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Commando Helicopter Force Merlins come through inaugural Tors of duty

9 May 2016
Sunshine on Dartmoor? What’s wrong with this picture?

Normally plagued by wind, rain and low cloud (it’s why the Royal Marines love training there), Dartmoor was bathed in brilliant sunshine for the annual Ten Tors Challenge (which is also normally plagued by wind, rain and low cloud…). 

Now in its 56th year, the challenge saw around 2,400 teenagers from schools in southern and southwest England spending two days navigating the wilds, visiting ten tors (hence the name) as they crossed 56 kilometres (35 miles) of moorland (scouts from Torbay were the first over the finishing line).

So far, normal fare (apart from the nice weather).

Another mainstay of Ten Tors is the presence of the Commando Helicopter Force whose whirlybirds are on stand-by to fly any casualties to hospital if required.

Merlin is faster, bigger and can lift a whole lot more than the Sea King. We can cover the entire length of the moor in less than 15 minutes and carry up to 20 passengers, which can make all the difference if we have to evacuate casualties in a hurry.

Lt Josh Albon

For the Yeovilton-based fliers, it’s good practice: casualty evacuation and operating in the field, away from the comforts of the air station.

For decades the Tors duty has been performed by Sea Kings. But not any more. The 2016 incarnation saw the first run out for its successor, the green Merlin.

Two of the helicopters, plus a small team of engineers, refuelers and operational support kept the aircraft serviceable and ready for any potential tasking or emergency. 

"We spent a good deal of time exercising and training with the Dartmoor Rescue Group for this exercise," said pilot Lt Josh Albon.

"Merlin is faster, bigger and can lift a whole lot more than the Sea King. We can cover the entire length of the moor in less than 15 minutes and carry up to 20 passengers, which can make all the difference if we have to evacuate casualties in a hurry."

The Merlins staged a flypast over the startpoint at Okehampton and conducted some tactical flying around the tors, before settling down into the routine of acting as flying ambulances.

"The Merlin was very successful over the weekend," said CPO Lou Wrightson, Senior Engineering Watch Chief for the detachment on the moor. 

"A lot of our operations mean we often have to work with minimal kit, very little back up and from field locations. Dartmoor has been a good test for our new aircraft; they've come out of it pretty well." 

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