1000, 2000, 3000, check canopy… once onboard the C130 Hercules aircraft my mind went through all the parachuting drills that were taught to us in the training hanger of No.1 Parachute Training School (PTS) by the Parachute Jump Instructors (PJI).
The plane reached 1000ft high, and the air dispatchers opened the side doors letting a gust of wind enter the aircraft providing huge relief to the humid and confined trainees. However, this also meant that it was time to exit the aircraft and put our skills to practice. Though it was our fourth and last descent of the course it was a night-time jump which none of us had done before. There was anticipation in everyone’s eyes as we checked our equipment and lined up in our sticks ready to exit the aircraft. The pilot switched the red light signalling that the drop zone was approaching and soon the awaited ‘GREEN’ light. Parachutists started to exit the aircraft one by one which looked like the outside pressure was sucking them out and spitting them into the sky. Finally, it was my turn on the edge of the door and as the dispatcher gave me the tap to exit, I shouted “REAR, DRIVE” and leapt out in the open air above the Royal Air Force (RAF) Weston-on-the-green airfield.
The British airborne forces date back to 1940 when the 1st Parachute Battalion was raised under the request of Sir Winston Churchill, UK Prime Minister at the time. Despite its relatively young history, it is one of the most decorated units in the modern British army and is renowned as a formidable force across the globe. The Gurkhas were introduced into the airborne forces in August 1943 as the 154th Gurkha Parachute Battalion and served with the 50th (Indian) Parachute Brigade. The airborne aspects of Operation DRACULA where over 700 Gurkhas troops landed on Elephant point was one of the most pivotal air assaults of the Burma War and proved to be a model example of the effectiveness of airborne Gurkha soldiers.
70 Gurkha Parachute Squadron (previously 70 Gurkha Field Squadron) is assigned to 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment, part of the 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat team. One of the many challenges to becoming a proficient paratrooper is to become a qualified parachutist and earn the admired set of wings. Having passed the notoriously gruelling P company, which is both physically and mentally demanding, I was bestowed a place to attend the Basic Parachute Course (BPC) in September 2022 and become the first Gurkha Sapper to earn the wings.
The BPC takes place at RAF Brize Norton over three weeks where students are taught all the basic skills required for a military parachutist such as aircraft and descent drills, drawing and fitting parachutes and harness release and drag drills. The first week is ground training (GT)and once the students are approved fit by the PJIs after the GT assessment you can progress to the parachute phase. The parachute phase includes four descents, including the one night-time jump, all from 1000ft in combat equipment fighting order whilst carrying the low landing parachute, reserve parachute and personnel equipment load. The flight time only lasts between 40 to 45 seconds. As I made my exit from the aircraft for my last descent a sense of thrill and excitement rushed through my body on that calm night. Once away from the aircraft I looked up to the canopy of my parachute gently floating me down to the ground. Excitedly I conducted my drills, assessed my drift, and adopted my landing position and said to myself “men apart: everyman an emperor.”
By Sergeant Basanta Thamsuhang, Queen’s Gurkha Engineers