The 17 cadets of 966 (Wallingford) Squadron ATC who helped out at the RAF Benson 75th Anniversary celebrations were invited to the base on 21 July for a flight in a Merlin helicopter.
The evening was arranged by Sqn Ldr Ryan Morris of 28 (AC) Squadron and hosted by Sgt Stephanie Cole, a member of the squadron aircrew.
Prior to the flight the cadets were given a safety briefing by Sgt Cole who also demonstrated various items of operational equipment currently used by the crew on the helicopter, including night vision aids and survival jackets. Cadets were also given the opportunity to sit on the flight deck where Sgt Cole explained the flight controls and navigational equipment.
Then came the bad news! It transpired that the helicopter allocated for the flight had developed a fault and could not be repaired in time for the scheduled lift off at 2000 hrs. Sgt Cole tried desperately to find another available helicopter but to no avail.
It looked, much to the disappointment of the cadets, that the flight would have to be postponed to a later date.
However, at the last minute the involvement of Wg Cdr Ian Diggle, Officer Commanding 28 (AC) Squadron, put the evening back on track. He redirected one of the two Merlin helicopters being prepared for night flying to provide a 20 minute experience flight, which he piloted himself.
During the flight Wg Cdr Diggle demonstrated that the Merlin is indeed a ‘highly manoeuvrable’ aircraft, and to their credit none of the cadets were air sick!
It was agreed by all the cadets, especially those who had not flown in a Merlin before, including 966 Squadron padre, Rev Jeremy Goulston, that the evening was a great success.
Thanks should go to Sqn Ldr Ryan Morris and Sgt Stephanie Cole as the main organisers and especially to Wg Cdr Ian Diggle for acquiring and flying the helicopter to make it possible in the end.