Junglie Farewell: Sea King HC4 Retires from Royal Navy Service

Written and photographed by Tom Mercer | March 31st 2016

The mighty Sea King HC4 has served with the Royal Navy for decades and throughout that time it has been the airborne platform of the Royal Marines. Wherever Marines deployed, the mighty ‘Junglie’ of the Commando Helicopter Force followed, supporting troops both in the air and on the ground. Today, after more than 35 years, the Sea King HC4 is to be retired from active service at RNAS Yeovilton, marking the end of an era for the Fleet Air Arm.

For almost four decades the ‘Junglie’ Sea King has been the backbone of international Royal Marine deployments. During this time the big green helicopter has been responsible for the transportation of personnel, their kit, supplies and heavy battlefield equipment; the Sea King has done it all.


The HC4 is one of the most heavily modified versions of the Sea King family and owes it’s rugged versatility, believe it or not, to the Egyptian Air Force.

The Egyptians had shown a lot of interest in the Sea King but due to the nature of the environment it’d be operating in, they saw little need for the navalised add-ons. As a result, Somerset-based helicopter company Westland proposed the ‘Commando’, a design which most notably would see the removal of the side-floats and a reinforced landing gear.

The Ministry of Defence were so impressed with the Commando prototype that, with the addition of folding rotor blades to allow for storage on a carrier, an order was placed with Westland for a large number of new-build aircraft and these were officially designated HC4 by the Royal Navy. After it’s maiden flight towards the end of the 1970s, the HC4 quickly earned its predecessor’s ‘Junglie’ nickname and became a vital platform for the Commando unit.


The Commando Helicopter Force deployed to Afghanistan throughout OP HERRICK but due to the incredibly harsh desert environment, the ‘Junglie’ needed even more upgrades.


The aircraft that went to Afghanistan with 845 and 846 NAS were upgraded to HC4+ standard and these featured much-improved rotor blades to cope with the challenging landscape, defensive aids to combat incoming enemy fire and night vision goggles which were an essential piece of kit when crews were tasked with flying through the night.


The Sea King HC4 has been a formidable asset in the hands of the Royal Navy and is a type that will be sorely missed by all involved.

Just a few weeks ago we were invited to RNAS Yeovilton and given the opportunity to sit down with Cdr Gavin Simmonite DFC, Commanding Officer 848 NAS, and discuss all things ‘Junglie’.


“Crikey, where do I begin? All the way back to the Falklands and through every operational theatre that the UK has been sent to, the Sea King has been there and it’s been pretty relentless. We added it all up last year and worked out that it had been more than 25 years constantly on operations somewhere around the globe, which in itself is probably unparalleled for UK defence work. It’s been in the harsh environment of Afghanistan and Iraq in the last decade or so, and Northern Ireland, Bosnia and the Falklands before that. We also provided humanitarian aid as recently as OPERATION PATWIN in the Philippines a couple of years ago. The Sea King is/was versatile, forgiving and incredibly capable for its time.”


The HC4 has been a phenomenal and exceptionally reliable platform for both the Commando Helicopter Force and Royal Marines over the years, with each member of the crew having their own unique memory of the mighty green giant.

“I don’t think we’ve lost a single one in a fight…sorry, actually no, one ditched in the Falklands but that wasn’t due to battle damage! To give you an idea, a colleague relayed a story from Afghanistan where he was under-slinging supplies for troops on the ground in the mountains and took seven rounds through the aircraft in the process.

“To be frank”, he said, “it would have been easier to remove the things that were still working on it rather than those that the rounds had taken out.” 

It was that good an aeroplane that he was still able to fly it away, recover to the operating base, repair it and then put it straight back into action a week or so later. To take seven rounds like that through some pretty complex systems and to still be able to fly it away shows just how good an aircraft it really is.”


The stories don’t stop there though, you know what it’s like to drive through a blizzard, don’t you?

“Anyone who’s flown in Norway can relate to this story, it’s just about the harshest environment anyone can learn to fly in, which is why training there is SO good. I was number three in a formation of four and in Norway, because it’s that cold, you get into really poor visibility because of the heavy snowstorms. You can’t go up because it’s too cold and icy, you can’t go backwards because someone is behind you and to either side you usually have other obstacles, so below was the only option. The aircraft in front slowed down so much that we had to effectively go over the top of it and when we landed, the pilot of that aircraft got out and started examining the top of his Sea King,

“What are you doing?” we asked, “I’m checking for your tyre marks!”

