The last two Royal Air Force Merlins withdrawn from Iraq returned to RAF Benson.
August 11: The last two Royal Air Force Merlins withdrawn from Iraq returned to RAF Benson today, ending six years of operations by RAF helicopters in Operation ‘Telic’.
Merlin and Puma Force Commander and Station Commander Group Captain Jon Burr said: “The Merlin made its name in casualty evacuation, carrying out daring rescues in a hostile environment to save British and coalition lives. It’s been a big commitment for the personnel of RAF Benson. Some staff have been deployed in Iraq several times over, which combined has added up to almost two years of their life spent in Iraq.”
The respite will be short for the Merlin crews, as they will be deployed on Operation ‘Herrick’ in Afghanistan as soon as modifications to the helicopters are complete. Engineering work has begun on upgrading the Merlin fleet to ‘Theatre Entry Standard’, which includes fitting improved rotor blades and updating the Defensive Aids Suite. Wing Commander Nigel Colman, Officer Commanding 78 Squadron, said: “We faced quite varied and significant challenges in Iraq, on an operation which has at times, involved intense war fighting. Now we’re able to prepare for and be completely focused on Afghanistan.”
Before deployment, the Merlin Force will undergo a four-month training exercise in the United States to acclimatise to ‘hot and high’ conditions. Group Captain Burr added: “We are pulling out all the stops to make sure we are ready for Afghanistan. We must ensure crews are trained to operate safely and that both crews and aircraft are in tip-top condition.”
Look out for more on this story in future issues of AIR International and AirForces Monthly magazines.