17 Desember 2014
A crew member on board the RAN's LHD Canberra marshalling an MRH-90 helicopter onto the vessel's flight deck. (Aus DoD)
The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) will commence first-of-class flight trials on board its newly-commissioned landing helicopter dock (LHD) vessel HMAS Canberra in March 2015, the service told IHS Jane's on 16 December.
The 27,800-tonne amphibious ship was commissioned on 28 November and is expected to significantly improve the RAN's sealift and amphibious capability once it is cleared to operate aircraft such as the MRH-90 multirole helicopter, the S-70B-2 Seahawk, and the CH-47F Chinook.
Commander Michael Waddell, Officer in Charge of the RAN's Aircraft Maintenance and Flight Trials Unit (AMAFTU), told IHS Jane's that Canberra first embarked an MRH-90 and an S-70B-2 on 26 November while the ship was alongside at the RAN's Fleet Base East in Sydney. However, the purpose of this first embarkation was to conduct deck-handling trials including parking and lashing procedures, and did not involve flight operations.
"The actual flight trials while the ship is at sea will be conducted for about eight weeks from early March 2015," said Cdr Waddell. He added that the trials are designed to define the ship/helicopter operating limits (SHOLs) within which the different helicopter types can be employed from the LHD.
"These trials involve measuring the directions in which the winds come from, determining at which speeds we can operate for both vessel and aircraft, and identifying any other potentially difficult issues for each of the landing spots on the ship," said Cdr Waddell. Canberra has six helicopter landing spots on its flight deck.
Based on data collected from these trials, the AMAFTU will define a set of SHOLs that will specify parameters for the safe operation of aircraft on board. "These include parameters such as the aircraft's maximum weight, the maximum wind strength, and the amount of fuel in the aircraft while operating," said Cdr Waddell.
Although the trials in March 2015 will only involve the MRH-90 and the S-70B-2, Cdr Waddell said that data collected can also be used to come up with operating recommendations for other aircraft such as the MH-60R, although in the case of the MH-60R the service has made no plans to embark such aircraft on Canberra as yet.
"We can also use the information collected to provide limited clearances for other aircraft types from other nations, such as the S-61 Sea King and AS332 Super Puma, if they want to visit," he added.
"Our preference would be to be able to operate any helicopter in the Australian Defence Force on the ship if possible," said Cdr Waddell, although he added that there are no plans currently to embark any other aircraft on the LHDs besides the MRH-90, the S-70B-2, the Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, and the CH-47F. The Tiger and the CH-47F will undergo sea trials on board Canberra in 2016.
Cdr Waddell also told IHS Jane's that the deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on board Canberra is "something that is being discussed", although there are currently no concrete plans to do so as the RAN has yet to make a decision on the acquisition of UAVs.
"When we do start making more use of UAVs, and I think that's probably something that will occur, then Canberra will be a great platform to operate from and we would get involved in clearing that," said Cdr Waddell.