extra burden on the aircraft. The teams work tirelessly to keep up the pace of flying,” explained pilot Lt Nick Hallatt.
They have done so contending with daytime temperatures in the mid-40s Celsius – well over 100˚F – although there has been some well-earned down-time to visit the historic site of Petra, the city carved out of the red rock just 60 miles from Aqaba.
All in all, said detachment commander Lt Cdr Edwin Adams, every facet of the Commando Helicopter Force has been tested in and above the sands of Jordan on Pashtun Commando.
He added: “The exercise has proved hugely beneficial for all members of the detachment. Clearly the main aim is to train and refresh aircrew in desert flying techniques – I have never experienced an environment so challenging and similar to that in Afghanistan.
“It is an amazing yet very tough environment to train in, but, the members of Commando Helicopter Force rose to the challenges and produce the goods, training hard so that we can fight easy.”