670 Sqn AAC Rotary Training Vs Fast Jet Training… A Personal View of Cockpit Resource Management (CRM) and Tactics by Lieutenant Dan Leaker RN
I spent over seven years in the flying training system with five years of that in the Royal Navy fast jet pipeline, and this article is my personal view of some of the major differences between the fast jet and rotary wing discipline and will focus on what I have found to be the biggest differences on my transition to the AAC and rotary aviation: Cockpit Resource Management and tactics.
The RN fast jet candidate will spend his/her time with the RAF for the entirety of their training post Elementary Flying Training, so there was a definite culture shock when starting the Army Air Corps pilot’s course. I was chopped on the last flight of the Harrier OCU!
Firstly, to put things into perspective a short background into the fast jet pipeline for a Naval officer.
RN fast jet candidates are appointed to RAF Linton-On-Ouse to begin Basic Fast Jet Training (BFJT) in the Tucano on the long road to a Harrier GR9 cockpit; the only option open to the RN and competition is strong to make the grade. On completion of the year long BFJT pilots are awarded Wings and progress to RAF Valley for Advanced Fast Jet Training (AFJT) followed by the Tactical Weapons course. Whilst on AFJT pilots convert to the Hawk and begin tactical formation flying. The Tac Weapons course is where you really start to fight the aircraft and learn Air Combat Manoeuves, air to ground weapon-airing (using 30mm and bombs), simulated attack profiles and evasion.
The final product is a pilot who can lead a pair of Hawks low level at 420kts in battle formation. Being bounced by enemy aircraft, reacting to survive and still achieve a time on target within five seconds of a nominated time – and all achieved solo with a map, compass and a stopwatch – is no mean feat.
Successful RN pilots move onto the Harrier Operational Conversion Unit (RAF speak for CTT/CTR) at RAF Wittering for another twelve to fourteen month course before reaching a front line squadron. Although three and a half years is the shortest time to qualify, holds are rife in the RAF and it can take up to five years. Being chopped on the last flight of the Harrier OCU does not help. That is what happened to me and after a difficult period of waiting for my future to be decided by the RN I was told I had a start date for RAF Shawbury.
Cockpit Resource Management (CRM)
Fast forward eighteen months and my instructor and I are about to recover to Middle Wallop preceded by a diversion. I get the standard ‘note paper through the window’ that tells me I am to pick up a casualty from an HLS and deliver him to Salisbury Hospital before recovering to homeplate. I get to work and sort out the diversion and return to Middle Wallop for tea and medals; a job well done. During the debrief my instructor does NOT look happy. I soon find out it was my CRM (or lack of it) that has let me down. I had sorted the ‘div’ out entirely without letting the other crew member in on what was going on. This is a common trait from a fast jet background and it is one that requires hard work to correct. The fixed wing pipeline is very much focused on teaching you to be the sole operator/decision maker in your aircraft for obvious reasons. In a multi-crew environment, decisions are arrived at as a crew whilst still maintaining a clear boundary between commander and other crew members which is a skill not to be underestimated. On the other hand a common misconception from rotary pilots is that there is little CRM or co-operation between fast jet cockpits. This can not be further from the truth. Take a Close Air Support (CAS) scenario in involving two Harriers. Pilots within the formation will be providing mutual support. For example, if one of the pair has an emergency the pilot in the serviceable aircraft will get his flight reference cards out to assist the lame duck home.
I can summarise a typical fast jet sortie as if time is always against you. This applies to the planning process, briefing to the second, a fast walk to the out brief followed by breaking a sweat because you are putting your g-pants and dry suit on so fast. You run out to the aircraft and get airborne to the second. The sortie is generally so busy you have no time to really take in the experience as you are busy navigating, flying attack profiles and looking out for enemy aircraft. The satisfaction often comes after debriefing where you realise what you have achieved and that the hard work was worth it. It is of course exciting but it can be a hair on fire experience.
The most enjoyable aspects of rotary flying are the wide range of roles you can be involved in and a genuine feeling that you are doing something very worthwhile for ground forces. You are not isolated in a multi-crew cockpit as you can enjoy the overall experience as a close knit team and can share the work load whilst still working with multiple aircraft within the formation.