Joint Helicopter Command steps up COVID-19 support

Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) has stepped up its support in the battle against COVID-19, as part of the UK government’s response to the ongoing pandemic.

Helicopters across the British Army Air Corps (AAC), Royal Air Force (RAF) and Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm (FAA) have been tasked with transporting personnel, equipment and providing general support to National Health Service (NHS) boards and trusts across the nation.

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A pair of Puma HC2s from RAF Benson arrive at Kinloss Barracks on March 27, to support COVID-19 crisis efforts in Scotland and northern England. MoD Crown Copyright/SAC Sian Stephens

Gp Capt Adam Wardrope DFC, Aviation Task Force commander, said: “We are at high readiness to provide support to anywhere in the UK that needs it. We have operationally experienced crews who are on standby to assist with medical evacuations across the nation in response to COVID-19… We also have the capability to support the NHS with the distribution of critical equipment and personnel as needed.”

On March 27, three RAF-operated Westland Puma HC2 transport helicopters deployed to Kinloss Barracks in Moray, Scotland, to assist the NHS boards and trusts in Scotland and northern England. These aircraft – which are typically based at RAF Benson, Oxfordshire – are being augmented by a Boeing Chinook HC5/HC6/HC6A heavy-lift tactical transport helicopter and AAC-operated Leonardo Helicopters AW159 Wildcat AH1s. The Chinook and Wildcats are currently operating from RAF Leeming, North Yorkshire.

The basing of these helicopters in the northern part of the country follows the involvement of an RAF Airbus A400M Atlas C1 in successfully evacuating a critically ill patient from the Shetland Islands to Aberdeen, Scotland, to receive intensive care treatment in mid-March. In accomplishing this, the RAF worked closely with the Scottish Ambulance Service.

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RAF Puma crews work alongside paramedics and doctors from the Scottish Ambulance Service and NHS Scotland to understand the best practices in how the aircraft can best support life-saving efforts when using the new EpiShuttle isolation stretcher. MoD Crown Copyright

JHC has set up a second helicopter COVID-19 support facility to cover the Midlands and southern England, led by the Aviation Task Force Headquarters at RAF Benson. Support to the south of country will be predominantly provided by RAF Chinook HC5/HC6/HC6As – operating from the fleet’s home base at RAF Odiham, Hampshire – and AAC Wildcat AH1s from RNAS Yeovilton, Somerset.

Three Leonardo Helicopters AW101 Merlin HM2s, operated by the FAA’s 820 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) at RNAS Culdrose, Cornwall, are being employed to assist the NHS boards and trusts in the southwest of England, Channel Islands and the Isles of Scilly.

UK Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, said: “The creation of these helicopter hubs is the next step in our armed forces’ contribution to tackling the coronavirus outbreak whenever it appears throughout the United Kingdom… In addition, our superb military planners and logisticians are engaging with the governments and health services of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to support their efforts in responding to the virus.”