The Navy’s newest aviation capability has been stretching her wings off the eastern seaboard, with the Aircraft Maintenance and Flight Trials Unit conducting first of class flight trials with the EC-135 helicopter in aviation training vessel, MV Sycamore.
The trials are an important step in developing the safe limits for operations of a specific helicopter to a particular class of ship, commonly known as a ships helicopter operating limits or by the term, 'SHOL'.
This trial was also the first time any aircraft has operated from Sycamore, thus allowing her aviation facilities to be tested and her crew being introduced to embarked helicopter operations.
Sycamore is operated by a contracted crew who are relishing the opportunity to apply their established mariner skills to a new and exciting role.
The ship’s flight deck team, also staffed by contractors, under the supervision of a Royal Australian Navy Helicopter Control Officer.
Commander Andrew Rohrsheim is the only permanent Royal Australian Navy Officer posted to the ship.
“Sycamore will provide Navy with a range of services, but first among equals is aviation training," Commander Rohrsheim said.
"With specified aviation support systems and a dedicated flight deck team, she will soon be able to provide trained and qualified sailors, officers and aircrew for immediate benefit to the Fleet.”
The trials commenced in Jervis Bay, New South Wales, to develop a conservative ship helicopter operating limits, before transiting to waters off Cairns in Queensland, to enable data collection in a warmer atmosphere.
Lieutenant Tim Craig, from the Aircraft Maintenance and Flight Trials Unit, said the data collection presented unique logistical challenges.
“Sycamore does not have a hangar and subsequently can’t embark a helicopter overnight," he said
"Arrangements had to be put in place for the aircraft to make a number of overnight stops, and eventually operate from the Cairns International Airport each day."
Test pilot, and trial lead, Lieutenant Commander Martin Stiles, praised the performance of everyone involved.
“The first of class flight trials progressed very efficiently, on schedule and a very high rate of data collection," he said.
"We completed over 200 day and night recoveries, along with transfers, deck movements, and other tests."
"This positioned us well to achieve all the trial aims and provided the most efficient ship's helicopter operating limits for ongoing operations”.
The primary beneficiary of these trials is 723 Squadron and the new helicopter aircrew training system program.
"This will deliver a highly skilled workforce with rotary wing flying training for Navy pilots, aviation warfare officers, as well as Army pilots and loadmasters," Lieutenant Commander Stiles said.
Once the trial concludes the aircraft will return to HMAS Albatross, in Nowra, and Sycamore to her home port of Sydney.
The newly developed EC-135 limits will be put to use at the end of 2017 when Instructors conduct staff training and deck landing qualifications, to prepare themselves to instruct the first batch of students in 2018.