TRAINEES from the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm had to fend for themselves after being shot down behind enemy lines.
But fortunately for the would-be leaders from HMS Sultan in Gosport, it was only a test to see how they would put their survival skills into action.
The engineers and technicians were taking part in Operation Comfort Zone, which was played out across a training area in the New Forest.
Ignoring strange looks from passers-by, the trainees were left to carry out various military tasks with the blessing of the Forestry Commission.
The students were required to cross streams, gather information and navigate to a safe extraction point for a helicopter to get them back to base.
Leading Air Engineering Technician Sam Ashman, from HMS Sultan, said: ‘Leading up to the exercise most of us felt quite daunted, but once out there we really enjoyed it.
‘We’d heard of yomps and various leadership tasks from other classes, and about building rafts to cross rivers.
‘The best bit was being lifted back to HMS Sultan by a Sea King.
‘Some of us have never flown in an aircraft, even though we service and repair them all the time.’
The trainees spent the weekend constructing makeshift rafts to cross streams, lugging several fuel tanks around and bridging streams.
The tranquil backdrop of the New Forest might seem like a surreal place to test military skills, but the scenario is easily one the trainees could face once deployed on an operational squadron.
The trainees are all undergoing the leading air engineer technician qualifying course, which can take more than 12 months to complete.
But in addition to having the technical skills needed to service and repair aircraft, moving up the Royal Navy’s leadership ladder requires the ability to command others.
As leading hands, the successful trainees will be expected to take responsibility for sailors under their charge, issue orders and lead them in times of crisis.
Lieutenant Jamie Strange, from HMS Sultan, helped devise the programme for the Fleet Air Arm trainees.
He said: ‘It’s important to remember that not only are we looking for these guys and girls to be highly trained aircraft technicians, they need to be able to think militarily and operate autonomously, taking charge where necessary.’
The Fleet Air Arm is the branch of the Royal Navy responsible for the operation of naval aircraft on board its ships.