Royal Navy engineers discover they have been needlessly replacing costly parts of helicopters for years

ENGINEERS maintaining the Royal Navy’s fleet of helicopters have needlessly been splashing out millions of pounds by unnecessarily replacing parts, it has been discovered.

By Tom Cotterill
Monday, 20th December 2021, 12:09 pm

Technicians have found out that by replacing just one part – not an entire complex piece of machinery – from the navy’s 50 front-line helicopters it will save a whopping £12m.

One variant of the Merlin helicopter is the mainstay of submarine-hunting and airborne early-warning operations, operating from the decks all major naval ships, especially Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.

The other is crucial to supporting Royal Marines in the field, transporting commandos, equipment and casualties on the battlefield.

A Merlin Mk2 ASW Helicopter, Mohawk Flight of 814 Squadron, RNAS Culdrose, Callsign Redclaw departing with the Isle of Skye in the background.

According to the original maintenance guidance for the helicopters, written more than 20 years ago, the Merlins’ nose landing gear should be replaced when the aircraft undergoes maintenance after 3,500 hours in the skies.

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The team at RNAS Culdrose, home of the submarine-hunting and airborne surveillance model of the Merlin, the Mk2, questioned the need to replace the entire section, which is both an expensive and demanding job.

Each front set costs £230,000 in parts alone – but the engineers reckoned only one single pinion actually needed swapping.

Chief Petty Officer Jamie Medlen with contractors, from the company Morson, Chris Lewis-Brown and Jim Bartholomew. The team from RNAS Culdrose has successful challenged the need to replace the expensive landing gear, as stipulated in the maintenance regime. They have proved the gear does not need replacing after 3,500 flying hours - potentially saving the Ministry of Defence millions of pounds.

Chief Petty Officer Jamie Medlen of the station’s air engineering department praised contractors Chris Lewis-Brown and Jim Bartholomew, who insisted the old undercarriage parts were still perfectly fit for use.

‘They knew there was something wrong and that removing the nose landing gear was a mistake’ Jamie said. ‘It turns out there is just a single part in the nose landing gear, a pinion in the steering system, which needs to be replaced after 3,500 flying hours. That pinion is routinely replaced anyway.’

Both Chris and Jim are former Royal Navy engineers with 45 years’ experience between them and now work for the company Morson at RNAS Culdrose.

Jamie added: ‘Every single major component on the Merlin gets tracked. That’s more than 800 components.

Pictured: The part of the Merlin undercarriage that featured in the money-saving task.

‘After every flight, you get extensive servicing which is all part of a schedule of maintenance. That includes a list of any parts that need replacing once it’s reached a certain amount of flying hours and landings. It’s all in there and it was all agreed when the Merlins first came into service.

‘Somewhere along the line, years ago, someone included the entire nose landing gear for replacement, when it should just have been the pinion.

‘For all those years it’s never been a problem because none of the aircraft had reached the required hours until now.

Pictured: One of the Merlin helicopters landing on a Royal Navy warship at sea. Photo: Royal Navy

‘We are basically removing the gear three-times too early. Apart from the cost, it’s a big job too and not one you’d do if you didn’t need to.’

Across 55 aircraft in the Mk2/Mk4 fleets, that’s a saving of more than £12.5m in parts alone.

The engineers’ ingenuity, expertise and common sense has been singled out by Captain Stuart Finn, Culdrose’s Commanding Officer.

‘This is a first-rate example of how diligence, exceptional expertise and common sense have made a direct positive impact. They are to be commended for their innovative thinking,’ he said.

‘This ethos of empowerment, of taking responsibility and constructively challenging norms, is a cornerstone of what makes the Royal Navy global, modern and ready.’

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