Tucked away in scrubland at HMAS Stirling is the Helicopter Support Facility (HSF) which is staffed by a highly motivated team of senior and junior sailors who are always ready for the challenge of receiving ‘unexpected’ rotary-wing aircraft.
CPO Steven Searle, Manager HSF, said his team have achieved numerous milestones in demonstrating their ability to receive and support Navy, Army, WA police and civilian helicopters on very short notice.
“This challenges to ensure we are always ready to accept an aircraft at anytime without much warning,” he said. CPO Searle said quite often the HSF receives Seahawks coming back from Gulf deployments to conduct maintenance, all in the space of two or three days.
The HSF’s most recent milestone was to receive and support three helicopters from 816 Sqn or Exercise Double Trouble, which was the URE/WUP for HMA Submarines Collins and Dechaineux.” “The challenge here was not only to accommodate three Seahawks in the limited hanger space that we have, but also to support their air and ground crews so the aircraft were operational straight away,” he said.
“We only had two weeks notice to support the helicopters and the 94 personnel from 816 SQN who came with them.”
Supporting 816 SQN for Collins and Dechainuex’s URE/WUP also meant juggling tons of logistics supplies, including collecting and accommodating some 600 sonar buoys which were used against the submarines.
Additionally, the Seahawks brought four containers of equipment and spares for the 15-days they participated in Ex Double Trouble.
“With only a small staff of four including a Gap Year Student we worked around the clock to support the Seahawks for this important ASW exercise,” he said.
CPO Searle praised this small but dedicated team for their achievements because the HSF has not supported this many Navy helicopters since 2007.
“This was a milestone achievement for us because this task only came up in the past couple of weeks, now that we have three submarines ready for sea,” he said.
“Normally, this kind of operation is conducted during ASWEX in November or December, which gives us more time to build up to the task.”
The 816 SQN support task came hard on the heels of the HSF assisting HMAS Toowoomba with its aviation audit and a clean up of the hangers following flooding during a recent heavy deluge.
On top of all this, CPO Searle is working feverishly for an audit scheduled for the end of July, while his team manage the day to day challenges of keeping the HSF ‘ready’.
The team includes ABATA Andrew Gilmour and ABATA Filipo Macri, who are hard-pressed to manage the many amendments to the flying and maintenance manuals, which measure more than two metres in height.
“We have about 240 publications which we are currently in the process of converting to soft copy,” said ABATA Macri.
“We get 5cm of amendments for the maintenance manuals every fortnight.”
“Amending the manual requires a 100% page check that just blows away our time for other tasks. Some of the books are 400-pages and some manuals are four volumes.”
ABATA Gilmour said some people think that it is really ‘cruisie’ here because the HSF is on an island.
“But the amount of work we do here is really unbelievable,” he said.
“I thought I was going on a holiday until I got here and was inundated with jobs and tasks.”
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