The first Chinook helicopters and around 150 personnel moved to RAF Benson on Wednesday as the Chinook Operational Conversion Flight joined their Puma colleagues.
The Chinook Operational Conversion Flight, which will eventually see 6 Chinook aircraft based at RAF Benson, joined the Puma Operational Conversion Flight to form the combined Puma and Chinook Operational Conversion Unit. They will be co-located at RAF Benson and will operate under the mantle of 28 Squadron.
The co-location of the Chinook and Puma Operational Conversion Flights will provide the best training for our personnel and the best value for money to Defence. RAF Benson is already home to state of the art training for Support Helicopter aircrew, including internationally recognised synthetic training provided through dynamic motion simulators.
28 Squadron will produce highly trained aircrew for front line Squadrons at RAF Benson (Puma) and RAF Odiham (Chinook), ready to provide helicopter lift capabilities to the British Army, Royal Marines and wider Defence and Government agencies. These capabilities include troop movements, re-supply, casualty evacuation, disaster relief, military aid to the civil community and air security.
The Operational Conversion Unit will teach aircrew how to operate their specific helicopter type. The students will arrive on 28 Squadron having learnt the basics of flying a helicopter at RAF Shawbury; the Operational Conversion Unit will then train them how to fly and operate the Puma and Chinook helicopters. This includes the ability to fly with under-slung loads, at low level, flying in cloud and flying at night, all of which are invaluable skills to a support helicopter pilot.
It is not only aircrew that arrived at RAF Benson today though; we also welcomed the team of experienced Chinook engineers that will be responsible for providing serviceable aircraft, as well as numerous families that are moving here to become part of the RAF Benson community. In total there will be around 150 personnel and their families moving to RAF Benson over the coming weeks to join their Puma counterparts as part of 28 Squadron.
Group Captain Simon Paterson, Station Commander at RAF Benson, said:
“It is the start of a new era at RAF Benson today as we welcome the Chinook Operational Conversion Flight. This is an ideal location for combined Puma and Chinook training to be undertaken because RAF Benson is also home to state of the art simulators. Together, this will provide the best initial training possible for all future Royal Air Force Support Helicopter aircrew. Outwardly very little will change at RAF Benson but understandably some of the local community are concerned at the change of aircraft operating here. We have been working closely with local parishes to disseminate information and address concerns and will continue to do so.”
Wing Commander Marty Lock, Officer Commanding 28 Squadron, said:
“It is a very proud day as the Officer Commanding of 28 Squadron to welcome the Chinook aircraft, personnel and families to RAF Benson to join existing Puma Force personnel to undertake this vital training role. My team have been set a big challenge; to deliver the combined operational conversion unit to provide the Royal Air Force with all its future Support Helicopter aircrew. I am certain that this is a challenge that we can deliver and I am honoured to be leading the team in this endeavour.”
The final 2 aircraft are expected to arrive in early 2016.
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