12 Days in the Lebanon
6 personnel from RAF Benson’s Puma Force, consisting of both 33 and 230 Sqn Aircrew, deployed to Lebanon on the 23rd January as part of an Aviation Short Term Training Team.
This 12-day deployment was the first of what is hopefully an enduring affiliation between 9 Sqn of the Lebanese Air Force(LAF) and 33 Sqn of the RAF.
This first iteration of Defence Engagement activity with the LAF saw the Benson team visit the British Embassy in Beirut, Hamat Airbase, Rayak Air Force School (less than 5 miles from the Syrian border), the LAF Defence Academy as well as meetings with the LAF Chief of the Air staff.
The key deliverables of the visit focused primarily on discussion and mentoring in three core areas:
Training for and safe conduct of air testing activities.
Recruitment, selection and training of rotary wing rear crew.
Flight Safety, Crew Resource Management and Human Factors.
These took the format of briefs, classroom discussions as well as less formal chats in the crew-room and mess, with the genuine enthusiasm.
and appetite to learn shown by the LAF AF personnel being a highlight of the visit.
The team also had the opportunity to observe a number of training sorties, encompassing emergency handling, flight testing, winching and mountain flying, including a landing on the highest mountain in the middle east at 10,200 ft. The wealth of training areas within 10 minutes flying time of Hamat Airbase was truly exceptional with access to a gunnery/bombing range, fast-rope training area, mountain flying, low level and maritime Search and Rescue ops.
The LAF AF have proven themselves to be an exceedingly adept and capable force in the fight against Daesh on their own country’s borders. A remarkable modification to their Puma helicopters enabled the fitment of 30mm Aden cannons, SNEB Rockets and 1000lb bombs. This upgrade was brought into service in an exceedingly short space of time, thus allowing them the capability to successfully carry out offensive air operations to counter and defeat the threat of a Daesh invasion. These Pumas, along with other units of the LAF play an essential role in the internal security, stability and Counter Terrorism resilience of Lebanon.
One of the many take-aways from the visit, was the importance of fostering and nurturing personal relationships between the two Sqns that will in time grow, develop and add a tangible value to both parties. By broadening the mutual understanding of not only the platform itself, but every aspect of what makes up a front-line helicopter Squadron; courseware/training/planning/operating will aid and assist in building trust, rapport and a thirst to share knowledge, ensuring a mutually beneficial relationship.
To a man, the team noted from the outset that all the members of the LAF that we interacted with, be it senior officers, junior pilots or engineers showed a genuine enthusiasm for, and were highly receptive to, the proposition of learning from and being mentored by members of the RAF.
During the weekend the team took the opportunity to visit the famous Lebanese vineyard of Zsara, the Jeita Grottos, the Roman port of Byblos and thanks to OC33 Sqn, a 10 mile walk around downtown Beirut!
Flt Lt M Reynolds 33 Sqn