HMAS Canberra conducts First of Class Flight Trials

Published on LEUT Tim Craig (author), Department of Defence (photographer)

Topic(s): HMAS Canberra (L02), Aircraft Maintenance and Flight Trials Unit

An Army ARH Tiger helicopter (foreground) on the flight deck of HMAS Canberra as a United States Marines MV-22 Osprey aircraft approaches to land. (photo: Department of Defence)
An Army ARH Tiger helicopter (foreground) on the flight deck of HMAS Canberra as a United States Marines MV-22 Osprey aircraft approaches to land.

A team from the Aircraft Maintenance and Flight Trials Unit (AMAFTU) has been hard at work embarked in HMAS Canberra over the last seven weeks conducting the First of Class Flight Trial (FOCFT) between the ARH Tiger helicopter and the LHD.

FOCFT is a critical process in enabling helicopters to operate to and from flight decks. Designed to define the safe environmental conditions for ongoing operations, a FOCFT also includes aviation facilities assessments, equipment calibration, and evaluation of the interface between a particular helicopter type and class of ship.

LEUT Viruben Watson, an AMAFTU Flight Test Engineer elaborated on some specifics of this trial.

“The formal test report is one of the key documents which facilitates certification of the helicopter type to operate with that class of ship.

“In this case we’ve flown over 50 hours across 27 sorties, and performed over 275 recoveries and launches.

“This data will be evaluated by AMAFTU personnel and used to provide a compilation of recommended ships helicopter operating limits for publication by the Fleet Aviation Officer (FAVO).” 

One of the challenges presented by a FOCFT campaign is the requirement for large variations in environmental conditions. In order to propose operational limits, the trial aircraft and crew need to be exposed to them. To achieve this goal Canberra conducted operation up and down the eastern seaboard, in Darwin Harbour, the Arufura Sea, and in the Pacific Ocean on transit to and from Noumea. The geographical variety permitted operations in high temperatures, calm seas and light winds, along with higher winds and sea states to induce increased pitch and roll. This culminated in the validation of proposed wind envelopes in conditions up to sea state five at the end of the trial.

A FOCFT is a collaborative effort, involving input and participation from a large group of stakeholders. The trial team was required to work closely with the Operations department on Canberra to ensure to efficient conduct of the trial. On a day to day basis Canberra’s bridge team, Aviation division and support staff worked together to ensure the maximum amount of testing took place in difficult environmental conditions.

As the trial involved an Army aircraft type, the aircraft and their maintenance teams were sourced from 1 Aviation Regiment, who delivered excellent serviceability throughout the trial.

To further add to the complexity of the trial, Canberra was simultaneously engaged in a number of other tasks. After the initial period of the trial, a limited day-only operating limit was approved by FAVO for operational use. This was used by 1 Aviation Regiment, who had embarked 2 additional helicopters and a number of junior pilots, to conduct deck landing qualifications. Canberra also supported Exercise KAKADU 18, completed a deck handling trial for the MV-22 Osprey while in Darwin, and conducted a number of logistic port visits and an international engagement visit to New Caledonia.

As Canberra returned to Sydney, the trial director, LCDR Angus Hamilton, reflected on the successes of the trial.

“A composite team of personnel from all three services combined to deliver all trial objectives identified at the commencement of this process.

“After evaluation and analysis on our return to AMAFTU, we expect to be able to deliver the largest possible proposed SHOL (ship helicopter operating limit), a critical step in introducing the ARH Tiger embarked capability.”