What goes up, must come down: Paratroopers learn helicopter rope skills

Paratroopers have taken to the skies to learn to descend from a hovering helicopter by rope, giving them another option to get onto the battlefield by air.

This week, some 300 soldiers from Colchester-based 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (3 PARA) have trained in fast roping and abseiling.

Fast roping sees troops slide down a thick rope from the helicopter, while abseiling is slower but safer, with troops harnessed to the rope. Both techniques are used to deliver soldiers into locations where the helicopter itself cannot touch down.

The day-long course at RAF Brize Norton starts with learning about the required rope skills and equipment, followed by test descents from a high platform. Soldiers then put the skills fully to practice with fast rope and abseil descents from an RAF Puma helicopter hovering up to 50ft off the ground.

Working closely with the RAF instructors, pilots and crew, the paratroopers conducted numerous descents to build their confidence and master the skills.

3 PARA’s air operations officer Captain Max Wright said: “These techniques are about landing troops where the helicopter can’t itself land, so places like rooftops, jungles and forests and the side of mountains. These are important air assault skills that gives us another option for getting troops to where we want them on the battlefield.

“Doing it well is about overcoming fear, having confidence at heights, executing the drills precisely and acting with the necessary speed and aggression, which are all essential qualities for a paratrooper. Particularly with fast roping, there is no safety net but it’s perfectly safe if it’s done correctly and with confidence. The guys are loving it, because they’re learning new and different skills and they can all see the value.”  

Lance Corporal Charlie Feddon said: “The instructors demonstrate everything really well, and the training builds up to give you the confidence to do it yourself. After getting used to the kit, we did a couple of descents from a 30ft platform in a hangar, including one where you stop halfway down and hold yourself to test you’ve got the strength to be in control of your descent."

"Then we were out to the helicopter, which was a lot of fun. You’ve got to have a bit of bottle to step out of the door, with the noise of the rotors and the wind buffeting you about, but you’re down on the ground in no time – fast roping is the right name for it!”