RAF Henlow opens its doors to The Comet

RAF Henlow opened its doors to The Comet this week to showcase the work of the Centre of Aviation Medicine to mark the unit’s 10th anniversary.

The unit works to prepare all the flying members of the armed forces for the challenges they will face fighting insurgents in Afghanistan, as well as undergoing vital research and development work to improve body armour.

Wing Commander Nick Green said: “All the time we’re looking at the equipment and trying to make it more portable and make equipment in the cockpit lighter.

“Currently there’s a lot of ongoing operational requirements that’s causing more to be developed.

“We’re flying higher in Afghanistan because the ground level is much higher than back in the UK.”

One challenge faced by the flying wing of the armed forces is finding the balance between protection and mobility when developing body armour for air crews.

A display was laid out that showed the development of fragmentation vests and armour capable jackets.

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Fragmentation vests are used to protect aircrew from shrapnel in the event of an attack and are worn underneath armour capable jackets that protect the wearer from small arms fire.

The latest lightweight armour can protect the user from armour piercing rounds at a distance of 25 metres.

Warrant Officer George Mackenzie said: “The equipment we use for ballistic protection is very light, although a few years ago we had very heavy armour.

“What we are looking at is to reduce the thermal burden so servicemen don’t get so fatigued in theatre.”

Aircrew from all armed forces are also trained in how to correctly operate their night vision equipment in a specialist room on the base.

The room has two incredibly detailed 3D models of landscapes, that trainee air crew view in complete darkness to better gauge levels of danger in a combat situation.

The models are of slightly different contrasts, with one better suiting the barren landscape of Afghanistan.

As well as the detailed models the training room is also equipped with adjustable lighting, used to simulate the effects of the moon, and a star map.

Although merely training goggles the equipment used is still military grade and worth around �15,000.

The Comet’s final stop was the hyperbaric chamber, which has been used by Jeremy Clarkson on an episode of Top Gear,

The four chambers on the base are used to train airmen to notice the effects of hypoxia – lack of oxygen caused by high altitude. Recruits using the chamber were taken to a simulated height of 17,500ft.

One of the issues that have been encountered in the current theatre is that helicopters are operating at a much higher altitude due to Afghanistan’s relative height compared to the last combat zone in Iraq.

The lowest point in Afghanistan, Amu Darya, is 258 metres above sea level and in Iraq it is the Persian Gulf which is at sea level.

For more pictures click the gallery link at the top right.