Two Royal Air Force (RAF)-operated Boeing Chinook HC5/HC6 heavy-lift tactical transport helicopters from No 27 Squadron at RAF Odiham, Hampshire, have returned home following a deployment to Ämari Air Base in Estonia.
The RAF announced on August 15 that the two Chinooks had returned from Estonia, from which they had been supporting UK-led NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) operations in the Baltic region since July 8. This deployment provided a platform for the British Chinook crews to train with a variety of regional allies, allowing them to share and demonstrate the helicopter’s capabilities to international partners, including Belgium, France, Finland, Estonia, Denmark and the US.
“Following the successful handover from the Puma Force based at RAF Benson [in Oxfordshire], the Chinook Force element of Aviation Task Force 3 hit the ground running and immediately began working alongside UK, US and European assets,” the RAF stated in a news release on August 15.
During the deployment, the two Chinooks completed more than 1,600 passenger movements and transported over 13.5 tonnes of freight. One of the two helicopters was also present at this year’s Baltic International Airshow, which was held at Liepāja International Airport in western Latvia from August 6-7.
While deployed in Estonia, Aviation Task Force 3 was involved in transporting 7.5 tonnes of materiel to Vaindloo Island in the Gulf of Finland (located in the Baltic Sea) in support of the Estonian Navy, which could not complete the task of its own accord as there is no port on the island. This mission was conducted under the name ‘Operation Peleda’.
Flt Lt Chappell, Chief of Staff for Aviation Task Force 3, said: “Aviation Task Force 3’s deployment on Operation Peleda has been a huge success and we have been privileged to provide support to our Estonian partners whilst in theatre. One task which stands out for me is assisting the Estonian Navy in moving 7.5 tonnes worth of building material to Vaindloo Island…
“It doesn’t have a seaport and so we were asked to use our CH-47 to move the equipment and it was a real demonstration of teamwork, both for Aviation Task Force 3 and the Estonians. The host nation had been waiting six months to complete this task, and although it required some detailed planning, we were really pleased that we were able to achieve it with them in our final week,” Chappell added.
The two Chinooks also participated in Exercise Vigilant Fox in Niinisalo, Finland, where the helicopters transported 70 riflemen from C Company of the British Army’s 2 Rifles Battlegroup to carry out a four-day force-on-force readiness exercise with the Maavoimat’s (Finnish Army’s) Karelian Brigade and Jaeger Guard Regiment.
For the Chinooks, exercise preparation began with three days of joint ground training, along with interspersed two-, three- and four-ship sorties with mixed formations of US Army-operated Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks, Finnish NHIndustries NH90 Tactical Transport Helicopters (TTHs) and the RAF Chinooks. These mixed formations flew at low-level and into confined areas to help train the involved aviation units to the same standard and reinforce existing procedures.
Reflecting on the deployment, Wg Cdr Butler – Detachment Commander for Aviation Task Force 3 – concluded: “Working alongside other NATO forces and allies, this detachment provided many training opportunities and encountered a number of challenges along the way but, with the help of [the] Joint Helicopter Support Squadron, Tactical Supply Wing (TSW) and 244 Signal Regiment, the team overcame those challenges and achieved some outstanding results.
“There are too many highlights to capture them all; however, within the five-weeks deployed, some headline figures are: the detachment achieved over 174 flying hours, moved 13.5 tonnes of freight and transported 1,674 passengers, including UK, Estonian, Belgian, US, French, Danish, Finnish and Portuguese troops, all in support of various exercises and operations.”