Tuesday, June 23, 2009

RAF Merlin helicopters continue to operate in Iraq

Joint Helicopter Force (Iraq) continues to operate three Royal Air Force Merlin helicopters to provide the lift and shift capability for British forces in Iraq.

Flown by RAF aircrew, with support elements from the Army, Navy and RAF, helicopters remain the movement and logistic workhorse of choice to ensure the drawdown of forces from Iraq in good order.

Although UK combat operations were successfully completed at the end of April, the men and women of the Joint Helicopter Force are still flying operational sorties into Iraq every day. They are supporting the Joint Force Logistic Component, a specialist logistic team charged with bringing UK forces and equipment home from Iraq in good order.

In full body armour and flying tactical profiles constantly honed through the conflict thus far each Merlin takes off with twin front and one rear-facing General Purpose Machine Guns and over 1000 rounds of ammunition for each flight. Flares are carried and fired to protect against the possibility of heat-seeking missiles. At night they are often required to fly low level across a featureless desert with only Night Vision Goggles to aid their final descent into tight landing areas, often bristling with unlit masts and pylons.

“One of the biggest challenges here is the weather” said pilot Flight Lieutenant Mike Barclay, “it can be fine gin clear at take off but in less than 5 minutes the wind can whip up the sand into a ferocious storm, making a landing impossible. We have to be ready to make some swift decisions when that happens.

“The Merlin is a fantastic helicopter, but like any helicopter the heat presents its own challenges. We cannot lift the same payload we can in UK for example, this means careful planning and co-ordination is a constant feature of our activity” said Capt Ned Brown, an Army pilot who is Operations Officer for the Force.

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