The Royal Australian Navy’s Aircraft Maintenance and Flight Trials Unit (AMAFTU), part of Defence’s aircraft test and evaluation capabilities, is preparing to conduct no fewer than seven first of class flight trials (FoCFT) before September.
In January, the Unit will embark on HMAS Melbourne to start the MH-60R Seahawk Romeo’s FoCFT in the Adelaide class FFG guided missile frigates.
From February to April, the Unit will have Army’s Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) and MRH 90 onboard the Canberra class LHD amphibious assault ship HMAS Canberra, conducting FoCFT before hosting the Romeo which will embark in late February to continue its trials.
“For the Romeos we are expanding on the ship helicopter operating limits they have at the moment and we are looking to provide a lily pad capability for the MRH 90 on the Anzac class,” AMAFTU Officer In Charge Commander David Hutchinson told Navy Daily.
“Mid-year, the MRH 90 will conduct first of class flight trials in the Anzac class and in August we will have the unmanned aerial systems [UAS] on the Adelaide class to conduct vertical take-offs and landing trials.
“Navy [does not have] any [UAS] experience with vertical take-off and landing, so the unmanned aerial systems trials in August will be valuable. We are not walking into it thinking it will be a box-ticking exercise. We have also never taken a Tiger helicopter to sea before.”
Then in September, the AMAFTU will conduct FoCFT for Defence’s Helicopter Aircrew Training System’s (HATS) new EC135 T2+ training helicopters.
In 2016, the Unit completed FoCFT for the ScanEagle unmanned aerial system on HMAS Choules and cleared Army’s CH-47F Chinooks to operate from the Navy’s two LHDs, HMAS Adelaide and Canberra.
Based at Naval Air Station Albatross, Nowra,AMAFTU’s small unit of approximately 25 flight test pilots, engineers and systems specialists ensure Navy’s helicopters are safe to operate at sea, their weapon systems do the job and that those systems’ limits are understood.
“The Aircraft Maintenance and Flight Trials Unit is highly specialised with over 50 years [of] history and experience,” said Commander Fleet Air Arm, Commodore Chris Smallhorn.
“It is one of the crown jewels of the Fleet Air Arm and a key contributor to the war-fighting effect.”