Canberra taking steps to full flight

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Emily Kennedy (author), LSIS Helen Frank (author)

A Blackhawk helicopter lands on the flight deck of HMAS Canberra for the first time during First of Class Flight Trials. (photo: LSIS Helen Frank)
A Blackhawk helicopter lands on the flight deck of HMAS Canberra for the first time during First of Class Flight Trials.

HMAS Canberra has commenced the first phase of helicopter trials at sea off the coast of both New South Wales and Queensland.

The Navy's Aircraft Maintenance and Flight Trials Unit is onboard Canberra conducting the trials with two MRH 90 helicopters from 808 Squadron and one S70B-2 Seahawk helicopter from 816 Squadron, along with their flight teams, to support the trials.

Canberra’s Commander Air, Commander Paul Moggach, said the trials were required to set operating limits for the Landing Helicopter Dock’s six spot flight deck.

“These trials are critical to the safe operation of helicopters onboard. The resulting operating limits will be used by all helicopters that operate from the deck of either Canberra or Adelaide during the course their life,” Commander Moggach said.

“Aircraft operating limits take into consideration things like wind speed and direction, weight of the aircraft and the pitch and roll of the moving flight deck - and with six spots to individually test along with aft facing and running landings, the scale of the trials is significant. 

“The successful completion of these trials relies on close coordination between the ship, the trials unit, the embarked flight and Fleet Aviation support staff,” he said.

Ship helicopter operating limits are developed for all aspects of operations, including launch, recovery, degraded states of recovery, vertical replenishment and on deck evolutions such as aircraft movement or refuelling. These are then overlaid to whole ship evolutions including amphibious operations using the ship’s Landing Craft.

Among other firsts, Canberra has completed her first helicopter hot deck refuelling and the first concurrent helicopter serial, with two helicopters operating from the deck at the same time.

Also part of the trials is the movement of air aircraft around the six-spot flight deck and between the hangar and flight deck via the ship’s two aircraft lifts.

Commander Moggach said Canberra’s newly formed category of Aviation Support personnel were doing a great job to satisfy the requirements of the testing.

Canberra’s Air Department is made up of Aviation Engineering and Aviation Support personnel and Commander Moggach said the entire team is working well together.

“I am particularly proud of the work done by the whole team who are working long days in a relatively new environment to support the trials,” Commander Moggach said.

“It is great to see the team operating at sea with helicopters in a multi-spot flight deck environment - just as they have trained for,” he said. 

Able Seaman Aviation Support Gabriella Hayllar’s role is to handle the aircraft while they are on the deck as well as being the first response to flight deck emergencies and she said it was great to be doing her job at sea. 

“My role involves moving the aircraft from the hangar to the flight deck into position, lashing or unlashing the helicopters as they launch and recover as well supporting a range of other deck activities such as crash rescue fire fighting, casualty extraction and immediate first aid response to aircrew ,” Able Seaman Hayllar said.

“After training and working at 808 and 816 Squadrons ashore, it is great to be at sea on Canberra working a multi-spot flight deck with aircraft manoeuvring in different sea states.

“There is a lot we still have to learn, and it’s great to have the Squadrons embarked as there are many familiar faces onboard as we go through this process.

“The biggest challenge so far has been the heat and the big jump in tempo as we move and operate aircraft on and off the deck. It is a really exciting time,” she said.

Canberra departed Jervis Bay to conduct hot weather trials off the coast of Townsville before she proceeds south in April to do cold weather flight trials off Tasmania. The ship will return to Fleet Base East, Sydney in May before commencing her work up at sea across all her capabilities.