After an extended maintenance period of more than 12 months, HMAS Choules has now set sail to renew its authority to operate aircraft.
In mid-March, Choules embarked a MH-60R Seahawk to conduct first-of-class fight trials.
The trials, conducted off the Queensland coast, facilitated the development of ship’s helicopter operating limits (SHOLs) that ensure safe take-off and landing conditions for the aircraft to operate at sea.
Executive Officer Lieutenant Commander Shaun Baldwin said the trials were required after major changes were made to the ship’s exhaust system.
“This is the first time Choules has flown since going through a major upgrade package,” Lieutenant Commander Baldwin said.
“A part of the package was upgrading the exhaust stacks which has changed the movement of air over the flight deck.”
Lieutenant Commander Baldwin said when the ship has a full set of SHOLs, Choules will be able to support the rest of the fleet when they need to land, refuel or transfer stores.
“The aircraft is like a Swiss army knife. In a warfare stance, we can be supporting other ships doing anti-submarine warfare and refuel their aircraft,” Lieutenant Commander Baldwin said.
“In an amphibious context, these new SHOLs can be used for other aircraft such as the Chinook, which can then facilitate the transfer of stores and even vehicles.”
Lieutenant Commander Baldwin went on to say the trials have given his team some great aviation experience.
“They did their flight deck courses not long ago and now we can use these flight trials to consolidate their skills,” he said.
“Not just the flight deck team, but the bridge team, the operations room, the communications team and all the troops supporting those.”
The flight trials were managed by Navy’s Aircraft Maintenance and Flight Trials Unit (AMAFTU), but trial outcomes were achieved through a collaborative effort from a number of stakeholders, including the ship, the supporting operational squadron and AMAFTU.
AMAFTU’s senior flight test engineer (FTE), Lieutenant Commander Nathan Softley, said the trial test pilots and FTE fly to a range of environmental conditions to assess aircraft performance limitations and pilot workload.
“The test flying activities facilitate the development of a safe operating envelope for the aircraft operating with the ship,” Lieutenant Commander Softley said.
“This trial will develop a set of SHOL recommendations that support the commanding officers and flying crews in the safe operation of the MH-60R with Choules.”
As well as using this period to conduct flight trials, Choules is also readying the ship’s company for Exercise Talisman Sabre.
The crew will train with the sea boats and Mexeflote to ensure all the gear and personnel are ready for the triservice exercise to be conducted off the east coast mid-year.