How a Cartoon is Improving Air Safety

I blogged a while ago about my role as Delivery Duty Holder at RAF Lossiemouth. This makes me personally responsible and accountable for safety and airworthiness in all of our aviation operations.

Our Air Safety Management Plan describes our approach to this task an sets some objectives and targets and our hazard and risk registers describe the major things that could threaten safety and what we do to reduce that risk so as it is both Tolerable (ie acceptable to continue) and As Low As Reasonably Possible (ie the cost or effort to further reduce the risk would be grossly disproportionate to the benefit). But you might have seen risk registers – they are very detailed, very thorough and very, well, dull

My challenge is to raise the awareness of the hazards and risks that RAF Lossiemouth and our Tornado aircraft particularly, could be exposed to. If the awareness of everyone could be raised, its a really positive step to addressing the risks. It's similar to the mantra used elsewhere 'The first step to solving the problem is realising there is a problem' with apologies to Alcoholics Anonymous!

So, this is where Sean Savage of Savage Caricatures came in. He is an established caricaturist with a passion for aviation. He visited the base in July, gaining a good understanding of what goes on and also reading through and discussing our hazard and risk registers. The result was the cartoon. It shows in a graphical and hopefully light-hearted way some of the things we want our people to focus on. We are rolling this out around the base now and are using snapshots of smaller sections of the cartoon to amplify specific issues and how we deal with them. I really hope it helps in our quest to make people more aware of what's out there and in turn that this provides a positive contribution to Air Safety. What do you think?



RAF Lossiemouth – Typhoon Main Operating Base 2

Since it was decided that RAF Lossiemouth would remain open and would become a Typhoon Base, much work has been completed to prepare us for that but the context is a challenging one: maintain an absolute focus on our current task in Afghanistan, be ready for contingent tasks, maintain an Expeditionary Air Wing capability, prepare for the disbandment of 2 Tornado Squadrons, assist in the transfer of the Search and Rescue capability into civilian hands and, oh yes, build a Typhoon base!

These are challenges that affect each and every person at RAF Lossiemouth and this post aims to give you some more information about what and when, things are happening here.

Afghanistan. First and foremost, 12 (Bomber) Squadron are deployed in Afghanistan right now. They will remain there on their last tour of duty until the late autumn, when they will be replaced by 617 Squadron, the Dambusters. Our RAF Regiment Force Protection Wing, made up of both regular and reservist personnel, will deploy on a 6 month tour of duty at Camp Bastion, also in the late autumn so Christmas here will be quieter than normal.

  • Disbandments. In March 2014, both 12 and 617 Squadrons will disband as the Tornado Force is gradually replaced by the more modern and capable Typhoon. 617 Squadron though, will reform in 2016 as an F35, Lightning II Squadron, thereby opening a new chapter in their proud history.
  • New Beginnings. In June 2014, Number 6 Squadron will bring their Typhoon aircraft up from RAF Leuchars and begin the new chapter for RAF Lossiemouth. Over the summer of 2014, Lossiemouth will assume responsibility for Quick Reaction Alert. In the autumn, Number 1 (Fighter) Squadron will move to Lossiemouth, completing the major moves of people and equipment from RAF Leuchars, enabling the Station to focus fully on handover to the Army.
  • And Beyond. In March 2015, current plans will see XV Squadron (the Tornado Operational Conversion Unit) transfer to RAF Marham, as will the Tornado Engineering Flight. At around the same time, a third Typhoon Squadron will form at RAF Lossiemouth, effectively 'grown' out of expansions to 6 Squadron. Finally, by May 2015, the Search and Rescue Sea King helicopters of 'D Flight', 202 Squadron will leave the base as the Search and Rescue service transfers to civilian hands. The capability will be provided by Bristow helicopters, currently planned to operate from Inverness airport.

So that's a summary of the considerable changes that will be happening here at RAF Lossiemouth in the coming months. These changes have already resulted in considerable infrastructure works here to support the new tasks but although our role is changing, a significant number of our people will retrain on the Typhoon and remain in the local area. RAF Lossiemouth will be at the forefront of the delivery of military capability for many years to come and our people look forward to remaining at the heart of the Moray community.

3 Hangar at RAF Lossiemouth in July. Ready now!


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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