THE first Chinook helicopters and around 150 personnel have left RAF Odiham for a new base.

Four Chinooks from 18(b) Squadron left the north Hampshire airbase  for RAF Benson in Oxfordshire.

Engineers for the twin-rotored aircraft and service families will also make the move north.

The crews will form part of the new 28 Squadron - a training unit for Puma and Chinook helicopters.

Future pilots will arrive at the Oxfordshire base having learnt the basics to fly.

They will then learn about the ability to fly the support helicopters at low levels, with under-slung loads, in cloud and at night.

Group Captain Simon Paterson, station commander at RAF Benson, said: "It is the start of a new era at RAF Benson as we welcome the Chinook Operational Conversion Flight.

"This is an ideal location for combined Puma and Chinook training to be undertaken because RAF Benson is also home to state-of-the-art simulators.

"Together, this will provide the best initial training possible for all future Royal Air Force Support Helicopter aircrew."

Wing Commander Marty Lock, officer commanding 28 Squadron, said: "It is a very proud day as the Officer Commanding of 28 Squadron to welcome the Chinook aircraft, personnel and families to RAF Benson to join existing Puma Force personnel to undertake this vital training role.

"My team have been set a big challenge; to deliver the combined operational conversion unit to provide the Royal Air Force with all its future Support Helicopter aircrew.

"I am certain that this is a challenge that we can deliver and I am honoured to be leading the team in this endeavour.”

Two more Chinooks are expected to leave for RAF Benson early next year.

Today sees another change at RAF Odiham, with the introduction of a new station commander.

Former Chinook pilot Phil Robinson has replaced Group Captain Richard Maddison.

Posting on Twitter, Group Capt Maddison said: "A huge thank you from me to all @RAF_Odiham for their support, and for everyone else that has supported all of us in all we have done."