Learning curve

Category: Voyager


“Training as part of Voyager is absolutely critical to the programme,”, explains Darren Cox, Technical Training Manager, AirTanker. He continues: “If we don’t get training right or if our people don’t get the right approvals the aircraft doesn’t fly.”  

It is on this premise that AirTanker places such a significant emphasis on its training programme. As part of its contract AirTanker has responsibility to supply a fleet of 14 Airbus A330-200 aircraft to the RAF but also the physical and personnel infrastructure to keep them in the air.

This includes a full spectrum of roles from ground and flight operations through to engineering, compliance and support functions. Critically this includes a responsibility for training of not just its own and RAF embedded staff but also in partnership with the RAF, of the Voyager Receiver Squadrons and Aeromed teams.

“We have a responsibility to train every single person within the Voyager community to ensure that they are fully equipped and fully competent to perform their duty, whether that’s de-icing the aircraft or flying it.  We have to be able to demonstrate that our people are not only technically trained but also possess the right attitude and awareness”, he continues.

For the most part, where regulations exist governing Voyager’s operation, they fall under the remit of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). The responsibility for policing these regulations flows down to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which carries out checks against training and programme delivery.

Cox is well suited to a role which essentially ‘pulls together’ responsibilities for training of not only civilian but Sponsored Reservists and RAF personnel. A former Royal Marine, he completed tours of Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq, leaving as a SNCO in October 2002 after 17-years’ service.

He says: “In the Marines I did a lot of work on the implementation of the Defence System Approach to Training (DSAT) and then worked on an electronic warfare training programme, so I’m fairly conversant with military training systems. Since then I’ve worked on civilian training programmes so my experience lends itself to a role straddling the military and civilian worlds.”

While AirTanker has overall responsibility for training, its’ delivery is centrally coordinated by  Thales Training and Simulation Limited (TTSL) and supported by facilities management and systems specialist, Babcock as sub-contractors to the programme.

Training Delivery is split according to User Groups:  Pilots and Cabin Crew; Engineers; Flight Ops; and the rest of the Voyager community. This programme’s ‘unique selling point’ is that training is not only approached in terms of function e.g. Engineer and Cabin Crew but also in the integration of military and civilian roles. In addition we are looking at training and development in a holistic sense by supporting technical skills training with people skills development ensuring we have the best quality people delivering the best quality service.

Sitting at the far corner of airfield, the blue and sandstone, AirTanker Training Centre, brings a state-of-the-art training facility to RAF Brize Norton.

Supported by the latest IT systems and technologies the centre includes 15 class, examination and briefing rooms, which form the setting for a host of training programmes from engineering to pilot training.

They also house its cutting edge aircraft simulators. Provided by TTSL, this includes a part-task trainer (PTT) SIM and Mission Systems Operator consul; an air-to-air refueling trainer (AART); and full motion Reality 7 SIM, representing a multi-million pound investment.  

The jewel in AirTanker’s training crown, the Reality 7 SIM, has been tailored to emulate Voyager in every specific detail in both its military and civilian configurations. Although not applicable in its current application to Voyager, in a civilian operational context, it achieves ‘Zero Flight Time’ status. This means that civilian pilots can pass their ‘touch and go’ or ‘base’ checks, in the SIM, without ever having to leave the ground.

It, and the flat panel simulators, run off exactly the same software as the Voyager aircraft itself, receiving synchronized updates in time with uploads of ‘actual’ aircraft software.

Cox continues: “It delivers interactive training across a host of applications from air transport through to air-to-air refueling. Throughout, the instructor has full and interactive control of the training programme and on this basis the flexibility to adapt scenarios to challenge the capability of those going through it.”

As part of the AAR training programme missions system operators go through 10 days of ground based training. They then join type-qualified transport pilots for a 10 day programme including 5 days in the classroom and 5 in the SIM, running multiple training scenarios. It is only after this that airborne training begins running dry-runs – a training responsibility at this point passes from AirTanker to the RAF.

The ‘overlaying’ of military and civilian expertise, has according to Cox, delivered particularly positive results in engineering. The first group of RAF/AirTanker embedded engineers to have gone through a pioneering two-year industry-based training programme were awarded their civilian licences earlier this year, marking a milestone in the Voyager Programme.

Selected from more than 700 RAF applicants, the 11 strong-group successfully completed extensive classroom training plus external placement with many of the UK’s leading airlines to secure their CAA Part 147 ‘civilian’ qualification.

“The standard of training is very high because we’re an independent operation and we need to know that down route if there is an aircraft breakdown, the guys who are travelling with that aircraft are fully trained to deal with it”, says Cox, “it’s also unique because the guys who do it walk away with a full civilian qualification”.

He concludes: “Two people doing the same jobs in RAF and civilian roles will be different and will have different approaches but when you ‘overlay’ that experience, one on top of the other to blend it, it works incredibly well.

“Putting it all together – a considerable amount of experience and competency, type-experience in the civilian environment, a high level of training and the discipline on the military side and it’s the perfect combination.”