That’s how close it was!”


Of course, as much as we could have talked about the Sea King all day long, this retirement also marks the beginning of something still relatively new to the Royal Navy and the Commando Helicopter Force.

“Whereas the Sea King is like putting an old comfortable pair of gloves on, I think that the Merlin will probably catch me out if I don’t have a good instructor next to me. Flying the Sea King just feels natural, like an extension of your own body. The view you get from the cockpit of a Sea King is actually much different to the view from a Merlin. You can, believe it or not, actually see a lot more from the Sea King; the Merlin has a much more nose-up attitude in the hover compared to the Sea King which makes it a little harder to maneuver in a confined area. However, the Merlin is much more stable in the hover so it’s also a little easier in that respect.”


As part of an MoD re-shuffle, the Commando Helicopter Force were assigned the Merlin HC3/3A fleet from the Royal Air Force. In time these airframes will also be upgraded to HC4 standard so that they are completely fit for amphibious use. The upgrades will include a folding main rotor-head and tail section, an all-glass cockpit, new avionics and an improved undercarriage.

“Merlin is a far more modern aircraft, for starters you can get more troops in the back. In theory you can sit 27 in the back of a Sea King but they’d have to be tiny troops in all honesty, Merlin will comfortably take 24 with all their kit. It can carry more, under-sling more in terms of load lifting, it can go a lot further and a lot quicker. Add to that the modern avionics and upgrades, and it brings it up to a far more modern, up-to-date platform. Further, faster and more capable; a much greater improvement for our fleet.”


“We will have less than half the number of Merlins compared to Sea Kings but bear in mind that when the Sea King was first  introduced, the size of the Royal Marines and Royal Navy was much, much bigger. The scaling down in numbers is adequate to the size of the task at hand in assisting with the Royal Marines today. We simply don’t need as many to complete the task as we would have with Sea Kings.”


Whilst it’s true that the reliability of Merlin isn’t ideal at the moment, Cdr Simmonite explains that it’s only a matter of time.

“Merlin is a far more complex airframe in terms of avionics, warning systems, management systems telling you when things are going wrong on it. We’re just getting used to it really, we’re learning a lot from our compadres at Culdrose who have been flying the Merlin (HM2) for some years now. For the moment it’s not as reliable as we’d like #Junglie Farewell: Sea King HC4 Retires from @RoyalNavy Service #Aviation #FlyNavy #Article #News #EndOfAnErbut that will only get better as we get more used to it. We’re using and learning from some of the engineers who have operated and maintained the Culdrose Merlins. We’ve had them coming into Yeovilton to assist us along the way. It absolutely will be just as reliable, I’ve no doubt about that.”

Whether you’re a Pilot, Crewman, Marine, Engineer or maybe just an enthusiast of the industry, the remarkable ‘Junglie’ Sea King will go down in history as one of the most versatile helicopters ever built.


“Those of us that have been fortunate enough to fly the Sea King fell in love with it, it’s been a great honour. I don’t think there’s any particular one thing about the Sea King that we’ll miss, just the Sea King itself, it’s a phenomenal aircraft.”


Aviation Highlights would like to take this opportunity to thank the Royal Navy Commando Helicopter Force and personnel of RNAS Yeovilton for being so incredibly welcoming during our visit. None of this would have been possible without your help.

Boscombe Down Aviation Collection

Written and photographed by Tom Mercer | February 28th 2016

The Boscombe Down Aviation Collection (BDAC) was opened in 1999 as a museum that showcased the incredible history of British aviation at Boscombe Down. The museum was originally housed on site at and like much of the area, was shrouded in secrecy with very limited public access to the collection.

In 2012, due to increased on-site rental charges brought into effect by the Ministry of Defence, keeping the collection at Boscombe Down became unsustainable and the team started looking for a new home in the local area.

Thankfully an agreement was reached with Old Sarum airfield and Hangar 1, an original 1918 Belfast Truss hangar, was converted so that it could house the collection and a small shop.


Entry to the museum costs just £8.50 and for that incredibly reasonable price you get to wander around the collection for as long as you want, with the rare privilege of being able to touch and get as close to the exhibits as is physically possible.

