Cumbria, United Kingdom—Imagine taking your family for a lovely weekend excursion. You don’t get to do it often, being busy with work and the children slammed with schoolwork. But today is different. You get into the car and drive up to the countryside. The weather isn’t ideal, but it isn’t so bad that it will ruin your weekend. And then, as you are driving through the foggy hills, and the children mumble from the backseat, you see it: a special operations helicopter flying ludicrously low above your car’s roof. Fiction? Not if you belong to the Weatherall family.
This exact incident happened to the British family a few months ago. Despite the bad weather, the Weatheralls fared well, and were quite lucky in avoiding a collision with a UK Special Forces (UKSF) AS365N3 Eurocopter Dauphin 2 helicopter.
The chopper belongs to the UK Army Air Corps’ (AAC) 658 Squadron, a SOF aviation outfit that provides aviation support to the UKSF, which includes the famed Special Air Service (SAS), Special Boat Service (SBS), and Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), among others. The 658 Sq., alongside the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) 7 Squadron, which flies specially designed Chinook helicopters, is part of the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing (JSFAW).
Besides the Dauphin 2 chopper, the Sq. also operates the Gazelle AH1. The slick Gazelle resembles the U.S. 160 Special Operations Aviation Regiment’s (SOAR) MH-6/AH-6 (‘aka’ Little Bird) helicopters.
But 658 Sq. does more than just provide aviation support for Britain’s special operators. After the 2015 Paris attacks, a secretive 70-man counterterrorism unit was formed. Comprised of SAS and SBS operators and support personnel, the outfit’s job was to be on constant no-notice alert to respond to a terrorist incident within the British Isles. And 658 Sq. Dauphins, unmarked and painted in civilian colours (blue and white), provided the transportation. The unit even took its name from the Dauphins’ nondescript paint job (Blue Thunder).
The unit was called into action during the June 2017 London Bridge attack, when terrorists rammed pedestrians and then proceeded into a knifing spree before they were neutralised by British law enforcement.
As far as the Weatheralls, they were somewhat shaken but unscathed. The father, Brian Weatherall, said of the incident: “I just couldn’t believe it, I’ve never seen anything like it. I was on holiday at the time and the roads were bad, so I was taking it steady on the steep hill. It happened about 2 p.m. and I had the whole family in the car, it really was quite something—and a lucky escape.”