Wonderful, gravity-defying machines

In his penultimate blog from Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel David Eastman – Spokesman for Task Force Helmand – looks at the range of helicopters in use on Operation HERRICK and considers their worth.

Troops disembarking a Chinook helicopter

Troops disembarking a Chinook helicopter

Last week I talked about getting around Helmand on the ground. However, with the number of areas that we operate in, the distances that we need to travel, and the support to operations that we undertake, the true workhorse of Task Force Helmand is, of course, the helicopter. Without these wonderful, gravity-defying machines, the fight against the insurgency would be even tougher and it would be extremely difficult to sustain our operations. I must admit from the outset that I am a helicopter engineer by trade, so my apologies if I seem a little biased on this particular topic!

We are very lucky to have a number of different types of aircraft flown by the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, as well as a huge number from the US Marines supporting us. The mainstay of our heavy lift aircraft is the amazing Chinook with its instantly recognisable twin rotor blades and immense lift capacity. The Chinook is supported by the Navy’s new Merlin and the venerable Sea King aircraft, as well as US Army Blackhawks, US Marine Corps’ Sea Stallions and the utterly amazing Osprey V-22.

Osprey MV-22 in transition from helicopter to airplane

Osprey MV-22 in transition from helicopter to airplane

The Osprey is a helicopter that turns into an aeroplane once it has taken off, allowing it to combine the flexibility of the helicopter with the speed of the aeroplane. It truly looks like something from a Science Fiction movie, especially as you watch the engines and rotor-blades tilt forward mid-air morphing from helicopter to aeroplane; in fact anyone who has seen the film “Avatar” will have seen aircraft not dissimilar to the Osprey in use by the bad guys on Pandora!

Apache waiting to be called into action

Apache waiting to be called into action

The combat end of our aircraft is very well catered for with the UK Apache and US Super-Cobra Attack Helicopters. These beasts are feared by insurgents, carry devastating payloads, but with very sensitive surveillance systems that enable them to operate with extreme precision. I’m not sure that I could count the number of British and Afghan lives that these aircraft have saved over the years that we have been in Helmand. When engaging, the pilots are required to ascertain without doubt that no innocent civilians will be caught in the blast, and that the target has been positively identified as an insurgent.

Perhaps the most important helicopter asset that we operate is the Medical Emergency Response Team or MERT. This is essentially an operating theatre inside a Chinook aircraft with its own integral force protection to protect the aircraft when it deploys forward. When a soldier is seriously injured the MERT can be called out and deployed straight to wherever the casualty is. As soon as the casualty is loaded onto the aircraft surgeons can start work on the way to the hospital in Camp Bastion. The lives, both Afghan and coalition forces, that have been saved by the amazing technology and the medical skills of these brave teams are innumerable, and the confidence engendered in our troops, knowing that such support exists should the worst happen, is incalculable.

The up-rated Army Lynx and the Navy’s Sea King surveillance aircraft also provide a specialist capability for us, allowing us to understand what is happening across our area of operations.

As I said, as a helicopter engineer I am a huge fan of these machines, but given the lives that they have saved, the logistic support that they deliver, the firepower that they bring, the surveillance and intelligence that they provide and the confidence that they engender in our soldiers, who can really blame me!

2 thoughts on “Wonderful, gravity-defying machines

  1. What do you mean bad guys, Sir?

    While at University, I took a film reviewing module, during which I reviewed the movie referred to here. Looking past the flawless graphics, incredible animations, and seamless CGI, the movie does nothing more than play upon the culturally constructed myth of the binary dynamic, of good and bad, us and them, familiar and alien. The framing of the movie places the reader in a position that simulates the perspective of the other; the alien. Observe the integrity of those who play the crucial roles in the movie: There is only one individual who demonstrates a lack of such a value.

    Loving the helicopters though, Sir.

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  2. great info. i’ll bet the designer of the osprey played with transformers when he/she was a kid! stay safe.

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