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Navy Helicopter engineering boffins test skills in the field

Published: 30 Jun 2024

A UNIQUE team of naval aviation engineers swapped the workshop for Bramley training area in Hampshire as they tested their ability to fix helicopters in the field.

1710 NAS is one of two naval air squadrons which has no aircraft but is crucial to the safety and effectiveness of operations by the UK’s military helicopter fleet.

Its repair department – one of five in the squadron alongside teams dedicated to modifications, data and digital, materials, and condition monitoring – carry out repairs above and beyond what flight/unit/squadron air engineers can accomplish, to meet operational requirements.

Another facet of the squadron, located in Portsmouth Naval Base, is aviation forensic support, courtesy of expert scientists and engineers, who advise not just military through the Defence Accident Investigation Branch (DAIB) but also civilian authorities through the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) the event of serious incidents or accidents.

To hone and maintain their skills to provide deployable scientific support, the team headed to Bramley, just outside Basingstoke in north Hampshire for Exercise Black Cat and test their ability to move out at short notice and successfully work in the field.

The crux of the exercise tested their skills at collecting liquids such as greases, oils or paints, in a more realistic aircraft accident environment.

Much of 1710’s core work is conducted in its labs and workshops – but the very nature of military aviation means they could face a ‘downbird’ (stricken aircraft) anywhere, with limited support and facilities.

That meant not just working on an old battlefield Lynx in austere surroundings, but also living, patrolling, defending themselves through fire and manoeuvre tactics, and generally navigating in the field – ‘green skills’ in military parlance.

While some of this might come naturally to military personnel, 1710 also counts civilian experts in its ranks.

They tested some new kit – a portable solar array and battery pack to run the makeshift ‘office’ (a 12x12 tent) and a new generator to run all the repair equipment which is capable of a much greater output than the standard military equivalent. All that was needed were some foldout laptop screens and it would be the equivalent working in a well-ventilated office.

The new kit proved a success and will now become a mainstay of future operations. As will the need for some 4x4 vehicles (pickup trucks were hired for the exercise and thoroughly put through their paces)

“Exercise Black Cat was a great opportunity to test both our people and equipment, using skills we learned we were able to prove our repair capability within a forward and potentially hostile environment,” said Lieutenant Jenna Clark.

Petty Officer Sean Johnston added: "Exercise Black Cat was an outstanding experience, showcasing the skill of our team. The green elements of the exercise proved our engineering skills and adaptability under challenging conditions."

And for the record, the other NAS without aircraft is 1700, based at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, which provides trained personnel to operate flight decks, or generally bolster ship’s companies with additional personnel for specific operations.


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