Royal Air Force, Chinook helicopters from RAF Odiham have been supporting the French forces in Mali on operations countering the ongoing insurgency.
The Chinooks have been transporting French personal to the forward operation bases as the French military conduct a changeover of troops. In addition, the heavy lift helicopters have been transporting supplies and equipment.
The RAF Chinooks form 1310 Flight RAF and are commanded by Squadron Leader Matthew Wight-Boycott. The Flight is based at Goa in Mali and has recently been operating in the Homborix Mountains region in Mali.
“Supporting French operations against violent extremists is an important and satisfying mission. Our aircrew, engineers and support staff are making a big impact: whether moving large numbers of troops and equipment to remote bases, or re-supplying a patrol in the desert, we are playing a vital part in this operation.
“We help reduce the reliance on road moves, typically vulnerable to Improvised Explosive Devices and some ground patrols can only be effectively sustained by helicopter.
“One of the other pilots is Flight Lieutenant Matthew Williams. He said: This is my first frontline deployment and it has not disappointed. The job calls for flying heavy payloads over long distances, in intense heat and above some pretty inhospitable terrain; in many respects the environment is a greater threat than the enemy.”
“The ‘fat tanked’ Chinook Mk 5 is perfect for this role; even performing in this extreme environment operating towards the edge of its performance envelope it always delivers. We have trained hard for this op and it’s great to see that investment paying off; this is an important task and by flying French troops we are keeping them off the roads and helping sustain their combat operations," said Flight Lieutenant Williams, Pilot.
1310 Flight RAF is a small, diverse yet cohesive unit and, although most of the Flight are drawn from 18 (B) Squadron at RAF Odiham, there are members of the Army and Navy, both regular and reservists also serving with the Flight.
“Working with the French is an absolute privilege and builds on a shared history; 18 (B) Sqn saw action in France during both World Wars whilst Odiham served as a base for Free French flying training from 1940. Here in Gao we are continuing that tradition and are absolutely integrated within the French GDT-A (Groupement Tactique Desert-Aerocombat) – whether eating, briefing, flying or even on parade – we are here shoulder to shoulder with the French,” Squadron Leader Matthew Wight-Boycott, Officer Commanding.