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Commando fliers complete Tors of duty supporting youth event on Dartmoor

3 May 2023
Commando fliers took to Devon’s skies to provide vital support to one of the biggest youth events in the UK.

The Merlins of 845 Naval Air Squadron once again were the jacks-of-all-trade over Dartmoor as some 2,400 teenagers took on the gruelling Ten Tors challenge over the Bank Holiday Weekend.

Organised by the Army’s Headquarters South West from Okehampton Camp, with support from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force as well as civilian emergency services and volunteers, the event consists of two challenges, the Ten Tors Challenge and the Jubilee Challenge.

The main yomp around Dartmoor tests the navigational, organisational and self-sufficiency skills of young people, formed in 400 teams of six.

They navigate routes of 35, 45 or 55 miles (depending on age) over the northern half of Dartmoor, visiting ten nominated tors / checkpoints in under two days. Teams must carry all that they need to complete their route and stay out overnight safely.

Completing Ten Tors is not easy with the terrain, distances and often weather – the rain fell once again this year – all conspiring against the young challengers.

The Jubilee Challenge is run closer to the camp and is designed for young people aged between 14 and 21 with a range of challenging conditions who complete one of several routes suited to their abilities.

The Commando Helicopter Force has leant its support – and aircraft – to the Ten Tors for many years: it serves a useful ‘in the field’ exercise, testing the ability of the Mobile Air Operations Team to establish makeshift landing/refuelling sites in bleak, otherwise inaccessible locations, and for ground crews to live and work in austere conditions such as sheep field.

My first year supporting Ten Tors has proved a rewarding and enjoyable experience both in the air and on the ground.

Merlin pilot Lieutenant Paddy Richardson

This year two Commando Merlins and their crews were required. Being able to swiftly fly over terrain impassable by vehicles or which would take considerable time on foot, the helicopters provide logistic lift capability for the organisers as well as manoeuvrability for the ground marshals.

However, it is their capability to provide the event’s medical teams rapid access to any injured participants, and subsequent airlift to regional hospitals that makes the Merlin’s so important and invaluable to the event.

For the aircrew – pilots and aircrewmen - Ten Tors allows them to practise and refine key flying skills such as navigation and advanced landings in an often inclement and challenging environment. 

“My first year supporting Ten Tors has proved a rewarding and enjoyable experience both in the air and on the ground,” said Merlin pilot Lieutenant Paddy Richardson.

“It is hard not to be caught up in the energy of such a prestigious event and excellent to continue the long tradition of support 845 Naval Air Squadron gives to the event.

“The squadron is immensely proud to support Ten Tors - aircrew and engineers alike enjoy the weekend. We look forward to continuing the tradition of supporting the event in years to come.”

Photos credit to Bob Sharples.

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