FIFTEEN FUTURE FLIGHT DECK GUARDIANS ‘PASS IN’
Fifteen future guardians of Royal Navy flight decks have passed out of training and into the Fleet Air Arm as fully qualified Aircraft Handlers.
Having spent the past six months developing their skills at the Royal Naval School of Flight Deck Operations, they are keen to use all that they have learned to support aviation on board Royal Navy ships, and one day, safeguard the flight decks of our Nation’s new Aircraft Carriers.
As the motto of the Aircraft Handling branch states, every day of their careers, the new recruits will aim to keep the Royal Navy’s aircrew and aircraft ‘Nostris in Manibus Tuti - Safe in These Hands’.
A special ‘Passing in Parade’, held at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, marked the completion of the final stage of basic training, before the sailors move on to further courses at Culdrose or placements to give them more experience.
There is no margin for error when operating with live aircraft on a real flight deck at sea, therefore training is as realistic as possible. Much of their course has taken place on the ‘fire ground’ at the Air Station, where they have learned to use fire rescue equipment designed to save lives on the flight deck during emergencies at sea. They have also worked on the Royal Navy's own unique ‘Dummy Deck’ which is an exact replica of a real Aircraft Carrier’s flight deck, complete with moving Harrier jets, real Merlin helicopters and other aircraft.
This course has been one of the first to use real models of F-35B jets during training. Four life-size replicas of the F-35 Lightning II jets, which will fly from HMS Queen Elizabeth, help flight deck teams to learn the art of working with the world’s most advanced warplanes. While they have no engines, sensors or weapons, the four replica F-35s allow ‘Handlers’ to get used to the size and weight of the real thing – without the danger of damaging a multi-million pound stealth fighter.
Family and friends proudly watched as the branch badges were awarded at the special ceremony. The Naval Airmen were presented with their certificates and awards by Commander James Blackmore, Commander of the Fixed Wing Force at RNAS Culdrose. Himself a fast jet pilot, he re-iterated the importance of Aircraft Handlers when delivering ‘Carrier Aviation’. He said: “The Royal Navy’s runways are not stationary, they move. I myself have flown fast jets to and from aircraft carriers, and it is the Aircraft Handlers who kept me safe. Do not underestimate the role that you will play. You are fundamental to the safe delivery of aviation. The Royal Navy will soon be flying jets from aircraft carriers again, and Aircraft Handlers will have a significant role to play in managing aircraft safety from those four acre flight decks.”
Following the passing in ceremony, the Naval Airmen changed from ‘Number One’ uniforms into their working rig to give a demonstration of how aircraft are moved around a ships flight deck as they are prepared for take-off. This was followed by another change of clothes; into their protective fire fighting equipment and the Naval Airmen then demonstrated how to fight a fire.
One of those 'passing in', and winning the award for the best student on the fire-fighting phase of the course, Naval Airman Stephen Cameron said: "Aircraft Handling is known to be very dangerous, but you don’t think about it when you are doing it. When you are close to a live fire, you can feel the heat, but you just do your job. It’s only afterwards that you think back to how hot it was. Throughout the course, everything is ‘as it would be’ in real life. On the flight deck, moving the chocks, walking under the engine, smelling the AVTUR – it’s very realistic."