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Flying Light Helicopters with the Royal Marines (Hardback)

Collective Tales From Marine Air 489

Aviation Post WWII Aviation Memoirs

By Col Robert Wilsey
Imprint: Air World
Pages: 304
Illustrations: 42 black and white illustrations & 3 black and white maps
ISBN: 9781399002509
Published: 1st September 2021

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Little has been written about Royal Marines rotary aviation, the small and select unit which operated light helicopters between 1965 and 1995. Officer and senior non-commissioned officer pilots had the unique privilege of being both Commandos and aviators, flying from warships and operating ashore in support of the Royal Marines. Initially called Unit Air Troops, which then coalesced into 3 Commando Brigade Air Squadron Royal Marines, they operated in hostile environments, including the Arctic, mountains, jungles and deserts.

Robert Wilsey served in the Royal Marines from 1969 to 2000. Having qualified as a pilot he served through much of the existence of the Royal Marines Air Squadron, from a junior pilot right up to becoming its commanding officer.

In this unique book, the author tells of the evolution and technological advances of Royal Marines aviation, flying the Westland Sioux, Scout, Gazelle, and, ultimately, Lynx helicopters. He describes the rigorous training undertaken, including flying from ships at sea, and of operating globally from Malta, Northern Ireland, the jungles of Brunei, the Pyrenees, Arctic Norway and, in 1991, Northern Iraq, protecting the Kurds during Operation Haven.

Colonel Wilsey also describes the challenges of the British military’s basic and advanced rotary flying training, from both a student’s and flying instructor’s perspectives. He explains the pressures of leading a flying display team and relates stories of numerous incidents and accidents, many amusing, several chaotic and some tragic.

This is a vivid first-hand account of military rotary wing flying which will appeal to aircrew both civil and military, aviation enthusiasts and military historians.

A clear insight into the era of light helicopter support to the Royal Marines

The author's experience follows the evolution from embedded unit flights through to a 3 Commando Brigade capability. This description from a pilot / aviation commander's experience is both an excellent historical record and a fitting tribute to all who were involved. Highly recommended reading for anyone with an interest in military aviation or the campaigns where the author served.

Amazon UK Review

"The best step by step description of the Army Pilots Course I have ever read."

5 Stars

Amazon UK Review

"For flying adepts this book is undoubtedly a recommendation."

Read the review here

Aviation Book Reviews.com

A marvellous insight into life a Royal Marines helicopter pilot.

This book recounts the progress of the author through his long Royal Marines career from commando training to fly helicopters and onto exercises operational deployments. Through his experiences we learn not just about complexities of flying but the also the history of the the 3rd Brigade Air Squadron. You read about the struggles and pitfalls of early helicopter operations, struggling against poor engine performance and the quirks of the various helicopters handling and capabilities. Practising to land a helicopter with the engine turned off is not for the faint hearted or foolhardy!

The book is very well written with lots of details and illuminating chapters as he recounts his progression from student to display pilot and qualified helicopter instructor. Along the way you traverse the globe on deployments both in peacetime and conflict, from arctic warfare training, the humid jungles of Brunei and the hot and dusty mountains of northern Iraq, each with their own hazards.

Flying can be a dangerous occupation and whilst the author luckily walked away from his prangs we also learn of his colleagues and friends who were not so fortunate serving our country. I highly recommend this book for its detail and wealth of colourful accounts.

5 Stars.

Amazon UK Review

A Fitting Tribute to Royal Marines Rotary Wing Aviation.

Over a long and distinguished flying career the Author kept detailed records of every aspect of operating the military helicopters he flew. In this book he shares a very readable and full account of his time in Royal Marines' aviation - from flying training, to the realities of operations in some of the harshest and most demanding of flying conditions (arctic, maritime, mountain and jungle), and finally what it was like to be in command during Operation Haven in Iraq.

For anyone interested in military light helicopter operations generally this is a very good and informative read, but it also forms a fitting tribute to those that served at that time, especially in 3 Commando Brigade Air Squadron.

5 Stars

Amazon UK Review

Featured in

Aeroplane - January 2022

This captivating book by Colonel Robert Wilsey, Royal Marines, is an excellent account of the who, when, how, what, why and where were the RM helicopters in the 20th century last few decades. I loved the detailed account of his carrer as a Royal Marines soldier and pilot. I learned a lot from the numerous events he recalled, mostly good and some scary ones as well. If you ever changed an helicopter transmission in the field, this book is for you. I particularly enjoyed reading and travelling around the world with him via my iPad Google map app. Thank you for this superb book!

5 Stars

Amazon Review

As in his other books and articles Robert writes with a light touch and what could have been a boring, stodgy book is in fact very readable and even exciting. Once started the reader is compelled to continue to the end. This book will particularly appeal to other aviators and those with an interest in the operation of helicopters in the military.

RM Historical Society magazine ‘The Sheet Anchor’

The author served in the Royal Marines from 1969 to 2000, qualifying as a pilot and eventually becoming the Commanding Officer of its only Air Squadron. He thus flew globally in support of the Marines Commando operations, and this book is a series of collective tales, covering his initial training, operating from ships at sea, in the jungles of Borneo and the Arctic etc. All is told with dashes of humour and in an immersely readable style that is difficult to put down. The result - Highly Recommended…

Helicopter International - Volume 43, Number 01, 12th January 2022

Over a long and distinguished flying career the Author kept detailed records of every aspect of operating the military helicopters he flew. In this book he shares a very readable and full account of his time in Royal Marines' aviation - from flying training, to the realities of operations in some of the harshest and most demanding of flying conditions (arctic, maritime, mountain and jungle), and finally what it was like to be in command during Operation Haven in Iraq.

For anyone interested in military light helicopter operations generally this is a very good and informative read, but it also forms a fitting tribute to those that served at that time, especially in 3 Commando Brigade Air Squadron.

Alastair Rogers

"This is the most definitive and well-written account I have ever read of military helicopter flying. Superb."

5 Stars.

Amazon Review

As featured in

Aeroplane Monthly

Well written book, of a life well lived. If you ever wanted to know more about a career in the Royal Marines flying helicopters, this is a great read.

5 Stars

Amazon Review

Featured by

Royal Aeronautical Society

Throughout the book, the author provides a fascinating journey through 31 years as a Royal Marine aviator which will appeal to all who are interested in aviation and I can say, without hesitation, this is one of the best books I have read in recent years.

Very Highly recommended.

Richard K Parkhurst, IPMS Portsmouth

About Col Robert Wilsey

ROBERT WILSEY served for 31 years as an officer in the Royal Marines as both an infantry commander and aviator. He was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air for N Iraq and the United States Legion of Merit. After retiring from the Royal Marines, Colonel Wilsey worked for nine years for a US aerospace company, following which he ran his own avionics consultancy business. Recently retired, he is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society. Robert has written over 50 articles on aviation, military history and early breech-loading military rifles and is the author of two books on antique firearms. He and his wife live on the Welsh borders and have two grown-up children.

Perfect Partner

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The Indonesian Confrontation that raged from 1963 to 1966 stemmed from Indonesia’s opposition to the creation of Malaysia. Fighting in the challenging jungle terrain of Borneo and in the countryside straddling the Malaysia/Indonesia border, where there were few roads, posed significant logistical challenges to both sides. That the conflict was ultimately a victory for the Commonwealth forces was in due in no small part to the fact that they enjoyed the advantage of vastly superior helicopter resources and better trained crews – many of which were provided by British units. During the Confrontation,…

By David Taylor

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