Cyprus

RAF Search And Rescue: What Does It Take To Join 84 Squadron?

We joined the Royal Air Force squadron's latest rookie as they were put through their final assessments in Cyprus.

To join the Royal Air Force's last remaining search and rescue unit in Cyprus, one has to be ready for anything – including fighting fires, as was proven last month.

The tough recruitment process means not everyone who trains to join 84 Squadron passes.

The latest rookie attempting to join was Sergeant Joe Gladstone, who had to successfully complete a final series of tests in order to become part of the team.

Putting him through his paces was the most experienced winchman in defence, Flight Sergeant Bart Simpson CFS.

Flt Sgt Simpson admitted that Sgt Gladstone being a former British Army soldier and a former prison officer made him unique for a rookie.

"He's a bit more worldly-wise than your average rookie, but from a flying hours point of view, he's straight out the box," he said.

"Normally, we would take people on search and rescue who have at least two flying tours under their belts ideally, so from his point of view, it’s a massive step change," Flt Sgt Simpson explained.

Sgt Gladstone directed the crew to find a missing person stranded on cliffs.

After all his training, Sgt Gladstone had three days of tests to complete.

Day one saw Sgt Gladstone take on a series of assessments focused on flight, with multiple curveballs thrown his way.

The scenario saw him direct the crew to find a missing person stranded on the cliffs and winch them to safety.

Additionally, Flying Officer Jack Thornton pretended to be a diver in trouble and Sgt Gladstone's job was to locate him and correctly instruct the crew.

As winch operator it was Sgt Gladstone’s job to come up with the rescue plan.

Day two saw Sgt Gladstone winched down to rescue his instructor, adding an extra layer of pressure, before he needed to direct Flight Sergeant Whittington as he was winched to safety from the side of a cliff.

Flt Sgt Simpson explained this part of the exercise was "one of the more tricky winch operating evolutions", with "very precise control of the aircraft" and "finesse of the hoist" needed.

And while this part of the assessment went well, not everything on day two went as planned.

The RAF's 84 Squadron is the last remaining search and rescue unit in Cyprus.

Flt Sgt Simpson said Sgt Gladstone "did not bring his A game to the performance", adding: "Everybody has an off day… he has to be consistently good because there is no excuse really when you’re faced with people's lives."

Day three saw assessments move from the field to the office, but due to Sgt Gladstone's failure on day two, he was required to fly his sortie again.

After passing the repeat sortie, Sgt Gladstone also found out he had passed his assessment, stating he was "very happy".

"Still a long way to go before I’m fully ready, but, yeah, [I’m] definitely happy," he added.

Flt Sgt Simpson said Sgt Gladstone had "done exceptionally well", explaining to pass this kind of assessment people usually would have around 1,000 flying hours under their belt, but Sgt Gladstone had around 100.

"He’s been impressive in the way that he’s been able to assimilate those new skills quite rapidly really," Flt Sgt Simpson said.

Sgt Gladstone will spend the next year building up his experience as the newest addition to 84 Squadron.