The museum houses a few complete airframes, countless cockpits and important aviation artefacts from Boscombe Down’s past; there really is something for everyone.

‘Restoration’ Defined

Before you even enter the museum, you’re greeted by a beautifully restored Hawker Hunter F6A (XF375) which is displayed in its original Empire Test Pilots School (ETPS) red and white paint scheme. After a lengthy time in service with both the ETPS and RAE, XF375 was acquired by the OFMC at Duxford where it was hoped that she’d be restored to flying condition. Things didn’t work out and as a result she was once again put up for sale. BDAC acquired the airframe in 2007, a fitting tribute to her time spent at Boscombe Down.


The first thing you notice when you step inside Hangar 1 is the diversity and quality of the collection. A number of airframes take centre stage inside, the first of those being Gloster Meteor WK800.

In 1953, this aircraft joined the Royal Australian Air Force as A77-867 and deployed to Korea a year later with 77 Squadron. Having made a significant contribution to the war efforts in Korea and assisting with training duties back in Australia, A77-867 finally returned to the UK in 1971 and was registered once more as WK800 and converted to a U16 (designated D16) variant. WK800 was later used for calibration flights and as a drone to train Jindivik controllers before she was finally retired from active service in 2004.

Sea Harrier XZ457 is another great example of the hard work that goes on at BDAC. The airframe was donated to the collection in a dreadful state in 2001 when the Sea Harrier Fleet was retired and XZ457 was deemed surplus to requirements.


At the time of acquiring the aircraft, BDAC were very much unaware of its historical significance but after a little research it was discovered that XZ457 had four confirmed ‘victories’ during the Falklands Campaign; two A-4Q Skyhawks, one with Sidewinder and one from 30mm canon, and two Grupo 6 Daggers, again both with Sidewinder missiles. Having been converted from an FSR1 to FA2, XZ457’s life in service came to an unfortunate ending when it suffered an engine failure at RNAS Yeovilton in 1994.

As I visited the museum, Jaguar XX734’s restoration to static condition was 99% complete with just the finishing touches being applied and two weeks ago the project was finished.


XX734 was recovered from the Gatwick Aviation Museum back in May 2013 and at the time was nothing more than a wreck; much of the bodywork and tail was missing and/or broken. Over the last three years the team at BDAC have put countless man hours into getting this aircraft back up to scratch and I have to say, they’ve done an exceptional job of it. XX734 is perhaps one of the most comprehensive museum restoration projects I’ve ever seen.


There are currently two other major restoration projects underway.

The Bristol Sycamore was the first British-designed helicopter to be put into production and this example, XJ380, was acquired by the museum in June 2007 having being moved between many locations during it’s post-retirement life. Restoration started the following year and has been ongoing ever since.

XJ380 has recently been moved to the end of the main hangar, down where the Jaguar was being worked on, so that the team can put the finishing touches to the bodywork.


Jet Provost XR650 was delivered to 7 FTS at Church Fenton in 1963 and saw active service with the RAF right up until 1976. She was later moved to Boscombe Down for ground instructional use before being donated to BDAC some years later.

Like many of the aircraft that BDAC have acquired, XR650 arrived at the museum needing much attention. The aircraft is mostly complete now and when I visited, was coated in primer ready for it’s paint scheme to be applied. It’s my understanding that this Jet Provost will eventually wear the red, white and blue training colours applied to it during its time with 3 FTS.

As well as the complete airframes that BDAC have worked so hard to restore, the museum also houses a fascinating collection of cockpits, most of which can be opened up for people to sit in; the museum prides itself on its ability to provide hands-on interactivity with it’s collection.

The biggest cockpit section (by some margin) is the BAC 1-11, registration XX919. The BAC 1-11 was one of the most successful British-built airliners of its generation and later played an important role with Qinetiq in the testing and development of many of the latest avionics systems.


The final BAC 1-11 retired from service with Qinetiq in 2013 and was donated to the Classic Air Force Museum in Newquay. XX919 was acquired by BDAC in the early 2000s and is a fine example of the type. The entire front section is pretty much as it was when it would have been in service and to sit in the cockpit of such a special aircraft is a real treat.

As well as the 1-11, there are also around 20 other cockpits all restored and on show for the public to interact with but three of them really stood out for me: Tornado F2 zd936, Harrier GR3 XV784 and Lightning F2A XN726.


