Troops from 2 Yorks Regiment of the British Army conducted training with the Royal Air Force on Exercise Heart Attack, which was held in the north west of England. Provided were two Puma helicopters from the RAF’s 33 Squadron based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire. The task was centred around Pre-deployment training before undertaking operations in Afghanistan.
The Puma Force conducted essential pre-deployment training in the Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle areas from 1-5 July 2019. Based from Royal Air Force Woodvale in Merseyside, Puma helicopters from 33 Squadron conducted training during the day and night using a variety of authorised helicopter landing sites in the areas. Operating in an urban environment is a key skill required by the Puma helicopter crews and the training that is provided in the Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle areas is invaluable as they are unfamiliar environments for many of the crews. This helped to replicate the unfamiliarity they have with areas in Afghanistan in a safe environment prior to their deployment later in the year. The Puma Force is currently supporting the ongoing NATO training mission in Afghanistan, with their role dubbed Operation TORAL. They provide life-saving air transport to NATO troops and visiting dignitaries around Kabul. During their pre-deployment training, the Puma crews will work with 4 Para and 4 Lancs Army Reserves to ensure the British Army maintain their familiarity with the Puma helicopter ahead of future operational deployments. Alongside this role, the Puma Force also hold a National Standby commitment and contingency readiness. This means that serviceable aircraft and experienced crews are on standby to assist in the UK and overseas in any role required. While conducting their pre-deployment training, the crews will also work with local emergency services to highlight the capabilities that the Puma can bring to their operations and ensure that, should the need ever arise, the civilian emergency services can operate successfully alongside the Puma.
Royal Air Force Woodvale, near Formby in Merseyside, is currently home to flying units providing flying training to future University Air Squadron students and giving air experience flights to Air Cadet Organisations within the North West. It is also home to 611 (West Lancashire) Squadron RAuxAF who meet there to conduct regular training. 33 Squadron based at RAF Benson is home to the RAF’s Puma force. Formed initially as a home defence unit the aircraft flown by 33Sqn included the Avro 504, Hurricane I, Javelin FAW7 and now the Puma HC1 and has returned to the front line supporting Operation TORAL in Afghanistan in 2014. RAF Benson in South Oxfordshire is a support helicopter main operating base working within the Joint Helicopter Command. RAF Benson is home to two front-line Puma HC2 helicopter squadrons, and one Operational Conversion Unit, flying a mix of Puma HC2 and Chinook HC4 helicopters. RAF Benson is also home to the civilian National Police Air Service and the Thames Valley Air Ambulance which operate 24 hours a day.