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Though she be but little, she is fierce

11 October 2017
This time last year, Laura Shann was working as a receptionist in a car garage.

Now she is training to become a Naval Airman (Aircraft Handler) in the Royal Navy – one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

At slightly less than 5ft, she is just above the height restriction for her branch, but when she joined the Royal Navy, she was told by many that she would struggle to do the job due to her size.

However, Naval Airman Shann has ‘nailed’ her training, matching her peers and overcoming any obstacles put in her way. Size is not an issue for this Sailor!

She has faced every challenge with steely grit and a desire to succeed.

Chief Petty Officer John Etherington

The role that she is training for is a physical job, working outside in all conditions.  It is known by many as one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. 

Aircraft Handlers are responsible for the safety of aircraft on ships at sea. They have to move helicopters and jets on flight decks and be ready to rescue aircrew if necessary and tackle fires.

Where many would have been put off, Laura has embraced every challenge presented to her, which has won her the admiration of her peers.

Where size has prevented her from doing things the traditional way, she has looked for a work around. 

Laura explains: “If you fail, you’ve just got to come back and do it again. Sometimes due to my size I have had to find different techniques. 

“I struggled with ladder drills at first, and because it is such a great team environment, all the lads chipped in to help me.

“But then I figured out a work around. Weight was a bit of an issue too at first - at 25 kgs, the hose was half my weight and the ‘dummy’ casualties we carry are 80 kgs whilst we are wearing a 10 kg canister.

“However, I quickly found different ways of carrying, so my size was not an issue.”

 “It has been a very high tempo course, we do everything from fire fighting and rescuing casualties, to driving tractors and moving aircraft on flight decks.

“You can’t see anything in a fire, so you use all your senses. But you don’t have time to be scared; you’ve got to be focused.

“It is a real adrenaline rush.  At the end a day’s training, you look back and think about it you are like woah, did I really just do that?”

Chief Petty Officer John Etherington, her Training Manager has been very impressed by her progress, he said: “Naval Airman Shann has taken on every challenge set before her.

"She has faced every challenge with steely grit and a desire to succeed. In the face of adversity, she has overcome every obstacle with real strength of character.

"For example, to improve her upper body strength – she took it on herself to speak to the Physical Trainers about strengthening exercises. She has had no preferential treatment – she has simply stuck at her training and worked hard. She deserves to be a Naval Airman.”

If Laura passes her course, she and her fellow trainees will ‘pass into’ the Aircraft Handlers branch on Friday 20th October.

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