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Welcome to the Junglies as new breed of commando aviators make the grade

14 July 2022
Five pilots and two aircrewmen are ready to fly Royal Marines into harm’s way if required after earning their wings to fly with the Commando Helicopter Force.

The seven trainees on the Commando 1 course brought half a dozen years’ training to a close receiving the coveted insignia from Commodore Nick Walker – deputy head of the Fleet Air Arm – at RNAS Yeovilton in front of family and friends.

They will now deploy at home and abroad with CHF from desert sands to Arctic snow and the thick undergrowth of the Americas or Indo-Pacific which give the Junglies their nickname, moving marines and their kit around as required on exercises and front-line operations.

For the student pilots, the road to wings passed through Dartmouth, a short assessment at Yeovilton on Grob Tutors to determine they possessed the qualities expected of all aviators, completed Elementary Flying Training – learning the basics of flight, again on a fixed-wing aircraft.

Next comes helicopter pilot training in the Juno HT1 at RAF Shawbury from general handling, through the hover (described as “easy once you’ve got the hang of it”), then advanced manoeuvres: instrument flying, low-level navigation, landing/taking off from confined spaces, night flying including low level with Night Vision Devices, mountain flying and moving under-slung loads.

It’s now that the trainee aircrewmen – either coming directly from HMS Raleigh or from other branches of the RN who wanted a career change – entered the fray.

They learned the art of voice marshalling, navigation and operating the helicopter to make it the useful machine that it is.

They were also exposed to student pilots from all three Services and began the evolving world of Crew Resource Management to become a refined and efficient team, culminating in a major exercise/assessment at Shawbury.

Finally at 846 Naval Air Squadron in Yeovilton, the students learned to tame the Merlin Mk4/Mk4a, building on their experiences in the Juno, but in a significantly more complex and significantly larger helicopter.

Mountain flying was carried out around RAF Anglesey and Snowdonia, planning and carrying out a short deployment to Denmark, two weeks at sea aboard carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth all ramping up to the final assessment, known as MILEX (MILitary EXercise).

Students lived in tents, survived on ration packs working alongside 45 Commando from RM Condor, practising all they had learned.

Of those passing out, Lieutenant Edward Riley earned the Bill Murton Trophy for displaying the best Junglie spirit/ethos during training, the Westland Trophy was presented to Lt Patrick Richardson for the best all-round results in operational flying training and the ‘Doc’ Love Trophy to Sgt Simon Whitby RM for epitomising the Junglie spirit and ethos in training.

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