Royal Air Force Chinook helicopters recently completed a training course with the US Marine Corps at Marine Air Corps Station Yuma in southern Arizona. The RAF personnel – two pilots and two crewmen — became the first overseas students to have fully participated in the Weapons Tactics Instructor (WTI) course.
Chinook pilots and crewmen from RAF Odiham, Hampshire spent seven weeks working around the clock at MCAS Yuma, where they trained alongside over 200 US Marine Corps students.
Gp Capt Lee Turner, Station Commander RAF Odiham and Commander of the RAF Chinook Force said: “This is really world class training. We’ve come here in effect to improve the capability of the Chinook Force and to train our people. It’s challenging for our crews and for our personnel here, not only the climatic conditions but also the complex nature of the training and the intensity of this which is a very focussed seven-week course.
“It’s a proud moment to be here as the first overseas fully participating members of the course and hopefully we’ve built strong relationships with the US Marine Corps and built on relationships we’ve had in the past.”
Temperatures at Yuma reached 50°C, providing similar conditions to those experienced by RAF Chinook crews deployed in the Middle East and Africa. Chinooks from Odiham are are currently serving overseas including Operation Shader in the Middle East and Operation Barkhane in Mali in support of French forces. In addition to training in the US, Chinooks are also training in the Middle East on Exercise Saif Sareea III.
The detachment commander responsible for the four RAF students and four instructors was Sqn Ldr Chris Middleton from RAF Benson, Oxfordshire. He added: “For the students this is a testing course. It’s training we haven’t received on the helicopter course for a generation. The complexity and scale is an issue for the students but over three to four weeks of ground school and then a crawl, walk, run process they get to be experts by the end. The students on return to the UK will take the good lessons they’ve learnt here back to their squadrons and build them into squadron training.
“In recent wars we’ve found ourselves with the US Marine Corps fighting side by side. If we have the lessons that we’ve gained working together in our pockets already then we’re going to be a more effective fighting force.”
Chinook pilot Flt Lt Jim Luke said: “It’s an awesome course to be part of and is as close as you’ll get to live operations. The students have felt the pressure; it has a relentless pace to it with six-day weeks, 12 hours a day through academics and flying.
“It takes in all the disciplines you expect to undertake as support helicopter crews, but they’ve integrated well with their Marine counterparts and have spoken about the value they’ve got from the course.”
The latest WTI course (WTI 19-1 also featured participation from the USMC MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor, AH-1Z Viper, UH-1Y Venom and CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters, and AV-8B Harrier, F/A-18 Hornet and EA-18G Growler fast jets.
A full report on No 27 Squadron’s training at WTI will appear in a forthcoming issue of AFM.