The familiar deep reverberating woka-woka-woka sound announced the arrival of a Royal Air Force Mk5 Chinook helicopter as it swooped in to take centre stage of Exercise Resilient Vectis.
Planned by the Isle of Wight’s Emergency Management Team the exercise was designed to familiarise the Fire & Rescue Service, HM Coastguard, the Environment Agency and Ambulance staff with the rules and procedures necessary when working in and around military helicopters. It also provided the ideal opportunity to showcase the extraordinary capabilities such a machine can offer in an emergency situation.
The Mk5 Chinook was despatched from its base at Royal Air Force Odiham in Hampshire via an order through the military’s Joint Helicopter Command with ground personnel provided by the Joint Helicopter Support Squadron a unit made up of a combination of the Army’s Royal Logistic Corps soldiers and Royal Air Force personnel.
This has been a bit different, we are usually having to hitch up ammunition, guns or vehicles to these helicopters. Corporal Craig Ruff,
Joint Helicopter Support Squadron
Joint Helicopter Command maintains a heavy lift capability helicopter on short notice to deploy anywhere within the UK, often referred to as the emergency stand-by Chinook. Its purpose is to be there 24/7 in case of severe weather, flood, fire or the need to evacuate people quickly. Its most recent high-profile outing was oddly enough a complete reverse of the RAF’s most famous raid when it was called upon to become a ‘dam builder’ and shore up the damaged Toddbrook Reservoir Dam in Derbyshire with 400 tonnes of aggregate.
For the purposes of this exercise demonstration the Chinook’s task was to pick up a high-volume water pump to be under-slung beneath the aircraft complete a circuit and land it back in the same place. Among its many fans, the Chinook is often referred to as the ten-tonne helicopter for the simple reason it can lift over 10,000kg and with the pump weighing in at 3.3 tonnes, it literally made light work of what was required.
Crucial to the procedure of picking up such objects are the ground support personnel whose job it is to rig the loads to ensure they can be safely transported and then hook them up on the strop as the helicopter is overhead. Operating in the deafening noise and the phenomenal pressure of the downwash from the clattering twin rotors above them they can be seen standing at gravity-defying angles to brace themselves in order to complete the task. These are the Royal Logistic Corps’ soldiers and RAF personnel of the Joint Helicopter Support Squadron, it is based at Royal Air Force Benson, in Oxfordshire and although an Army unit it serves as something of a hybrid with a 65 - 35% Army to RAF personnel ratio.
Such exercises are essential to keep skills and drills the best they can be, and this was no exception. Observing today I witnessed a solid example of all agencies working cohesively and seamlessly; coming together to achieve the goal. COUNCILLOR IAN DORE,
ISLE OF WIGHT AND ARMED FORCES CHAMPION
Handling the water pump on the Isle of Wight was an Army Corporal (Royal Logistic Corps) and an Air Specialist Class 1 (RAF Logistician). Speaking of his job Corporal Craig Ruff said, “This has been a bit different, we are usually having to hitch up ammunition, guns or vehicles to these helicopters.”
The Isle of Wight last had a visit by a Chinook during the Covid Pandemic in January of 2021 when one landed in Seaclose Park to practice patient transfer from an ambulance to ensure the safe a rapid transfer of the critically ill. Thankfully it was never called in for real, but the military can be called upon by the civilian authorities during such emergency situations to provide manpower and niche capabilities.
Speaking of what he saw during Ex Resilient Vectis, local Councillor and Isle of Wight Armed Forces Champion, Ian Dore remarked, “Such exercises are essential to keep skills and drills the best they can be, and this was no exception. Observing today I witnessed a solid example of all agencies working cohesively and seamlessly; coming together to achieve the goal.”