HMS Sultan Visits USA
A team of classes and staff from the Royal Navy Air Engineering & Survival School (RNAESS), HMS Sultan visited the USA in order to equip the future Fleet Air Arm (FAA) engineers with experience of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and fixed-wing carrier based aviation.
Junior Officers from the Systems Engineering and Management Course (Air Engineers) (SEMC(AE)) 12/01 were joined by their Senior Upper Yardmen (SUY) counterparts and 3 members of RNAESS staff on a week-long visit.
The trip began with a visit to the Joint Program Office in Washington DC where the students were given briefs on all aspects of the F-35 project.
These detailed the UK’s involvement in the project, the aircraft’s capabilities, logistical support and the Long Lead Specialist Skills Programme which ensures that key skills are maintained during the UK’s carrier strike capability gap through exchange jobs with the US Navy.
With a sense of great anticipation the group made their way down the east coast to Naval Air Station Patuxent (Pax) River, home to the US Navy’s Test and Evaluation Squadrons. It was here that they were given their first look at the F-35 with tours given by the team of embedded FAA maintainers.
All were struck by the change in characteristics from traditional aircraft, however this was a vital part of the visit made all the more worthwhile by the facilitators’ willingness to talk the junior Air Engineer Officers (AEOs) through the engineering design process.
The visit to Pax also included a trip to see the X-47B, the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle Demonstrator which has recently completed the first ever entirely automated take-off and landing on the USS George H W Bush.
Whilst F-35 is a 5th Generation stealth fighter, the X-47B is an example of what the future of military aviation may hold.
On completion of exploring the test and evaluation centres associated with both fixed wing and rotary wing aviation, the group moved on to the carrier strike aspect of the trip with a liaison visit to the USS Dwight D Eisenhower which was alongside in Norfolk Naval Base.
One of 10 nuclear carriers, the shear scale of the ship was one of its most impressive features, with the vessels are so large that they have to go around South America to get to the Pacific rather than use the Panama Canal.
A well organised tour was followed by a brief from their Commander Air equivalent (one of 10 Captains on-board) who explained the way in which the busy flight deck operates in order to achieve simultaneous landings and take-offs at 45 second intervals.
Another day, another base, this time Naval Air Station Oceana, home to the F-18 Super Hornets, where the sheer scale of the US Navy’s aviation assets was realised with a trip up the Air Traffic Control Tower.
A glance across the airfield revealed upwards of 70 aircraft on the line prepared for the days flying. Amazingly this was just half the usual number with many Squadrons deployed.
A tour of one of the Squadrons escorted by a FAA exchange pilot highlighted the ability of the aircraft and subsequent enlightening discussions with the Squadron’s Senior Maintenance Rating highlighted the similarities and differences in the way the US and UK go about their business and ensured everyone from the UK embarks on their first Squadron jobs with a good understanding of what to expect in the future.
The final training element of the visit saw the team back in Washington visiting the RAF Liaison Officer (RAFLO), who provided a brief on organising the movement of aircraft, personnel and equipment across the globe; and crisis management.
En route to the Airport to return home, a quick tour of aviation history was taken in at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Centre. Amongst numerous aircraft, the museum plays host to the famed Enola Gay, responsible for dropping the nuclear bomb ‘Little Boy’ on Hiroshima, and the quite spectacular Space Shuttle ‘Discovery’.
With everything completed the team headed home, well equipped from the experiences gained throughout the week. On landing back Lieutenant Hazelle Garton, who was one of the officers accompanying the classes said:
“The sheer scale of the operations observed during our visit to the USA was impressive. Both the students and staff involved with the trip will benefit from the vital experience of seeing the aircraft that will soon be operating in the UK and the high-tempo that is achieved during carrier strike operations.”
Press Release, October 01, 2013; Image: Royal Navy