SAS banned from the Puma Fleet

saw this in the Sunday Times:

"The SAS has been banned from travelling in the RAF’s Puma transport helicopters after an inquiry blamed their daredevil approach for two crashes and the deaths of four servicemen in Iraq.

RAF pilots frequently pushed their aircraft to the limits in an attempt to cope with demands made by SAS commanders.

They flew so close to the ground — even when the situation did not require it — that there would have been no time to make corrections had a fault occurred.

According to the inquiry, nobody in the RAF has felt confident enough to oppose the demands of the SAS men for high-risk manoeuvres.

The two Iraq crashes were among a total of eight between April 2000 and November 2007 involving the RAF’s Pumas, its oldest model of helicopter, introduced in 1971. A total of 10 servicemen were killed, with human error blamed in all cases.

The aircraft was nearly twice as likely to crash as other service aircraft because of human error, the report said. It pointed to “a desire in some Puma crews to prove themselves in front of their peers”.

In Iraq, the inquiry found, the SAS’s demands and the pilots’ “appetite for risk-taking” meant “a safe line” was breached, “probably in the early part of 2006”.

The result was two crashes on special forces missions. In the first, in April 2007, two Pumas were lost, killing Mark Powell, an SAS colour sergeant, and Mark McLaren, a sergeant in the RAF. Another two SAS men died in the second crash in November 2007.

References to the SAS are blacked out in a copy of the report given to MPs but defence sources said these portions hid serious criticisms of special forces commanders.

“The RAF and army hierarchy has decided the Puma force is never going to be let out with the special forces again,” the sources said. It is now used for training in Britain and Kenya and ferrying embassy staff in Baghdad.

The habit of flying the Pumas close to their limits came to a head when pressure on the crews increased with the number of operations in Iraq. The Pumas’ engine has a flaw that leads its rotor blades to slow down if it is not flown with enough care. This can lead to pilots losing control.

Officers at Joint Helicopter Command ignored a “blizzard of missives” warning that the crews could not safely sustain the level of operations, the report said. Joint Helicopter Command was ordered to “reassert its authority over what is done . . . by its crews and the extent and scope of tasks that it is content to see carried out by its aircraft”.

The problems reached the point where one senior officer admitted that he sat in his office “dreading the phone ringing to report the loss of another Puma in Iraq”.

The report, by an RAF air commodore and an Army Air Corps colonel, found no evidence of “a bad apple cadre” of pilots leading others astray but said there was a potential danger of the “Puma force being undeservedly tarnished by the actions of a relatively small number of people”.

Last week Quentin Davies, the defence minister, told the Commons defence committee the Ministry of Defence was considering cancelling plans to upgrade Puma engines and may buy a new helicopter.

The ministry said that it had “made a number of changes to training and organisation to address any shortcomings identified by the review. Puma aircraft and their crews continue to provide excellent support”.

saw it myself in NI, a puma trying to keep up with Lynx and getting it seriously wrong due to pressure from the troop commander.
Yes we have seen it before, in the Radfan operations for instance the RAF would not bring their Belvederes(Spelling) up to the front end,we had to rely on the AAC and the Scouts they were using at that time,they did a great job in supporting and resupplying us under difficult circumstances,one getting shot down,repaired under fire,and flying out again.

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