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Exercise Virgo
Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA)
January 2016
Swiss Special Forces being dropped off on to the helicopter landing pad.
Swiss Special Forces team being flown back to Camp Knook using the SPIE extraction system.
The Royal Norwegian (RoNAF- Luftforsvaret) and Swiss Air Forces (SwAF) were able to train with their respective Special Forces using the (FIBUA) Military Training Village (Fighting in built-up areas) at Copehill Down located in a remote area of Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA). Copehill Down is a specially built urban complex, it is in regular use for military training and is run by the run by Land Warfare Centre at Warminster. It was proposed in 1986 and initially built to resemble a Bosnian village in the early 1990's. Recent modifications include an Iraqi style village comprising mostly of large metal shipping containers.

The RoNAF were first to arrive in the UK, with four Bell 412SP consigned to RAF Brize Norton in two NATO Boeing C-17 Globemaster IIIs. Once assembled the helicopters and troops were flown to Knook Camp with the SPTA. The SwAF did not have it as easy as they flew their four AS.532UL Cougars (designated TH98) directly from Switzerland but were forced to night stop at Southampton due to poor weather on-route.

SPIE rope extraction
Not much is known about the operations contained within Ex Virgo except that numerous flights were made between Knook Camp and Copehill Down. Both teams of Special Forces were billeted at Knook Camp which was just a short ten minute flight away from the exercise area at Copehill Down. Usually flying in pairs the SwAF transported their well-equipped special forces teams which were fast roped down to the training village. After a short period these troops were often exfiltrated using the Special Patrol Insertion/Extraction (SPIE) system and returned to Knook Camp still attached to the SPIE rope. SPIE was developed as a means to quickly insert and/or extract a reconnaissance patrol from an area where a helicopter is unable to land. A SPIE rope is lowered into the pickup or drop area from a hovering helicopter. Personnel wearing a harness with an attached carabiner, hook up to a D-ring inserted in the SPIE rope.

Knook Camp
Situated about 4 miles (6.4 km) south-east of Warminster, on the A36 road to Salisbury, Knook Camp is generally used as a transit training camp used throughout the year by the Regular Army, TA and Cadet Forces. The very basic camp accommodation consists of wooded structure huts, with lecture rooms, offices and a central cookhouse and was used as the filming location for "Bad Lads' Army" television program.

Up till 1945 the Americans used the camp for part of the D-Day Invasion Force, XIX Corps of the US Army had established their HQ and an airstrip. To support them, Flight C of the 153rd Liaison Squadron operated eight L-5 aircraft to provide messenger and courier services during the build up to D-Day.
Left to right: While some of the teams were reurned using the SPIE rope system most were simply carried back with the helicopter and dropped off on the landing pad, formally the parade ground. The RNoAF Bell 412SPs flew from the adjacent grass area.
Eurocopter AS.532UL Cougar (T-342) of Swiss Air Force.
Left to right: AS.532UL Cougars (T-342 and T-333) were using callsign 'Storm Formation'
The first of 12 AS.532UL Cougars (Swiss Air Force designation is TH98) were delivered from 2002. 1 example (T-331) is equipped for VIP transport and normally resides at Bern, Belp airfield, the rest are used for general transport duties. The serials run from T-331 to T-342.
 
Eurocopter AS.532UL Cougar (T-342).
 
Left to right:
Eurocopter AS.532UL Cougar (T-342).
 
 
Eurocopter AS.532UL Cougar (T-333).
 
 

Bell 412SP-14 (166) Royal Norwegian Air Force (RoNAF - Luftforsvaret) was using callsign 'Dagger 2'.
Left to right: Bell 412SP-14 (144) Royal Norwegian Air Force (RoNAF - Luftforsvaret) is utilised as a tactical transport helicopters. 19 were supplied to the RoNAF from 1987 to replace UH-1Bs of 339 Squadron at Bardufoss and 720 Squadron at Rygge.
Bell 412SP-14 (166) Royal Norwegian Air Force (RoNAF - Luftforsvaret) was using callsign 'Dagger 1'.
Left to right: Bell 412SP-14 (166) Royal Norwegian Air Force.
Left to right: Bell 412SP-14 (166) Royal Norwegian Air Force.