Who Gives a FOD?

Another major Exercise at RAF Lossiemouth is over and so once again, the whole Station’s personnel spend an hour or so of their Monday morning combing the airfield, like some giant police forensic team, looking for rubbish and debris. But why? Has the Station Commander gone mad and decided that tidiness must be maintained at all cost?

Well no, Foreign Object Damage or FOD, is a real mission-killer and can bring down aircraft. FOD comes in all shapes and sizes, although this is an extreme example!

Ever since the advent of jet engines, FOD has been a constant presence and military and civil operators have tried their best to reduce its occurrence. The Glouster Meteor used to suffer badly from sucking out and ingesting its own rivets and fasteners into the Welland engines, usually with disastrous results. This concept of ‘self-harm’ by aircraft to themselves and to other aircraft is an important one and is at the cutting edge of current anti-FOD campaigns.

The Concorde tragedy is a prime example of aircraft-caused FOD leading to disaster

Bringing this closer to home and the Tornado Force, why should we pay attention and what are we doing?

Safety. FOD has been responsible for a number of Tornado crashes over the years, from control restrictions to engine titanium fires, so there is a clear need to do all we can.

Mission Effectiveness. Unlike civil operations, military tasks often have little discretion over whether they can be completed or not – we simply must produce results or the consequences are severe. Therefore, mission cancellation due to FOD is something we can’t tolerate.

Cost. Tornado jet engines are expensive to repair and by reducing the number of ‘unnecessary’ repairs, we can dramatically reduce the cost to Defence and to the taxpayer.

So what’s the fuss about? Well, the Tornado engine rejection rate due to FOD had been steadily creeping up and in 2012 stood at just over one engine per 1000 flying hours. This equated to a large number of broken engines and ¬£millions spent on repairs, not to mention numerous hazardous situations and in 2011 a crash report concluded that FOD, probably metallic in nature, caused an engine mechanical failure. We simply had to get a grip on this situation and reduced FOD.

The graph below shows what causes most Tornado FOD and we’re right back to the 1950s and aircraft self-harm:

Just like in the days of the Meteor, aircraft metallic items – locking wire, fasteners, etc, are a major cause of FOD and an area where we can really influence. This became the basis of a joint Rolls Royce and Tornado Force campaign to raise awareness and reduce FOD. We combed the filters and bins of our runway sweepers, tracking down the source of each and every piece of debris and even purchased a new glue to attach vortex generators to the fin of the Tornado when we discovered that too many of them were becoming detached. In addition, we changed the way we marked small parts of the aircraft that might be vulnerable to detaching so we could identify their source much quicker. An example of this increased awareness and ‘Focus on FOD’ campaign was when a Tornado was hotpit refuelling (like a F1 pitstop, the fuel is replaced with an engine still running) and a technician noticed a missing vortex generator. He quickly informed ATC, the runway was closed, the culprit found and matched to the source airframe in minutes. Result = runway closed for very short time, no chance of FOD harming that aircraft or another one and no missing piece to account for.

The results so far are impressive: the FOD rate per 1000 flying hours has fallen by about 50% over the past 12 months. That’s 50% safer, 50% fewer missions lost and 50% financial saving. Our challenge now is to maintain the focus on FOD and keep driving down the rate. Further details on the Fous on FOD campaign can be found in Air Clues, the RAF flight safety magazine.

So, this is why, every time you drive onto an airfield surface at RAF Lossiemouth, you have to go over a cattle grid to shake out stones and then check and clear your tyres. And it’s why today, hundreds of people will walk across the airfield and operating surfaces, picking up litter and debris – I haven’t gone mad but I do hope to track down any FOD so we can continue to operate safey, effectively and efficiently!

A FOD-free diet for our Tornados please!

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