Both the Tornado and Harrier were open during my visit and I simply had to take a seat in both to get an idea for what it must have felt like to be at the controls of two key aircraft from the RAF’s past. I have to say I’m not sure I’d make a great pilot because even with the canopy open I felt a little claustrophobic; how people manage to get in and out of these aircraft in such a hurry amazes me!

A Trip Worth Making

The Boscombe Down Aviation Collection really is a phenomenal museum that’s truly dedicated to educating us on the importance of Boscombe Down and the vital part it continues to play in the testing and development of aviation, not just in the UK but on an international scale.

If you’re looking for a great day out then BDAC is an absolute must. I completely lost myself in the collection, I found the hours ticking by without even realising it! As with most museums, one of the best things about this place was the friendly staff who seemed to know just about everything there is to know about the subject. Also, if you’re like me then you’ll be glad to know that the museum is extremely ‘photographer friendly’ which is always a massive bonus!

I can guarantee I’ll be back at the museum before the year is out!


Behind The Scenes: Sea King Mk4 Retirement Shoot

Aviation Highlights were recently invited to RNAS Yeovilton to cover the last days of the ‘Junglie’ Sea King Mk4 in service. The idea behind the trip was to get a feel for just how much the aircraft has achieved while in service, talk to those that have flown and worked on the aircraft and also to capture some very special air-to-air photographs over the beautiful Somerset countryside.

The day started with an introduction to the Sea King Mk4 and a short briefing on the day’s programme. We were soon split up into three different groups for flying; Wave 1, Wave 2 and Wave 3. I was lucky enough to be assigned to AVENGER2 in Wave 1 which ultimately meant that we’d get the best light of the day, taking to the air just after 1430.

The plan was to take off from RNAS Yeovilton as a two-ship and head north at 500ft for a 40-minute round trip to Glastonbury Tor. The cargo door on a Sea King is located on the right-hand side which meant that side-on shots were the most likely outcome for the shoot, it also meant that the aircraft would have to swap positions halfway through the shoot in order to give the other aircraft a chance at capturing the Sea King in flight.

A full article will follow in the coming weeks as we get closer to the retirement date but for now, take a look at our first behind the scenes film.

The Great British Airshow

Written and photographed by Tom Mercer | February 2nd 2016

On Monday 1st February, the Civil Aviation Authority released details of its latest proposal which, in their words, describes ways in which they aim to improve safety at airshows in the United Kingdom. However, looking into the proposal in a little more detail reveals that it is nothing more than an inexplicable hike in airshow display charges; something that will undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on the small and medium sized airshows of this country.

Let’s make something clear from the outset; what happened at Shoreham last year was an awful and tragic accident that shook the aviation community. It was the first time that a member of the public had died as a direct result of an air display in the UK since 1952 when the prototype model of the de Havilland Sea Vixen broke apart mid-display at the Farnborough Airshow.

As a result of that accident, airshow safety was drastically improved and over many years, the CAA has continued to adapt these guidelines into what many nations regard as the safest and most comprehensive set of airshow regulations in the world.

The Air Accident Investigation Branch continues to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Hawker Hunter crash and aims to provide a full report into the incident as soon as possible. The Shoreham accident sparked widespread media outcry and understandably, the CAA is once again reviewing airshow safety standards in this country.

The most recent proposal however, CAP1371, seems to have absolutely nothing to do with improving airshow safety standards and instead is focused solely on raising further funds for the organisation itself.

The proposal outlines illogical, astronomical display fee hikes, meaning that many of the smaller shows in this country (and there are a lot) may not be around for much longer because the proposed format is unsustainable. These charges are due to come into effect as early as April 2016 and with many airshows already selling tickets, it’s difficult to understand how they’ll be able to adjust in such a small time frame in order to cover the increased fees.

While most shows have remained quiet on the matter so far, the organisers of the Biggin Hill Festival of Flight have spoken out and released the following statement:

We are dismayed to read the recent Civil Aviation Authority publication, “Proposed Air Display and Low Flying Permission Charges”, which could see the demise of the British Air Show.

The headline of a 100% increase in charges for the display permission is bad enough but turn the page and a new charge has been introduced; a “post event charge” based on the number of display items.

So in 2015 if you had between 18 & 24 display items you paid £1,497 for the CAA permission.

In 2016 for 18 to 24 display items you will pay £6,994.

