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Merlins and Wildcats Hide in Snow Clouds Deep Inside the Arctic Circle

A fleet of Wildcats and Merlins from the Royal Marines has recently arrived in the High North to assist their commando comrades. For two months, the helicopters will have to withstand below freezing temperatures and fight with the harsh conditions of the Arctic.
Merlin helicopter hiding in the snow cloud 6 photos
Wildcats and Merlins battle the harsh conditions of the ArcticWildcats and Merlins battle the harsh conditions of the ArcticWildcats and Merlins battle the harsh conditions of the ArcticWildcats and Merlins battle the harsh conditions of the ArcticWildcats and Merlins battle the harsh conditions of the Arctic
A few weeks ago, three Merlins of 845 Naval Air Squadron and four Wildcats from 847 NAS arrived in Bardufoss, Norway. The helicopters left their base at Yeovilton and embarked on an epic five-day journey to get deep inside the Arctic Circle.

Now at their winter base, the aircraft will have to withstand temperatures that can drop to -25 degrees Celsius (-13 degrees Fahrenheit) and operate in limited visibility to support the air and ground crew of 845 and 847 Naval Air Squadron.

The two squadrons will work together with the Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade, who've been enduring the cold since January, for the Exercise Clockwork. They will exercise in an area covered in snow. And as beautiful as it may look, that white, fine snow can be the greatest enemy for both aircrew and helicopters.

When a Wildcat or Merlin approaches the ground, it stirs up the snow, causing a snow cloud to surround the helicopter right before it touches down. The Merlin's downwash, in particular, can form a cloud of fine snow that can reach 50 feet (18 meters) high and have a 200-foot (61-meter) diameter.

As a result, the marines waiting on the ground group together to form an "Arctic huddle", helping the pilots see where to land.

"If we are in heavy recirculation conditions – after a fresh dump of snow – due to visibility reducing to a matter of metres in the final stages of the approach we fly directly to the Arctic huddle, landing only one to two metres away from the troops," explained Merlin pilot Lieutenant Andy Duffield.

This helicopter exercise will be followed by Cold Response, which is set to be the largest military exercise Norway has led in the last three decades. The exercise will involve around 35,000 military personnel from 28 nations.

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