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Merlin crews put to the test on long-distance flight

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Two Royal Navy Merlin Mk3 helicopters navigated through three different airspaces before touching down in Gibraltar to conduct a training programme for student pilots this week.

The transport helicopters from the Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset, UK, travelled to Bordeaux, Seville and Morocco before returning to British soil.

The journey lasted two days and the final element of the route may in part have been dictated by Spain’s restrictions on military flights between Spain and the Rock.

But it also put the pilots’ skills to the test as they practised long-distance flying and navigation through airspace controlled by several different countries.

Lieutenant Colonel Derek Stafford Royal Marine, Commanding Officer of the Royal Navy 846 Naval Air Squadron, said the trip was aimed at challenging his team.

“Even when you have left the UK, the airspace in front of you can be subject to certain restrictions and there is always the weather to deal with,” he said.

Video by Trevor Bickerstaff.

The continental navigation exercise trains the aircrews to mimic travelling long distances and use the techniques they would require in a live operation of that nature.

“In six months’ time they could be required to do it for real,” said Lt Col Stafford.

Photo by David Parody

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