The green Merlin Mk3 helicopters of 845 Naval Air Squadron are on their way to Norway to join the Commando Helicopter Force on Exercise Clockwork.
Three Commando Merlin left Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton for a three-day journey to Royal Norwegian Air Station Bardufoss. The Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) are doing their annual cold weather training and Arctic flying qualifications.
Once they’ve completed the 1,433- mile journey, 845 Naval Air Squadron's aviators will fly hundreds of miles inside the Arctic Circle, proving their ability to operate in one of the world’s harshest environments.
For some, this annual trip to Bardufoss is like a homecoming, having operated there for years. For others, this is the first time they will see first-hand where CHF and its predecessors have flown for half a century.
845 Naval Air Squadron will join their sister squadron 847 Naval Air Squadron in Norway. From there they will lift Royal Marines into the heat of the action in one of the coldest, most unforgiving places on the planet. They will also carry out load lifting training alongside supporting the commandos.
Merlin pilot, Lieutenant Tom Lennon of 845 NAS is well versed in the challenges of operating in the frozen north.
"The long-standing Exercise Clockwork, conducted by Joint Helicopter Command some 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle, has been pivotal in delivery of Arctic training to personnel from all three services for the last 50 years," he said.
"Conducting cold weather survival training and completing the Arctic flying qualification has provided some of the most exciting and challenging training opportunities of my career. The sheer difficulty of flying and operating amphibious battlefield helicopters in Norway provides constant lessons for aircrew and maintainers.
“My flying instructors learnt the ropes of Arctic flying on the venerable Sea King and their instructors before them on the Wessex. Taking the complex, digital and physically massive Merlin helicopter into the Arctic Circle today continues a five-decades long tradition of imparting hard-earned experience in the most challenging flying environment there is.
“The unforgiving nature of the Arctic, the ever-changing global political environment in which we operate and the constant evolution of technology and equipment means our presence in the high northern latitudes is as valid and necessary today as it was in 1969.
"We have the best people and the best equipment operating on Exercise Clockwork and I cannot wait to return to fly in Norway, year on year."
Around 90 personnel from 845 will operate in Norway – a mixture of pilots, air crewmen, engineers and other support trades, all of whom must complete the cold weather survival course led by the Royal Marines Mountain Leader cadre.
The engineers will brave temperatures around -30°C out on the flight line to keep the aircraft functioning in an environment that takes its toll on people and machinery.
Up in the icy skies, pilots and aircrew will be tested in a wide variety of tasking to qualify as competent operators in the Arctic Circle.
Their tasks will involve night-time snow landings, mountain landings, troop drills and load lifting.
This year marks 50 years of Clockwork and British personnel training for combat in the region and to celebrate that fact, the Duke of Sussex, Captain General of the Royal Marines, will visit Bardufoss on Thursday.
As part of the occasion, a Sea King Mk4 will be donated by CHF. The retired warbird is to act as a ‘gate guardian’ – effectively a giant statue which greets any visitor to Bardufoss air base.