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RAF 33 /230 Squadron - Special Forces Helicopter Support

Squadron No.s 33 and 230 Royal Air Force (RAF) fly Puma HC2 helicopters. Their role has included providing support to the Special Forces.

33/230 Sqn Puma HC1 helicopters supported UK Special Forces operating in Iraq between 2003 and 2009. At least 4 Pumas were stationed in Baghdad to support British Special Forces group known as Task Force Black. There roles included the insertion and extraction of UKSF teams as part of efforts to degtrade the insurgency and terrorist networks. TF Black were also supported by Lynx helicopters operated by 657 Squadron AAC, which tended to carry UKSF snipers.

Chinook HC.4
Puma HC1 circa 2003.
photo by flickr user wiltshirespotter | used via CC BY-SA 2.0 licence

RAF Puma, Iraq
Wearing night vison goggles (NVG), an RAF aircrewman watches for threats as his Puma takes off from Baghdad, Iraq, 2008.
Image by Cpl Ralph Merry RAF © UK MOD / Crown Copyright 2008 used under open government licence

For the special operations role, some Puma HC1s were fitted with a FLIR thermal camera. It is likely that additional/improved communications and countermeasure systems were fitted to special forces Pumas, however the details of such fitments remain classified.

RAF Pumas, Iraq Losses

While supporting UKSF in Iraq, RAF Pumas have been involved in a number of crashes:

  • 15th April 2007 - 2 RAF Puma HC1s, serial numbers XW211 & XW218, colided with each other while coming in to drop off SAS soldiers. 2 servicemen died in this incident.
  • 20th November 2007 - 1 RAF Puma HC1, serial number ZA938, crash-landed during an SAS operation against insurgents. The crash-landing resulted in the deaths of 2 servicemen.
    more info : inquest into Puma Crash

photo : SAS Task Force Black with RAF Pumas in background

Puma HC1
XW223, a Puma HC1. This particular aircraft featured enlarged fuel tanks. It was rumoured that this Puma was assigned to a secretive RAF unit known as S&D Flight, which supported UKSF/MI6 operations.
Photo: Sgt Mitch Moore RAF/MOD [OGL], via Wikimedia Commons

Puma HC1 Specifications

Engine 2 x Turbomeca Turmo 111C4 turbines
Width 3.5m
Length 14.06m
Width (rotor diameter) 15m
Height 5.14m
Crew 3 (2 Pilots, 2 Aircrew)
Max Speed 261 kph
Range 780 km
Ceiling 15,748 ft

Puma HC2

The RAF Puma fleet has now been upgraded to HC2 standards. The HC2 upgrades include new Turbomeca Makila 1A1 engines which provide 35% more power than the prevous models. The HC 2 also has better fuel efficiency and, when combined with larger fuel tanks, the HC2 has effictively double the HC1's range.

Puma HC2
A Puma HC2 flown by 230 Squadron.
By Alan Wilson from Stilton, Peterborough, Cambs, UK (Westland Puma HC.2 ‘XW214’) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The new Pumas also got glass digital cockpits and a digital flight control system. Defensive systems got a big upgrade in the form of a Selex HIDAS. New communications and navigation systems were also fitted. The Puma's airframes were strengthened and given additonal ballistic protection.

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