Exercise Merlin Storm

Merlin Storm: The Exercise Making Navy Aircrews Combat-Ready

The latest batch of Royal Navy Commando Helicopter Force pilots and aircrew are nearing the end of several years of training.

Exercise Merlin Storm

The latest batch of Royal Navy Commando Helicopter Force pilots and aircrew are nearing the end of several years of training.

Exercise Merlin Storm is the culmination of their flying training and they are just days away from achieving a childhood dream.

Lieutenant Rhod Leyshon, 846 Naval Air Squadron, is one of the student pilots: "It’s taken me five years," he says.

“I always wanted to be a Commando Helicopter Force pilot so I’m lucky to be here.

"I’m one or two days away from finally finishing it, so I’m delighted to be here."

Exercise Merlin Storm puts the aircrew under continuous pressure while living in field conditions in North Devon. 

They have been tested in all aspects of commando flying, from load lifting to troop carrying.

At the end of it, if they meet the grade, they will get their 'wings'.

Exercise Merlin Storm

However, just as the trainees were settling in to plan their next sortie, they were told by instructors to get their webbing and rifles for an exercise testing their ability to defend themselves in hostile territory.

Corporal George 'Yogi' Taylor, student aircrewman, 846 Naval Air Squadron, explained the scenario:

“We were breaking contact away from the enemy, because we’d been shot down, and we needed to move away… to a safe area.

"Then we were going to get picked up along the beach and then taken back to friendly forces."

Exercise Merlin Storm

Their primary role is to work with the Royal Marines, with some of the trainee aircrewmen being Royal Marines themselves.

Cpl Taylor was a Royal Marine for eight years before starting his aircrewman training: "I did eight years as a Marine, as a ground infanteer, and then about two years ago I decided to come over.

"I still stay as a marine, but I just do the marine’s role as a second part to flying around in the aircraft."

846 is based at RNAS Yeovilton, but with more than 100 people involved, this exercise was run from RMB Chivenor in North Devon.

Those who pass will have their 'wings' ceremony later this week at RNAS Yeovilton.

Following that, they will be sent out to their Commando Helicopter Force squadrons as combat-ready pilots and aircrew.