Seven graduate aviators from the Commando Helicopter Force saw the culmination of several years hard work as they were finally awarded their prestigious “wings” on graduating from 848 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton.
Although every course relies upon good teamwork to complete the demanding training, trophies acknowledging individual performance were also awarded by the guest of honour, Brigadier Ellis OBE RM.
These include the Westland prize for best overall student and the Bill Murton Trophy for best Commando aviation ethos, both awarded to Capt Chris Eden RM.
The Bill Murton trophy is named after a distinguished CHF pilot, tragically killed in a flying accident. Poignantly, it was presented on this occasion by Bill’s two sons, who still retain close links with CHF.
For the graduating pilots, the award of their wings marks the end of at least 2 and a half years of flying training.
Beginning with two weeks flying grading, where their potential for further training is assessed, they then go on to fly fixed-wing training aircraft at RAF Barkston Heath in Lincolnshire.
They then spend six months flying Squirrel helicopters at RAF Shawbury in Shropshire before being chosen for their operational aircraft types.
For Commando-role students this involves 8 months on 848 NAS, converting to the Sea King Mk 4 aircraft and learning the tactics that will enable them to operate in any environment and operational theatre.
They now face a busy period on their front-line squadrons, with amphibious exercises and operational tours of Afghanistan in the near future.
For the 3 Commando Aircrewmen, their efforts at 848 NAS over the last 20 weeks were preceded by no less rigorous training.
This included 4 weeks of aviation military skills training at RAF Henlow and RAF St Mawgan, 5 weeks initial flying grading, 5 weeks basic ground school and 7 weeks navigation instruction at RAF Shawbury, followed by 4 weeks Winchman training at RAF Valley.
The close relationship with their pilot course-mates will continue onto the front-line where they will deploy with them on various exercises and, ultimately, to combat operations in Afghanistan.
The “Doc” Love Trophy was also presented to Sgt Dave Brown RAF.
This trophy is named after a Commando aircrewman killed on active service during the liberation of the Falkland islands and is awarded to the best overall student on course.
Watching the parade with a sense of great pride were veterans of the Squadron’s Malay Association who were the original Junglies who fought during the Communist uprising in the Jungles of Malaya one of which came all the way from Australia to attend the graduation ceremony and the subsequent Squadron’s 60th birthday celebrations at a formal dinner.
Les Smith (81), who was a Leading aircrewman and one of the original “Junglies” said:
“I find today’s event overwhelming.
“The graduation ceremony is very symbolic because once you’ve graduated into the Junglie fraternity you are evermore a Junglie.
“This feeling stays with you forever and it is great to see the Junglie tradition and spirit still alive today.”
Speaking about his experiences Les added:
“It was basically entirely jungle ops and during the four years we were deployed we completed over 41,000 troop lifts.
“Our Squadron was involved in the first SAS parachute from a helicopter in 1953. Originally they would drop into the trees and a cable would be dropped for them to climb down.”
Another veteran of the association was retired pilot Lieutenant Commander Ron Crayton (90), who gained his wings 70 years earlier.
During this time he had flown more than 60 types of fixed-wing and rotary aircraft. He added:
“I feel incredibly lucky for the career I’ve had and I’ve been fortunate to fly a huge variety of aircraft.
“I can remember when I got my own wings in 1942 and it still feels like yesterday.
“I wish I was younger so I could fly some of the aircraft they fly today.”
Naval Today Staff, November 5, 2012; Image: RN