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RAF help to restore historic landmark in Wiltshire

A Chinook helicopter from RAF Odiham in North Hampshire has lifted 46 tons of Chalk onto the side of Milk Hill near Devizes to enable villagers to restore the Alton Barnes white horse.

The helicopter worked with ground support crews from RAF Benson near Reading, and Marine Commando Force at RNAS Yeovilton in a training exercise overseen by Joint Helicopter Command to move 46 tons of chalk up onto the hillside.

The White Horse at Alton Barnes was first cut in 1812 by the then land owner Robert Pile. It stands approximately 180 ft high and 160 ft long.  The horse was last restored in 2009, in time for its 200th anniversary. Above members of the local community and military ground crew receive a safety briefing. 

The project to re-chalk the horse was the idea of Molly Sutherland, an 11-year-old year 6 student at Woodborough Primary School, located a short distance from the horse. Due to the location of the horse, in an area of special scientific interest, lorries could not transport chalk to the site. To overcome this logistical problem, the Joint Helicopter Command were approached for support. 

Villagers watched from both the top of Milk Hill and at the collection point below. 

The Chinook carried out around ten lifts lasting more than 2 hours. 

The gradient of the hill made it a testing exercise. Although this was a community project the Chinook force based at RAF Odiham are on 24/7 standby to provide short notice helicopter support for UK Civil emergencies, a state of readiness known as 'National Standby'. They recently helped move material to assist with serious flooding in Lincolnshire. 

Once the operation to move the chalk onto the site of the white horse was completed volunteers including local schoolchildren prepared to start the process of raking out the new covering.

Exercises like this prepare the crews for more critical operations and help to bring alive the motto of the Andover-based joint helicopter command 'Across all boundaries'. 

Photos by Jonathan Richards & Cpl Rob Davis (Crown Copyright). Special thanks to Squadron Leader Joan Ochuodhu JHC and Flight Lieutenant Chris Warr & Sargeant Andrew Turner RAF Odiham

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