Ex crimson


Again service personnel from all Wattisham units took part in Exercise CRIMSON EAGLE to hone their skills for operational deployments.

A chance to deploy to the US on exercise?

For many reasons it is quite possibly the most widely anticipated annual exercise that the Apache Helicopter Force has to offer; EXERCISE CRIMSON EAGLE has once again been a resounding success. Over a period of two months, approximately one hundred and fifty aircrew, ground crew, REME personnel and support staff travelled across the Atlantic to the USA to partake in the most realistic live operational training available.

Taking place in El Centro, California and Gila Bend, Arizona Ex CRIMSON EAGLE is predominantly a live fire exercise that is the culmination of many years training for new pilots. Moreover, it also serves as the staging ground for the final pre-deployment training serials of front line crews, their next stop inevitable Camp Bastion. The climate is hot and arid, which certainly takes some acclimatisation. With temperatures rising up to 43 degrees centigrade it provides a good insight into the demands and conditions that the teams will be facing on tour; and only makes a slight change from everybody’s favourite UK weather! You know it’s hot when what should be a cool breeze feels like a jet’s exhaust pipe is in your face.

Travelling from Heathrow airport was straightforward with no delays (a pleasant surprise) although an eleven hour flight is rarely desirable! Recovery from jet lag aside, we moved straight into the programme the very next day. Once the REME detachment had finished reassembling and testing the aircraft – which were deployed courtesy of transatlantic transport aircraft – the flights began.

The temperature is rising…

We started with environmental training – dust landings; a test of a pilots ability to land the aircraft in desert ‘dusty’ conditions. The fine sand re-circulates in the finals stages of the landing, blocking out nearly all visual cues for the pilots – a skill that must be mastered early. The responsibility of the ground crew is to act as post-crash management immediate response in the event of an accident. This involved cross country driving in the desert to get to the landing sites, a terrific skill rarely practiced. It was only once that the vehicle got stuck in the sand! Spending long days in the desert was a far cry from daily life at Wattisham, especially for the junior members of the Squadron who had not yet experienced such variety.

Austere arachnids anyone?

Following the completion of the student pilot’s training, the exercise moved to Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary base in Arizona, a three hour drive along what seemed the straightest road in the world. The increase in venomous snakes, spiders and scorpions was only an introduction to operating out of an austere location, however with time it was something we adjusted to. That being said it’s never a pleasant affair to have a camel spider show up at your BBQ! Army Chefs provided the food here, and the difference was incredible. Meal times became a reliable source of morale, with the chefs working extraordinarily long hours in extreme heat, yet still remaining upbeat and friendly while producing high quality delicious meals. This is ‘Master Chef’ at its best and greatly appreciated.

It is about delivering!

It was here that live firing began, for many it was their first exposure to live ammunition. Working with Hellfire, CRV7 rockets and 30mm rounds the Groundcrew gained an excellent understanding of how an operational deployment would work, progressing their skills to become a well practiced, professionally effective team. Working in teams of seven, the Groundcrew put into practice everything they had been taught, enabling the newer members of the Squadron to consolidate their training. Away from the flight line in the ever busy ops room, the signals detachment were responsible for assisting flight planning, flight tracking and general communications to name but a few. With such a dependence on information and communications technology in modern aviation, the role of the signaller, although sometimes overlooked, is a cornerstone of the Attack Helicopter Force.

Critical to the success of this phase of the exercise was the serviceability of the aircraft. The REME detachment worked tirelessly to ensure that the flying output did not drop, affording significant flexibility in the execution of the exercise MEL. The close working relationship and effective communication between the departments, all driving towards the common focus of delivering world class attack aviation training, resulted in the exercise being a resounding success.

And now we rest

It is well known that all work and no play is poor for productivity, and there were the opportunities for experiencing the American culture. Whether it was a trip to the Grand Canyon, the Tombstone Village or barbecues by the pool there were plenty of opportunities to unwind. Some went as far as the legendary Las Vegas, although no need to worry, all returned safely!

The chance to work with live ammunition and the armed forces of another nation in a climate very similar to current operations offers unrivalled experiences; without a doubt this is the best possible operational training and team building exercise that the AAC has to offer. Although it is two months of hard work, the benefits and personal enjoyment that it brings to the soldiers cannot be underestimated. I would expect the number of volunteers for next year’s CRIMSON EAGLE to soar following this year’s success.

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