And forget a big public show ever happening again for 31 items you will be asked to pay £20,390.

This new charging policy will see the air shows large and small disappear for the calendar in the UK and its not just the display organisers who are affected, display pilots’ authorisations have gone up by 100% as well.

In the leisure and tourism industry airshows are identified as the second largest sector of entertainment in the UK, falling just short on numbers when compared to football. Not only do airshows provide a fantastic family day and raise an incredible amount of money for charities up and down the country, they also inspire the next generation of engineers and pilots.


My passion for aviation can be traced back some twenty years to when my dad took me to my first ever airshow at Farnborough in the early 1990s. I can barely remember anything from that day apart from a single flypast by Concorde and the Red Arrows; it was probably only 30 seconds or so but it was out of this world. Fast forward twenty years and my enthusiasm for the hobby continues to increase as each day passes. My love of aviation has led me to situations that I could have only dreamed of as a child; writing about and photographing some of this country’s greatest aviation subjects.

With the CAA’s proposed, drastically increased airshow display charges, I fear that the days of smaller, maybe even larger, airshows are numbered and if these plans are approved there is a chance that they may disappear altogether.

To many in the industry, airshows are a massive and fundamental part of the UK aviation scene and we will not stand by and let the CAA push these proposals through without a fight.

In association with the Military Aviation Authority (MAA), the British Air Display Association (BADA) will be holding the annual Pre-Season Air Display Conference next week and it is expected that both airshow organisers and display pilots will be lobbying their views on the CAA’s latest proposals.


More, now than ever before, the airshow community needs your support.

Please spread the word, share this article and help to make more people aware of just what this proposal could mean for the UK airshow scene.

If you feel as passionate about this subject as I do, please head over to http://publicapps.caa.co.uk/modalapplication.aspx?appid=58 and formally respond to the CAA proposal as soon as possible. This is absolutely crucial as it will be used as the basis to summarise objections against the proposal next month.

There is also a government petition that is gaining traction and as of 18:00 6/2/16, some 6796 of you have already added your signature to the list. While it is fantastic that so many of you have showed your support, this petition will only really be taken into account if the proposal goes ahead. It is vital that you first respond to the CAA.

Thanks for reading.


Boeing: Aviation Giant in the UK

Written and photographed by Tom Mercer | January 13th 2016

The Boeing Company’s roots in the aviation industry can be traced as far back as 1910 when William E Boeing purchased a shipyard on the Duwamish River in Seattle, a shipyard that was later converted into an aeroplane factory but it wasn’t until 1916 that Boeing was really established as an aviation entity. Boeing died just three days before his 75th birthday and unfortunately never got to see the world’s first successful commercial jet airliner take to the skies; the mighty Boeing 707. Since then Boeing’s legacy, The Boeing Airplane Company, has grown into an international aviation machine and over the past 100 years has set its sights firmly on the UK.


It should come as no surprise that Boeing sees the UK as a critical country for the aerospace industry, with the company itself describing the country as having ‘some of the world’s most inventive technology partners’.

During the 2014 financial year, the company recorded a massive £1.4billion expenditure with more than 250 UK suppliers but where did the company’s relationship with our great nation come from?

Where The Story Began

  • 1938: North American Harvard is sold to the British Government for training and reconnaissance.
  • 1941: British Government purchases three Boeing 314A aircraft for use by British Overseas Air Corporation (BOAC) and the Boeing Airplane Co. Field Service Unit is established to help operate UK-based B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft.
  • 1944: More than 1000 DC-3/C-47 aircraft are instrumental in the success of the D-Day landings.
  • 1960: BOAC introduces the 707-436 on it’s popular London-New York service.
  • 1971: BOAC operates its first 747 flight between Heathrow and New York.
  • 1978: Ministry of Defence (MoD) places an order for 30 Chinooks (CH-47C variant) at an estimated cost of US$200million.
  • 1980: First Chinook enters service with the Royal Air Force (RAF), designated HC1 (Helicopter, Cargo Mk1).
  • 1983-1984: RAF Chinooks deploy to Lebanon to assist with the British Army detachment.
  • 1991: United States Air Force (USAF) B-52s deploy to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire to participate in Operation Desert Storm.
  • 1998: British Airways takes delivery of its 50th 747-400.
  • 2001: C-17 Globemaster enters service with the RAF and almost immediately makes its operational debut in the Afghanistan conflict.
  • 2004: Boeing invests more than £7million into a new training facility at Gatwick.
  • 2005: European Sales and Marketing headquarters open at Heathrow House.
  • 2006: Boeing begins work on a 34-year ‘Through Life Contractor Support’ programme with the UK Chinook Force.
  • 2008: Boeing furthers its commitment to the UK and forms Boeing Defence UK.
  • 2009: RAF C-17s surpass 50000 flight hours.
  • 2010: Boeing 787 Dreamliner makes its international debut at Farnborough International Airshow.
  • 2011: Boeing receives new order from MoD for an additional 14 Chinooks and opens two new facilities in Bristol and Fleet.
  • 2012: Boeing begins final wind tunnel testing of the 737 MAX with Qinetiq in Farnborough.
  • 2013: Thomson Airways becomes the first UK airline to bring the 787 Dreamliner into service.
  • 2014: First Chinook HC6 enters service with the RAF.
  • 2015: Final HC6 is delivered to the RAF.

