Traditionally, the second weekend of May plays host to the famous Ten Tors Challenge, providing Royal Navy helicopter crews with an important and thorough training exercise in support of the event. Shaun Schofield braved the blustery conditions on Dartmoor for GAR.
Now well into its sixth decade, the Ten Tors event continues to present a grueling challenge to its competitors. To complete the trial by Dartmoor, the predominantly young participants are required to demonstrate high levels of teamwork, navigation and survival skills, as well as have a reasonable level of physical fitness. These skills reflect those required to succeed in the armed forces, so it comes as no surprise that the event is organised and supported by, principally, the Army, but with more than a little help courtesy of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.
As in previous years, the Fleet Air Arm supplied three supporting helicopters; a sole Lynx HMA8 from 815 Naval Air Squadron and a pair of ‘Junglie’ Sea King HC4s courtesy of 848 NAS. These airborne assets provide a crucial role in aiding the set up and the dismantling of the various checkpoints strewn across Dartmoor, replenishing personnel and supplies as and when required throughout the weekend. Additionally, they fulfill the vital Search and Rescue and Casualty Evacuation roles, offering a ready and prompt response in the event any competitor gets themselves into difficulty.
Whilst their involvement in the event is very much essential to its competitors, for the crews, it provides an invaluable training opportunity to hone their skills in the aforementioned roles in a genuine environment. Known as Exercise ARIES Tor, crews also experience the challenges of operating from a Forward Operating Base, in this case Okehampton Camp, away from their home at RNAS Yeovilton; essential field training for when called upon to the frontline.
This year’s exercise held added poignancy for the Junglies as, with their retirement looming, it will be the last time the aircraft will participate in the exercise. As such, it was obvious that the crews wanted to give the old girl one last hurrah, with both aircraft working seemingly non-stop throughout the weekend, tirelessly and apparently effortlessly flying sortie after sortie. That’s no mean feat when operating two ageing aircraft in the field.
From an enthusiast’s point of view, ARIES Tor provides a unique opportunity to photograph and observe the aircraft in a working environment. Perching one’s self high on the hillside above the camp yields a fantastic vantage point to view the aircraft as they arrive and depart the FOB, land locking them against a stunning backdrop of beautiful Devonshire countryside and creating the feel of an air-to-air situation. There really are few better locations to photograph these classic helicopters.
With the successful completion of the Ten Tors challenge, the crews can reflect on another job well done, albeit with a tinge of sadness that the mighty Sea King has done the job for the final time. Looking forward, however, there is a silver lining, with the introduction of the Merlin into the Commando Helicopter Force offering a new challenge of its own; undoubtedly something the crews and enthusiasts alike are looking forward to at next year’s event.