(NSI News Source Info) April 7, 2009: A team of RAF ground crew with a whole range of specialist skills are currently deployed to Kenya where they are supporting a Puma helicopter Force on a British Army training exercise. 230 Squadron who are known as "The Tigers", are based at RAF Aldergrove in Northern Ireland. They have taken three of their Puma helicopters to Kenya for Exercise Grand Prix 6 which sees the 1st Battalion the Grenadier Guards carry out training in preparation for a future deployment to Afghanistan. The squadron is based at a private airfield right on the Equator, a ten minute drive from the town of Nanyuki where British forces control the exercise. The airfield sits on the border between the Rift Valley and Central Province of Kenya at an altitude of 6,000 feet (1,829m) and with Mount Kenya towering some 16,000 feet (4,877m) above as a backdrop. The Squadron's main role on the exercise is to support the Grenadier Guards with casualty evacuation. The main Exercise area, Archers Post, is a five-hour drive from Nanyuki and with soldiers on the ground for weeks at-a-time it is inevitable that some will need medical treatment that cannot be dealt with in the arid bush conditions where temperatures reach up to 50 degrees. A Puma from 230 Squadron RAF engaged in underslung load training. The Ground Crew conduct safety checks on a Puma before flying takes place. The Puma force is there to fly the casualties either to base camp at Nanyuki or on to a hospital in Nairobi. The Squadron also helps with troop movement to and from the exercise area. This allows the aircrew to test their flying skills and aircraft capability in a completely different flying environment and to gain further flying qualifications and experience for future deployments. On a visit to the squadron in Kenya Wing Commander Richard Madison, Commanding Officer, said: "The training in Kenya is very different to the training we do in Northern Ireland. At home our training takes pilots up in their core skills of low, night and instrumental flying. In Kenya they are flying at 6,000 feet and above in really hot conditions pushing the aircraft to the edge of its performance - it's much more advanced flying." The aircrew are important to the exercise, but their job would be impossible without a highly trained and skilled ground crew. To get the Puma off the ground takes personnel skilled in various avionic trades and other skills, so a team of 45 from 230 Squadron are deployed to keep the crew and aircraft ready for any eventuality. Among them are Acting Warrant Officer Kevin Sturdy who is detachment engineering officer for the Exercise and is in control of the engineers doing maintenance for the Puma. He said: "I work with roughly ten engineers per shift, they have different trade disciplines, mechanical which covers the airframe engines aspect of the aircraft and avionics which covers the electrical and avionics equipment on the aircraft. "I also have armourers, ground equipment fitters, safety equipment fitters and suppliers. I'm here to manage the team and see the Exercise through to the end and to get the aircraft back to Aldergrove." Corporal Shaun Miles has been stationed in RAF Aldergrove for over two years and is a weapons technician. During the exercise he manages weapons on the aircraft. He said: "The aircraft is fitted with a general purpose machine gun, the loadmaster, that is the crew member in the back of the aircraft, mans the gun. It's there for the sole purpose of protection against wild animals, so if there's a fault with the aircraft and they have to land somewhere where there is no support they have protection. There are some pretty big cats out there! "Back at home in Northern Ireland there is little need for weapons technicians so it's good to brush up on my skills." Cpl Miles has been working with Pumas for five years and is confident with the aircraft: "When an aircraft lands it's all hands on to do an after flight servicing which takes two guys about an hour. The main checks are on consumables, that's the oil and hydraulic fluids and the rotor tail is greased after every flight. Landings out here are very dusty and that erodes all the blades and our most time consuming job is changing, tuning and balancing the blades. "It's like your car when you've got your new tyres on you need to balance the wheels, we have to put weights on the blades to make them smooth. There's quite a lot to getting the aircraft in the air!" Senior Aircraftman Jay Thompson is a survival equipment fitter. He said: "What I do is look after pilots flying helmets, clothing, night vision goggles, infrared equipment, life support jerkins and life rafts. Everything they might need if they end up in the worst situation and the aircraft comes down, our kit keeps them alive. We check the equipment before and after flying, there are routine services carried out and items fixed and changed regularly. "I did nine months training specifically for my trade. The equipment differs for different types of aircraft, I have worked with Hercules, fast jets and I did a year with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight on their 50th anniversary and have flown on the Lancaster and the Dakota, it's a great job." Senior Aircraftman Darren Bain is an Avionic Technician, he has been in the RAF for eight years and stationed at RAF Aldergrove for the last 18 months. He said: "My job is to service avionic and electrical systems of the Puma which are mainly to do with navigation and communications, that kind of thing. It can be a challenge to chase down faults in these areas but that keeps it interesting. I did a 14-month electrical course to specify in my trade". As well as the highly skilled ground crew preparing and maintaining the aircraft and equipment on Exercise with 230 Squadron are communications, operations, transport and administration staff and chefs. Lance Corporal Leba Draunidalo is a chef normally based at RAF Aldergrove. She is on Exercise cooking for the Squadron in a joint Army and RAF kitchen: "We can be feeding up to 350 people for lunch and up to 250 at dinner time," she said. "We prepare similar food to home but the conditions are not as good. We don't have as much equipment out here and everything has to be done from scratch, there is no air conditioning so it's really hot. I would love to try some of the local dishes but time doesn't really allow for it. "I work alongside some locally employed civilian staff, one guy, Daniel, had worked in the kitchen at a local five-star hotel but finds the working conditions and pay is better with us. He is giving us some idea of local cuisine." Nanyuki is a market town with most of the members of the population earning their money through trade. Shops in the town supply many farms, ranches and game parks in a wide circle. The presence of the Military at the Nanyuki Show Grounds (NSG) has brought employment to some 2,000 locally employed civilians who fulfil various roles at the NSG. The jobs here are highly sought after and bring benefits both financially and educationally to the area. 230 Squadron have also become involved in supporting Nanyuki Children's home during their time in Kenya. The home has 120 full time residents with various backgrounds. The staff also work in the community running, health and sex education programmes and supporting vulnerable children within extended families. Hellen, the manager of the Children's home, said: "We are very grateful for all the work the RAF are doing for us, they have already negotiated payment for a new kitchen and got it up and running for us, they come on their days off, work and paint, clean and clear up what they can. "We rely totally on donations to keep running and any help is most appreciated. We spend so much money on medication, food and keeping the children in school, it's hard to get the more practical stuff done. It's also great to see the children joining in football games with the RAF guys, it gives them contact with adults and a real sense that someone cares enough to spend some time with them."
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