Studies at Cranfield
In 1994 I travelled to the UK to undertake post-graduate studies at Cranfield University. I sought funding from the Sir Ross & Sir Keith Smith Fund to cover my tuition fees, and was fortunate to gain assistance. I enrolled to undertake a Master’s of Science in Aerospace Vehicle Design in the School of Aeronautics. The course was a good mix of both course and project work and was excellent and lived up to my expectations.
The two main projects were a group and an individual design. For the group project we carried out a design of a large military transport aircraft. We had a competition for naming the project which I won with the name WOMBAT (Wide Operations Military Big Air Transport). In this project the aircraft was divided up and each person was then responsible for the design of their component and all interfaces (loads, joints, services) with close liaison with other team members. In my case I designed the horizontal stabiliser so had to interface with the Fin Designer, who interfaced with the aft fuselage designer etc. Sadly my father passed away in 1994, so I had to head back to Australia, before returning to the UK to finish my individual project. My individual project was for a light aircraft designed specifically for Australian conditions. I sent surveys to a wide variety or rural users in Australia and used that data (field information, environmental conditions, duration of flight, utility uses of aircraft etc) to come up with my design criteria. This information led me to design a high wing (good for clearance over scrub and for shade), tail dragging aircraft (better short field performance) with large cargo rear doors for utility use.
In my year at Cranfield there were several careers events which I attended. Through these I learnt of the Defence Research Agency (DRA) and the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) and the flight test area of those organisations at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire. This area of work interested me more than any other job, so I applied for jobs with both DRA and DERA.
Flight Test work – Boscombe Down
With some perseverance, I was successful in late 1995 in being offered a position in the Rotary Wing Test area at DERA Boscombe Down. I commenced work with DERA in January 1996 and worked on a variety of projects. In late 1997 I was successful in being selected to undertake the Flight Test Engineers Course at the Empire Test Pilots School (ETPS), which is located at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire. Starting in January 1998 I spent the entire year at ETPS undertaking the graduate Rotary Wing Flight Test Engineers Course. The course was very intensive, with a very high workload but it was a wonderful learning experience and a wonderful and thoroughly enjoyable year overall. During that year we travelled to other countries in Europe and America, flew in a wide range of rotary and fixed wing aircraft and learnt a great deal about flight testing of aircraft in a safe manner. Along with my two fellow FTE’s (one from Finland and one from Netherlands) we were awarded the Patuxtent Shield for the best final preview exercise!
On my return to my old desk, I commenced working on the Chinook helicopter and led the trials to look at hot and high operations& performance. These trials were conducted in Colorado and California over a period of 6 months and included level flight performance, hover performance (at high altitude) and high temperature capabilities.
During my time at Boscombe Down I was fortunate enough to be exposed to a wide variety of work which covered, and allowed me to fly on, all of the UK military rotorcraft – Wessex, Lynx (All Mks), Gazelle (All Mks), Squirrel, Sea King (all Mk’s), Chinook (all Mks), Puma, Apache & Merlin (all Mks). There were many highlights in my time at Boscombe Down both technical and personal. I was fortunate to work with a number of fantastic test pilots and engineers – and have very fond memories of working with them. On the technical side the work I enjoyed the most included the Ship Helicopter Operating Limits (SHOL) definition, environmental trials (hot & high, icing and snow), and development test flying. All of these are unpredictable and require constant change and adaption on the ground and in the air, whilst ensuring safety at all times.
In the SHOL arena, I gained a great deal of experience in preparation, planning & conducting these trials and eventually gained sufficient experience to be the lead FTE responsible for running the trials, leading the trials team and liaising with the Ships command for the duration of the embarked trials (4-6weeks normally). From the data gathered, and limits reached during the trials, I was then responsible for producing the SHOL flight envelope for military use in deck landings.
I had the opportunity to conduct SHOL trials “in theatre” on a UK ship in the Gulf during the Iraq conflict, to provide an emergency clearance to cover single engine failure recovery of helicopters (i.e running landings to a short deck) – I had 10 days to do the trials, analyse all the data and write a final report which was delivered to the customer before I left the ship! This work had to fit in around the normal operations the ship had scheduled. The test programme included both day and night flying to the ship with the constant threat of attacks from dhows in the vicinity. Helicopter operation from this ship commenced the following week.
