Skip to content
Recruiting now.Explore navy careers

British Airways pilots discover more about Submarine safety

24 October 2016
A team of British Airways pilots recently visited the home of the UK Submarine Service to compare sailing a nuclear submarine to flying an airliner at 38,000 feet

Led by Senior First Officer Tim Chambers, the editor of British Airways flight operations safety magazine, the pilots were welcomed to HM Naval Base Clyde by Commander Justin Codd.

Codd, known in the Royal Navy as ’Teacher’, is responsible for deciding which candidates pass the intense 23 week long submarine command course, known as Perisher, which all would be commanders must pass.

“Airliners and submarines are both exceptionally complex machines, relying on well-trained crews to ensure the safety of their craft and that of everyone on board,” said Tim Chambers.

The submarine simulator showed that the handling of a 16,000 tonne submarine is nothing like an aircraft - no fly by wire, no glass cockpit and lots more momentum.

Tim Chambers

“One key difference between submarines and airliners was just how well all of the Royal Navy officers and ratings knew each other despite being part of a much larger crew.

“In comparison, we regularly fly with people that we have only just met, which we overcome by applying our training and standard operating procedures.

“It was fascinating to hear how similar our training can be too.

“For example, using only a periscope, submarine commanders have to visually assess when a nearby warship threatens the safety of their boat. They must balance keeping regular checks on their position, course and speed while minimising the use of the periscope in order to remain hidden.

“These fundamental skills are similar to pilots’ situational awareness of their aircraft and the surrounding environment. Our stick and rudder skills, the pitch attitudes and thrust settings that are appropriate to ensure the aircraft is always under our control.”

Both pilots and submariners always consider three criteria to make safe decisions: the status of their craft in terms of its control, its navigational position relative to any terrain, obstacles or current, as well as any tactical / commercial factors relating to their current mission.

Commanders who make decisions based on one or two of these criteria in isolation can potentially be jeopardising the safety of their boat or aircraft.

A highlight of the visit was the pilots trying their hands at sailing a submarine in the Vanguard class bridge control trainer, which tilts and turns just like a flight simulator.

“The submarine simulator showed that the handling of a 16,000 tonne submarine is nothing like an aircraft - no fly by wire, no glass cockpit and lots more momentum,” said Tim Chambers.

“When we tried to execute an emergency surface on the simulator we were sadly left 30 metres underwater rather than on the surface as intended!

“On behalf of British Airways, I must thank the Royal Navy for this valuable, interesting and inspiring learning opportunity: it reiterated the value of effective leadership in terms of managing the operation of a craft and the need for highly professional crew.”

Related articles

Navy News Magazine

We bring you the latest news, features and award-winning photographs from the front-line. Navy News has been reporting on all that happens in the Royal Navy and its wider community since 1954.