84 squadron at RAF Akrotiri have been preparing their aircraft and maintaining their skills ahead of the busy firefighting season as the weather starts to heat up in Cyprus.
This year has seen unprecedented challenges for everyone, but 84 Squadron has continued to fly and provide continued support to the Republic of Cyprus and local communities despite the difficulties created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Coronavirus has only caused a slight reduction in the Squadron’s flying rate, as they continued to complete taskings and essential training. They flew daily in order to maintain their competency at the level required to conduct Operations to the highest standard.
Operating in the Eastern Mediterranean comes with its challenges, one of those being the high summer temperatures in which the crews and aircraft must operate. Heat has always been a big cause for concern for the Squadron, and they are incredibly well-educated in the control measures they use to limit these risks and the Squadron has been pro-active, introducing several key mitigations for heat; Crew have moved from a traditional flying suit into a two-piece Future Aircrew Clothing System with lightweight boots to keep them cool.
Training flights are scheduled for the cooler parts of the day, normally early, though this is not always possible when crews attend callouts. Rest days are also scheduled into the programme in order to help the crews to recover from the higher fatigue levels that can come with the busy summer months.
The Squadron also recently attended the Republic of Cyprus’ annual firefighting exercise, Exercise ICARUS. The Exercise involved several firefighting displays in which simulated wildfires are extinguished by airborne firefighting crews. The Exercise marks the beginning of the firefighting season and is attended by several firefighting teams, including 84 Squadron, who offer their ongoing support to the Cypriot authorities.
Officer Commanding 84 Squadron, Squadron Leader Alan Ross, spoke about the Squadron’s involvement in the Exercise:
“ICARUS 2020 provides a brilliant opportunity for 84 Squadron to meet and train with our Cypriot friends in the Police, National Guard and Forestry Commission. The exercise happens once a year at the start of the firefighting season so we can all refresh our operating procedures as part of the national response plan and build on the strengthening relationships forged over the previous years.”
Throughout the winter, 84 Squadron held weekly meetings to plan sorties that would give crews the practice they require to ensure they maintain their skills and competency over the year. By having the time in the aircraft to practice the wide variety of skills required to deliver a Search and Rescue and Force Protection capability, crews were able to hone their skills to a very high level. As the summer season and the risk of fire increases, the Squadron begins tailoring their practice towards firefighting. This keeps them ready for any emergency response requirement that might be needed.
The Squadron’s Griffin HAR2 helicopters have also recently gone through a thorough service in preparation for the busy firefighting season. There are several engineering checks ranging from category A to D, each inspecting the aircraft to different levels, with the D Check being the deepest level of inspection. Cobham and 84 Squadron forecast and carry out any maintenance check, servicing or component change that may come during firefighting season that would have a detrimental effect on aircraft availability. There will be minor planned servicing and minor component changes during firefighting season, but these can be catered for and will not usually affect the aircraft availability.
Last year 84 Squadron were regularly called upon to battle damaging wildfires, dropping more than 200 tonnes of water in support of Cypriot agencies fighting to keep the fires under control. They also responded to numerous calls for assistance, from road traffic accidents to searches for missing persons, both on land and at sea. There is no doubt that they will be able to provide the same level of assistance every year for the foreseeable future.
“84 Squadron’s fire-fighting capability could not be achieved without our civil service staff, operations assistants, military aircrew and most importantly our civilian engineering team pulling together 24/7/365 truly delivering a whole force approach to protect people and save lives. I am very proud of the hard work and effort by everyone on the 84 Squadron team, the results speak for themselves.”
Sqn Ldr Al Ross, OC 84 Sqn