Pictured is an RAF Chinook Mk6A delivering a French Army Panhard Véhicule Blindé Léger, also known by its acronym Panhard VBL or simply VBL, it is a French wheeled 4×4 all-terrain vehicle
A crew from C Flt, 18 Sqn, RAF Odiham, operating on Op NEWCOMBE as part of 1310 Flt. Working in conjunction with RAF and British Army personnel from Joint Helicopter Support Squadron, RAF Benson. Tasking in support of the French, Groupement Tactique Desert de l’Air (GTD-A).

RAF Chinooks currently deployed in Mali have continued to conduct key supporting missions for the French and Malian ground forces during the extreme weather conditions of the Malian wet season and the recent political instability.

Despite these challenges, the recently arrived C Flight from RAF Odiham based 18 (Bomber) Squadron, that have deployed to form 1310 Flight have maintained an intensive operational tempo. 1310 Flight RAF is integrated into the French, Groupement Tactique Désert-Aérocombat, that provides aviation support for the French led OP Barkhane counterinsurgency mission in the region.

The newly arrived Chinook aircrew have supported the operations to assist the French military with a programme of re-establishing Malian Army Forward Operating Bases that will also enable future French combat operations. These bases are spread across the Op Barkhane area of operations and the Chinooks have been conducting numerous flights to supply the French troops at each new base with supplies, equipment and heavy weaponry. Once established these bases will be handed over to the Malian Army to enable a transition to autonomous security in each area that the base will cover.

These operations have involved the Chinooks operating in formation with the deployed French and Danish Helicopters. The Chinooks have also been conducting heavy lift operations transporting French military armoured vehicles, to avoid road moves and to enable the element of surprise by moving a unit under the cover of darkness.

Squadron Leader Jeff “Fitzy” Fitzpatrick, the Officer Commanding 1310 Flight said: “The Chinook offers a unique capability to our French partners. We can lift up to 34 fully armed soldiers allowing them to overcome the huge scale of Mali or equally several tons of food, water and ammunition providing the flexibility for remote troops to stay in the field longer to achieve their objective.”

In addition to the ongoing operations, the RAF Personnel deployed from the Tactical Supply Wing, that are supporting the Chinook operations, have also been conducting interoperability training with French helicopters and Danish Merlin Helicopter detachment that is also integrated into the French, Groupement Tactique Désert-Aérocombat.

This training has seen the helicopters being refuelled by the RAF personnel and equipment to conduct what is known as rotors turning refuels. This means the helicopter is refuelled without the engines being shut down and with the rotors still turning. This refuelling procedure is a specialist activity that requires additional training and is an activity that the UK military refuellers from the RAF and Army Air Corps specialise in.

Following this training the TSW personnel have been using their unique expertise to support UK, Danish and French flying operations both on base and out on the ground. This has included carrying out simultaneous rotors turning refuels where fuel is provided to two helicopters whilst the blades are still turning.

Lieutenant Colonel Steve Brining AAC, the UK’s National Component Commander and senior officer in theatre said: “The training began in earnest prior to deployment with the Chinook Force and all supporting elements, in particular TSW, conducting bi-lateral UK/French interoperability training during Exercises Baccarat and Royal Blackhawk. This is a natural extension of those successes and the ongoing achievements of TSW are a case in point. Continuous training, including when deployed on operations, serves to enhance cohesion and absolutely improves operational efficiency.”