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Bags of experience

T IS 12 months since the Sea King Airborne Surveillance and Control (SKASaC) community – better known as the ‘Baggers’ – took up a new role in the skies of Afghanistan. One aircraft – ZE422, referred to by crews as ‘92’ – has borne the brunt of the surveillance mission in those fi rst 12 months. LAET(AV) Lorraine Osman of 854 NAS tells the story of a remarkable aircraft... and the remarkable men and women looking after it.


IN EARLY 2009, after a great deal of preparation, the Sea King Mk7 front-line fl eet was activated to operate in Afghanistan. 854 Naval Air Squadron was the fi rst to embark on this new venture for the SKASaC community. While its personnel were busy learning new skills courtesy of the Pre-Deployment and Mounting Centre at HMS Nelson, one of the aircraft ZE422 (92) was just across the water in Gosport, undergoing a vigorous modifi cation programme including a defensive aid suite and a night-vision-compatible cockpit, both necessary for Operation Herrick. The fi rst two engineering teams arrived at Camp Bastion in the early hours of May 21 2009. While we were getting to know our new

letting us borrow one of their fi r

the maintainers were able to start the rebuilding process).

a relatively easy task to perform – but not so now; not only were we operating in the desert where the terrain is not fl at, this evolution was also being carried out in the middle of the night.

That meant jacking the aircraft, normallylly


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In addition, the Afghan weather gave us our fi rst taste of sandstorms... several to be exact. We struggled through the night, requiring regular water breaks to wash away the sand; 92 was starting to look like it had been here for a few months with the amount of sand it was already wearing. The aircraft only needed to move a quarter of mile to the hangar, but this was an unenviable task. Again the terrain was unforgiving and the dictated route did not take into consideration moving a Sea King.


surroundings and operating areas, as well as the new Army terminology, 92 arrived at Brize Norton to be prepared for transportation. This is no mean feat. Several hours the previous month were dedicated to preparing the aircraft for travel. This involved removing the sponsons, tail undercarriage, the radome and frisbee (the bag), two tail rotor blades, all the antenna from the underside of the aircraft and high intensity strobe light as well as fi tting jury undercarriages just so it would fi t in the C17. Two days later, 92 arrived at Camp Bastion.

be re-fi tted (thanks to the RAF fi re station at Camp Bastion

Very carefully the aircraft was winched out of the C17 – with very little clearance. Of course what has been removed must

were fi tted, then extensive functional tests and ground runs were carried out. The fi rst test fl ights were carried out on June 1 with very satisfying results. Ten days later, 92 was ready to provide much- needed surveillance information to the troops on the ground. Now we were faced with new problems, exactly how would our aircraft perform in these new conditions; high altitude, high temperatures and desert conditions? The Sea King Mk7 is a very heavy aircraft due to the mission system components – and unlike our Mk4 counterparts we still had traditional rotor blades. No one expected us to fl y in

Once in the hangar the remaining components


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excess of 12 hours a day at the height of the Afghan summer, but we did. Problems did occur, however. High temperatures and dust quickly began to cause some of the seals to perish and in a very short space of time the auxiliary servo unit (ASE pack) became the fi rst major component to change.

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radar’s serviceability. Despite these issues 92 proved herself to be a reliable aircraft; in fact in her fi rst six months she undertook two thirds of the Squadron tasking. The fi rst major operation that the Squadron was involved in was Panther’s Claw. During this time the aircraft provided much needed real time information to the troops on the ground as well as ‘pattern of life’ information for Helmand Province. For every hour of operational fl ying 92 achieved, ten maintenance hours were required. The tempo of fl ying operations did not decrease and the SKASaCs were tasked in support of the security effort during the Afghan elections of August 2009.

The pace did not


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The mission system also suffered its own problems. The dust is very fi ne (talcum-like) and this quickly started to block the fi lters, resulting in component degradation and overheating. Waveguides were also becoming contaminated with the fi ne dust. Additional fl ig


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let up during the winter months either. Much support was given to our US counterparts as well as UK troops, providing much-needed surveillance of wide areas of Helmand and beyond. In 2010 the Baggers were also involved in Operation Moshtarak providing vital ‘pattern of life’ information prior to the insertion of troops into known insurgent strongholds.

Overall 92 has been involved in all our operations so far. Once the teething problems were overcome, the aircraft quickly proved how robust the airframes actually are. Now coming to the end of its tour, with nearly

800 fl ying hours under her belt, 92 is going back to the UK for a well-deserved rest. This will include deep maintenance and some tender loving care to bring her back to her pre-deployment glory. The reverse process is about to be completed

in preparation for her homecoming and in the not- too-distant future it will return back to the skies of Afghanistan.

92 spent 11 months in theatre and she has seen 854’s roulement with her sister squadron 857 as well as 854’s return. 92 as well as all the personnel involved have worked hard in support of the British effort in Afghanistan highlighting the fl exibility and can-do attitude of the Fleet Air Arm and the SKASaC community will continue to do so.

● Two Baggers take a break from arduous operations in their protective pens at Camp Bastion

... and farewell to the Mk6

WHILE the Baggers fl y on, another variant of the venerable Sea King has made its fi nal fl ight. The Mk6 was the mainstay of anti-submarine operations by the RN for three decades until it was superseded by the Merlin. Rather than retire the unneeded helicopters, the sonar kit and other submarine-hunting apparatus was ripped out of the airframes... which were promptly turned into troop carriers for the Commando

Helicopter Force (pictured right in its new livery).

The Mk4 Junglies were undergoing a major avionic upgrade,

so the converted

‘pingers’ proved to be important gap fillers.

With all the Junglies now

revamped, there’s no longer a need for the old Mk6s, the very last of which still flying was XZ922 with 846 NAS at RNAS Yeovilton. A lot’s changed in its 31-year

fl ying career. It was built as a HAS (Helicopter Anti-Submarine) Mk2 by Westland Helicopters (now Agusta Westland) in Yeovil and

delivered to the Fleet Air Arm at Culdrose in October 1979. It was subsequently upgraded to a Mk6 before being retired and converted once more. Its second life as a Mk6 CR (Commando Role) began on May 21 2004 with 846 in Somerset.

predominantly been used for routine tasking and training within the UK, but the Sea King was also used to support operations in Bosnia in 2005 and deployed to Norway in support of Arctic

In its new role, it has

hours airborne (1,500 with CHF) was made to HMS Sultan where the aircraft is now in long-term storage.

“The demise of the Sea King Mk6CR is an extremely sad occasion not only for myself but for all those that have fl own and supported this tremendously versatile aircraft,” said Cdr Niall Griffi n, Offi cer.

846’s Commanding

survival training for aircrew and engineers on Exercise Clockwork. Its very fi nal fl ight after 8,400 Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56
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