Wildcat fliers go faster to disaster zones thanks to engineers

Topic: Fighting armsFleet Air Arm Storyline: Wildcat

The Wildcats of 847 Naval Air Squadron can now deploy anywhere in the world 24 hours faster than before thanks to the ingenuity of their engineers.

The squadron’s engineers shaved an entire day of work needed to prepare – and then reassemble – the battlefield helicopter for action from its base in Yeovilton in Somerset to wherever it is needed.

They used the mock-up of a giant RAF C17 transporter aircraft at Brize Norton to see if they could cut down on the amount of changes they needed to make to the hi-tech helicopter.

It supports battlefield operations by the Royal Marines around the globe – anything from acting as airborne eyes and ears of the commandos, to calling in air strikes and ferrying personnel and supplies around.

Parts have to be removed and the aircraft loaded aboard the transporter in a particular way – a process known collectively as the ‘tie-down scheme’ – to make the Wildcat safe for travel, before being reassembled at the destination, sometimes by the same engineers, sometimes by their colleagues.

Typically it’s taken a six-strong team one and a half days in the UK to disassemble the Wildcat, and two days at the end of the flight to get it back into an airworthy position.

The tie-down procedure was drawn up seven years ago as Wildcat was entering service. 847’s engineers reckoned they could squeeze some extra hours out of the process based on their worldwide experience and took two of the helicopters to the RAF air base to practise.

Air engineer Petty Officer Richard Plummer was involved in the initial trials and was eager to see his experience used to help save time – vital in particular if the squadron is mobilised to support disaster relief operations.

“Having done multiple C17 moves over the years it was easy to see areas where the approved tie-down scheme could be improved upon,” he said. “After the successful trial I was pleased to see many of my recommendations have been implemented – this will benefit the whole Wildcat force for years to come.”

Now by leaving all four rotor blades on the front-loaded Wildcat (previously two were removed) and ensuring the rescue hoist remains fitted (again previously removed for transport, then reassembled – a time consuming job, made more demanding because it involves removing explosive cartridges and a lot of associated paperwork), the engineers have carved half a day off each end of the disassembly/re-assembly process.

The new procedures meet all the various complex rules and regulations, as well as the load limits for the RAF transporter, much to the delight of 847’s technicians.

Through an innovative yet simplistic approach we have been able to reduce the maintenance burden on my engineers,” said Chief Petty Officer Terrance Greig, Senior Maintenance Rating with the squadron’s A Flight.

“Utilising real-life experiences, gained over several years, has allowed the tie-down scheme to be improved, ensuring Wildcat attack helicopters are available for operational tasking as soon as possible.”

After the successful trial I was pleased to see many of my recommendations have been implemented – this will benefit the whole Wildcat force for years to come.

Petty Officer Richard Plummer