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Exploits afloat and aloft

BLUE skies, blue seas (well, blue-grey) – it’s not your

typical British winter weather. Which is why the students of

Birmingham were pleased to get the chance to stretch their sea-legs and spread their wings, thanks to a chance encounter with a lifeboat and an opportunity set up by Lt Si Shaw, Commanding Officer of the University RN Unit (URNU) in the heart of England. A group of students were out

at sea in BURNU’s very own warship, patrol boat HMS Exploit, when they got the chance to test their lifesaving skills.

The Archer-class boat had been

undertaking navigation training around Flat Holm, a small low- lying island in the Bristol Channel. “On the flying bridge, the Boss

was going through fixing points and shipping reports, when on VHF we were hailed by Weston lifeboat,” said OC Nick Smith. “The CO spoke to them on VHF and they came alongside for their own training.” The Weston-super-Mare Atlantic 75 lifeboat was on her own routine training exercise in the area, but a planned boarding session had had to be cancelled

when the ‘target’ yacht became unavailable.

Under the brilliant sun – though in bitter-cold wind – the lifeboat crew spotted Exploit and intercepted her at speed. RNLI lifeboats regularly

Prestwick in Scotland, as well as the yellow RAF aircraft, but it is not that common for them to do so with an RN warship. “It was a valuable training

serial for the lifeboat crew, whose inexperienced crew members practised

bigger vessel,” said Lt Shaw. “For Exploit, our URNU midshipmen benefited from seeing the RNLI at close quarters, seeing their boat-handling abilities and questioning them on their role.” Exploit and the RNLI swapped contact details and planned a second exercise for the following weekend. On that occasion, the RNLI brought

crew – and offered the URNU midshipmen a ride in their craft. Mid Holly Griffiths said: “The quick buzz around the Bristol Channel was pretty cool, although I think we all wished that Exploit

l Mid Sam Herrmann on the Squirrel helicopter simulator at RAF Shawbury

two lifeboats, more boarding a moving in Cornwall and

could go as fast as the RNLI lifeboats.” Maybe next year that would

exercise with Royal Navy search and rescue helicopters from Culdrose

be possible as the P2000s are re-engineered with a more capable – and faster – propulsion plant... Some of Exploit’s


complement also took to the air before the end of 2012, making the 50-mile journey to RAF Shawbury for a truly joint flying afternoon.

The students took up an

invitation from a Royal Navy officer – helicopter instructor Lt Ben Brazenall – who is attached to an Army unit (the Army Air Corps’ 660 Squadron)

at the

Defence Helicopter Flying School at an RAF base – a very purple day for the students from the most landlocked URNU in the country. “We got really excited when the Boss announced he’d organised an afternoon’s flying at RAF Shawbury,” said Mid Sam Herrmann,

from Birmingham

City University. “We took ten students, although Boss was

the inundated with

volunteers from the 60 students in our URNU.” Lt Shaw said: “Our main focus with the students is, quite rightly, to take them to sea in Exploit and expose them to the sea environment whilst passing on the Naval message. “However we also engage in

adventurous training and, where possible, other military activities so as to get the defence message across to our young URNU midshipmen, who are the leaders

l Birmingham URNU students in front of a Squirrel helicopter with their CO Lt Si Shaw (fifth left) and 660 Sqn Pilot Lt Ben Brazenall (to the right of Lt Shaw)

of tomorrow. “The visit to 660 Squadron

allowed us to do just that.” The ten chosen students donned flying overalls (which led to the inevitable Top Gun-style poses and photos), flying helmets and gloves, and then enjoyed an afternoon’s flying over the clear, crisp skies of Shropshire on a cold winter’s day. Every naval,

force rotary-wing pilot,

army and air along

with international students from countries like Iraq, pass through the doors of the Defence Helicopter Flying School. The URNU students were able to mix with some of these pilots in the officers’ mess and crew room before and after their flying sortie

in the Squirrel aircraft. Mid Griffiths, an air engineering

bursar from Warwick University, was able to discuss her future career with the newly-joined Royal Navy pilots at 660 Sqn. Although the squadron is Army, it trains naval and army pilots, using RN and Army instructors. The next stage for the Navy pilot is type training at an RN air station on specific aircraft, including the Lynx, Wildcat and Merlin. Some students were

to sit in the front of the Squirrel and ‘fly’

the helicopter,

interesting results. However,

allowed with

all the students

enjoyed a sortie in the Squirrel Helicopter Simulator, where for some even taking off was too difficult. Mid Alex Kay, from nearby

Harper Adams University College, said: “In the simulator, once I’d mastered taking off, I was able to fly over my university at Newport, Shropshire, buzz my lecturers and return for tea and stickies…” Lt Shaw added: “At the end of

the day, the students didn’t want to hand back their flying overalls, and in some cases we had to prise them off the Mids! “Days like this help reinforce

the Naval message and particularly support the Fleet Air Arm – I think we may see a peak in pilot recruitment when these students graduate.

l Squirrel helicopters in the hangar at RAF Shawbury at the end of the day

l RNLI crew members train with HMS Exploit in the Bristol Channel

“Our main effort is to get the students to sea in Exploit, but occasionally we have green Army days in trenches with the OTC and flying days such as this.”

FEBRUARY 2013 : 17

l HMS Exploit exercises with the Weston-super-Mare lifeboat off Flat Holm in the Bristol Channel

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