National Coverage

As you can see from the timeline above, Boeing UK has drastically expanded operations over the last twenty years and now has a major presence at around 30 locations across the country. During 2015 the company hired, on average, a new employee per day in the UK, with this growth trend continuing in 2016 and beyond.


With around 500 employees, Abbey Wood in Bristol is certainly one of the key sites for Boeing and it’s where the company works very closely with the MoD to support the UK’s military operations. Other large sites include Heathrow and Frimley, where commercial airline partners are supported, as well as RAF Odiham and Gosport where Boeing work with partners to maintain the UK Chinook Force. If that’s not enough, there’s also a state-of-the-art commercial aircraft flight training centre at Gatwick where pilots are put through their paces on seven advanced, full flight simulators alongside technician training.

Frontline Assets

As well as supplying countless types to homegrown international airlines, over the past 100 years Boeing has also successfully sold a number of different aircraft to the British armed forces, with many still in operation today.

Possibly the most notable Boeing aircraft in UK service is the tandem-rotor Chinook helicopter. The Chinook is famous for it’s unmistakeable ‘blade slap’ sound that’s generated by the air that passes between the two sets of opposing rotors and it’s an aircraft that has played a crucial role in every major engagement since the Falklands. With the 14th and final Chinook Mk6 being delivered at the end of 2015, there are now more Chinooks in the UK than ever before!


The Chinook is joined by the C-17 Globemaster III, a large transport plane that’s based at RAF Brize Norton, the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) E3-D Sentry, a military-derived variant of the successful 707 based at RAF Waddington, and the RC-135W Rivet Joint, a large all-weather electronic surveillance aircraft also based at RAF Waddington.


As a result of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), the MoD is currently in discussions with the US DoD regarding the purchase of nine Boeing P-8 Poseidon aircraft to fill the Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) role. The RAF have been without a MPA since the SDSR of 2010 when the Nimrod MRA4 was cancelled. The P-8 acquisition is estimated at a cost of £2 billion and will provide the RAF with a long-range, anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare platform, as well as being able to conduct high-tech intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions across the Forces.

It’s not just the RAF that has strong ties with Boeing.

The Army Air Corps acquired the first Apache AH Mk1 in 2001, with the final (67th) aircraft being delivered in 2004. The Apache AH Mk1 is an AgustaWestland license-built version of the Boeing AH-64 Apache Longbow attack helicopter, built in Yeovil, Somerset from Boeing-supplied kits. The AH Mk1 differs from it’s American cousin by having Rolls-Royce Turbomeca engines, a more comprehensive electronic defensive aids suite and folding rotor blades that allow the aircraft to operate from Royal Navy ships such as HMS Ocean.


The Royal Navy are currently also operating the ScanEagle Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). ScanEagle is launched autonomously by a catapult launcher and flies preprogrammed or operator-initiated missions. The aircraft is equipped with an advanced, gyro-stabilised camera turret which allows the Navy to surveil battlefields from a distance, for more than 24 hours, at an altitude of 16,000ft+.

ScanEagle UAV Copyright © 1995 – 2016 Boeing. All Rights Reserved.

100 Years of Innovation

Boeing is celebrating a century of aerospace excellence this year. Aviation has come a long way since 1916 and Boeing has grown into the world’s largest aerospace company but amazingly, they claim that they’re just getting started.


