It is not unusual on an Air Cadet Squadron to find aspiring pilots. But for most of them, their dreams are of fast jets, and high speed flight. Could the attraction of low flying turn their heads? 1921 (Lewisham) Squadron spent a day with the support helicopters at RAF Benson to find out.
In a packed day of visits, the cadets saw the full extent of the modern expeditionary Royal Air Force. Hosted by Sqn Ldr Cole, and his team at RAF Benson, the cadets started their morning on the flight line at 230 Squadron, operating the Puma helicopter. The crew and pilots took a lot of time to walk us around the aircraft, as well as explaining the role of helicopters in combat and the modern Air Force. Watching crews rebuild and refit the Puma helicopters gave a great insight in to the work done by engineers and crew, to support flight operations.
A similar story was told at 78 Squadron, where the operations of the Merlin helicopters was made even more complicated by the avionics and computers involved. Cadets heard from pilots and crew with recent experience in Afghanistan, and how they had worked in desert conditions to keep the aircraft flying.
Then, it was their turn. With helmets on, and nervous smiles in place, they strapped in to a Puma helicopter for a quick and low sortie over the Oxfordshire countryside. Their beaming grins on landing said it all â€“ but were they converts?
A quick lunch stop later, and it was time to see if they had the right stuff. Cadets were put in to the modern training environment of the Royal Air Force â€“ and taught about Force Protection as well as flying. Their RAF Regiment hosts were supremely professional, and explained how their counter-IED and operational training was saving lives. Cpl McDermott and his team then put the cadets through their paces on some training exercises â€“ and surprised some cadets with their own abilities.
But the real surprise was yet to come: the combat training in the air. Using the Tactical Control Centre, we were introduced to the multi-million pound Aircrew Training Facility, where six linked dynamic flight simulators were hooked up to show the cadets what flying was like. With our host from 230 Sqn acting as the Instructor Pilot, each cadet got the chance to strap in to the right seat of a Puma and fly the simulator for a sortie! Some budding pilots managed to fly off the simulated HMS Ocean, while others flew sorties over the south coast on tactical scenarios.
To round off the day, our aspiring aviators were give the chance to test out their courage in a different way, on RAF Bensonâ€™s brand new high ropes course. Under expert guidance, the cadets challenged themselves and each other to go higher and further than they had thought possible.
An amazing day, made possible by the hard work of Sqn Ldr Cole and his team at RAF Benson, and Sqn Ldr Gourri and her team at L&SE Region HQ, gave these Lewisham youngsters a chance to see what operational helicopter flying was all about. And what did they make of it?
â€œDefinitely the best visit Iâ€™ve ever done â€“ I learned so much, and have so much respect for these pilots and helicopter crews. What an amazing job!â€