Overall I carried out SHOL trials on 5 different classes of ship (including brand new ships in service) and provided helicopter operating limits to those ships (for all UK helicopters) and a range of other ships based on read across of existing ship and helicopter data.
During environmental trials I have flown in icing conditions, with a cabin temperature of between -10 & -20 deg C, dressed in cold weather clothing, an immersion suit, parachute, underwater breathing apparatus & life vest. This makes the work just that little bit harder due to limited mobility and the intense cold – for hours at a time. The first step when you get on the aircraft under these conditions is to identify the exits and prepare/rehearse for your escape – just in case! These trials involved intentionally flying into icing conditions and trying to accrete significant ice on the airframe and blades and to look at the ice shedding and aircraft capability and performance at a variety of conditions with the aim of providing an unlimited icing clearance.
The last development flying I did in the UK was as the lead FTE for the planning and practical execution of trials to provide service release to the Sea King helicopter fitted with a new (Carson) main rotor/tail rotor combination. We undertook hot and high, cold weather/snow operations & icing to generate the full flight envelope (low speed and forward flight) for the aircraft. The result was significantly improved performance for use in hot and high theatres of operation which resulted in a significant improvement in operational capability.
Flight test is exciting, there is always something that happens that will catch you unaware, you just have to make sure it is small thing and hopefully only one thing at a time. You need to know when to stop what you are doing and always have to consider the implications of result you achieve!
In my time in the UK I flew on 35 different aircraft types and Mk’s (fixed and rotary wing) and carried out entry into service trials and generated the operational clearances on the Apache AH MK1, Merlin (EH-101) and the Carson equipped Sea King. This included trials at sea from Iceland to the Canary Islands, in the USA, Canada, United Kingdom & the Arabian Gulf.
Australian Aerospace - Brisbane
In 2009, I was approached by Australian Aerospace regarding a flight test job back in Australia. I was fortunate to be offered the position and my wife and I moved from the UK to Brisbane. The job is vastly different to the work I carried out in the UK.
The scale of things is significantly smaller here in Australia. In the UK the rotary wing flight test was divided into specialisations that included – electronics & EMC, mechanical systems, mission systems, software and safety and performance and handling qualities. Each of these areas employed up to 12 flight test engineers (i.e. a total of around 40 or so flight test specialists). We additionally had around 12 test pilots. These people were then utilised across the entire rotary wing fleet of 8 aircraft types, plus the various Mks (variants) of each aircraft type – this gave a total of around 18 individual aircraft variants. In Australia at Australian Aerospace we have two test pilots (one of whom I worked with in the UK!), a flight systems specialist and one FTE (me). We currently work on one aircraft type, the MRH-90.
The MRH-90 is the latest acquisition for the Australian Army and Navy and offers a modern helicopter with integrated systems and a glass cockpit. It is a composite, crashworthy aircraft with fully integrated mission systems and offers a glass cockpit, FADEC controlled RTM 322 engines and is full fly by wire operation. Once the aircraft have been built and ground tested I am responsible for the test programme from first flight to delivery in conjunction with our test pilots. Additionally I am responsible for the flight test programmes to update software and introduce new equipment onto the aircraft as well as any ad-hoc flight test programmes required by engineering. In total there are 46 aircraft to be delivered and as of the end of 2013 nearly 60% will have been delivered.
What will I do once the aircraft are complete – hopefully I will continue with flight test in one form or another. If the opportunity arose I would enjoy being able to lecture and teach to give something back to the Aerospace industry.
I would like to thank the Sir Ross & Sir Keith Smith fund for having faith in me and for providing support at the beginning of my career in aviation and flight test. That support enabled me to study my chosen field, and led to opportunities that would have not otherwise been available. I am sure that without this support, my career and life would have been quite different!
B.Eng (hons), MSc, MPhil, C.Eng, MIMechE