This summer will see Boeing once again descend on the UK airshow circuit with major exhibitions at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) and Farnborough International Airshow (FIA). The company’s presence at FIA16 will be extra special as the date of Boeing’s 100th anniversary, 15th July 2016, falls on the Friday of show week. Although nothing has been confirmed for the show yet, you can be sure that the company will be keen to showcase not only the future of the aerospace industry, but also their incredible, undeniable heritage across the full week of the show for both industry and public alike.


So many of you have been a part of this exceptional story and it’s time that your voice was heard. Whether you’re a pilot that’s flown a Chinook into the battlefield, an engineer that’s worked on a Boeing airframe or simply a passenger that’s had a memorable flight on a 747; Boeing want to hear from you!

To celebrate the centenary, Boeing are looking to you to share an unheard story from their past. So, have you got a story to tell? Head to www.boeing.com/our-stories and share your experience in your own words.

With the planned acquisition of the P-8 Poseidon, Boeing’s commitment to the UK is going to increase even further over the coming years and help propel this country’s aerospace industry into the next century.

Cleared To Lift: An Insight Into the Role of a Chinook Crewman

Written and photographed by Tom Mercer | January 2nd 2016

The UK Chinook Force has been involved in every major engagement since the Falklands and there is no shortage of tales to be told from the voices inside the cockpit. Pilots have been featured in many novels and articles, but what about the rest of the crew? At times a Chinook’s crew can consist of a maximum of five people but only two of those sit up front; what’s it like to be one of the remaining three? What exactly does a Chinook Crewman do? I sat down with Sergeant Ben Matterface from 27 Squadron, to discuss the role in detail.


“The primary role is saying what you see; turning what we can see into valuable information for the pilots and to give them situational awareness with the aircraft. Imagine you have an aircraft and you put that aircraft in a protective bubble; it’s our responsibility to make sure that nothing risks breaking that bubble wherever we’re flying, whether it’s with Under Slung Load, at altitude or in confined areas. People approaching the aircraft on the ground is something we have to be very aware of, as is low level flying and night flying. It’s down to us to make sure that the aircraft is safe in all aspects of flying. This part of the job is called Voice Marshalling. We are that third voice in the cockpit; the additional voice of reason.”

The different areas of Voice Marshalling have specific sets of terminology that must be used in order to correctly convey the situation.

“We have to be very exact in what we say. There is a very specific way that we have to say things and it must be word-perfect and said with the right tonality. We start to build a picture for the pilots and with experience, the picture gets more and more detailed; the pilot can only see to the front and has a restricted view to the side.”

It not just about learning the correct terminology though, the Crewman is responsible for much more than that.

“We’re responsible for calculating everything to do with the aircraft: what we can carry, how we can carry it and how much fuel we can have, plus our cargo arrangements. Quite often we’ll plan the route and navigate ourselves. There are times when we may get called off mid-tasking and reassigned; as a result we have to plan a completely new route on the move. We have digital moving maps with the Mk4 which is much easier than using physical maps like in the Mk3 and used to have in the Mk2. We’re gradually all converting to the Mk4 and Mk6 so navigation is becoming much easier. Trying to plan a route on a map, with a pen, while in flight in a Mk2 was a nightmare, they don’t call it the shaking office for no reason!”


The weight of the aircraft is an ever changing entity when in flight, especially if caught in strong winds, so this all has to be factored into the equation.

“We’re constantly calculating the weight of the aircraft when we’re on the move and we have to be aware of how the centre of gravity will shift; it’s like taking a maths exam that’s continually evolving. If we need to get from point A to point B via point C, how much fuel will we need? Fuel is weight, so how much capacity does that leave us to carry as cargo? If we’re not picking stuff up until an hour into the flight, how much fuel will we have burnt and how much additional weight can we take on and lift? When are we going to run out of fuel in Tank 1 and switch to Tank 2? There are so many different factors that have to be taken into consideration.”

It’s a complex enough conundrum during daylight hours so how does that all change when flying at night?

“The actual sortie itself is very similar but we will have done a little more in-depth route study, especially if we’re going to be at low-level, to make sure that we’re aware of any obstructions. Situational awareness can be extremely impaired when using Night Vision Goggles  – you have to be much more aware of your surroundings. Taking the time and consideration to properly asses things is absolutely crucial. Making sure that the aircraft is in the right state in the dark is also trickier so its paramount that we’re focused on the job at hand. We have to make sure that the aircraft is extra tidy and that we’re not going to trip over something in the dark; crew resource management is key at night. It’s an experience based skill I guess, you can’t really be taught CRM but you learn continually with each hour that you fly. Sometimes it can be as simple as getting everyone together before going out to the aircraft and saying “Let’s think about this lads, what’s the best way we can go and pick this up?”. Noticing whether a pilot is a little tired, knowing whether your crew is getting on, noticing something out of the ordinary on board – it all comes with experience.”

As was mentioned at the beginning of this article, the Chinook can be flown by a crew of three, four or five pilots. How does the crew dynamic shift with more team members on board?


“Well, we work the helicopter with the aim of completing a specific task. We use it to achieve an endgame and we all work together to get that done whether there’s three of us or five of us. You may have several aims in a sortie so the key is making sure that we’re all thinking ahead of the aircraft to make sure that everything is ready to go when required. We need to be as swift and smooth as possible; dropping the load, dropping troops – it’s irrelevant what the task is, timing is everything. We’re actually quite used to having a fifth person on board because one is normally there all the way through training, albeit from an instructor’s point of view. We’re very used to having that fifth person on board. We never stop learning; whoever says they know it all is quite frankly lying!”

During my time at RAF Odiham, I was fortunate enough to get kitted up and spend some time out on the airfield where several crews were practicing with Under-Slung Load. I was keen to see the versatility of the Crewman for myself.

“We tend to get very involved when it comes to Under-Slung Load, it’s our bread and butter. When we go across to JHSS, we have professional hookers that do a DLPC (Defence Landing Point Course) where they learn everything they need to know about hooking; I did it a couple of years ago while I was holding in line to be a Crewman. We can hook up a lot of loads to the helicopter without any hookers being involved when required though and that’s when Voice Marshalling becomes crucial. The Crewman will come up with the idea of how to load-up in most instances and the hookers may not be required – this is especially true when in the field on operation. It’s a very fragile set of events. A voice package exists specifically for Under-Slung Load to make sure that we’re accurate and entirely happy with our positioning. It’s usually at that time that we call the hookers in. They’ll hook it up and then the Pilot will lift once everyone is clear; with everything swinging around, the underside of the Chinook can be a very dangerous place to be.”

I’ve often wondered how a crew works out how they’re going to lift something but detailed lift instructions actually exist for most things.

“There are a lot of instructions on how to lift a certain type of land rover, ISO container etc. Sometimes there’s not a way of telling what’s inside a container or how the weight is distributed. If a pilot were to pull power on something that was too heavy, we’d obviously have to leave it in place and a rethink would be required. Lots of things can be put into nets to make it an easier piece of cargo to lift; its down to the crewman on how these things are lifted but we sometimes get information from our teams on the ground. Sometimes we’ll land-on if there’s time and have a proper briefing with the hookers on the ground; diagrams are best for circumstances like that and can really aid in efficiency.”


Sergeant Matterface is still very much in the infancy of his career but he was keen to share his own experiences from working in the field.

“I’ve been in the training system for eight years now. I started on the Nimrods before getting reassigned to helicopters, which was always my endgame. I haven’t been to Herrick, I missed the last operation by about a week so I haven’t had any major overseas challenges…yet. Exercise Joint Warrior (2015) proved interesting though, lifting some exceptionally heavy loads from one airfield to another where the aircraft was physically bending like a banana – I couldn’t close one of the doors because it no longer fitted! It was all within the aircraft’s capabilities but was certainly pushing the limits. Flying day into night can be tough, especially if it’s dusk to night and you haven’t had much of a break. 18 Squadron were on HMS Ocean and we were based up at RAF St Athan for an operation at Keevil airfield up on the Plain. It was more a planning exercise for HQ and for us it was a question of waiting to move, formulating a plan on how we were going to carry out our tasking and get the job done. It was like a massive puzzle. We got certain information filtered down to us, as and when required. From a Commander’s perspective, he/she would have had a lot of information and they had to decide who needs to know what and when. The flow of information was forever changing so we always had to be ready for everything to change at the last minute. Operationally speaking, the Chinook is an obvious and big target so had to make sure that we were ready for anything!”


Many thanks to the personnel of RAF Odiham and JHSS for making this article possible.