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Engineers’ simple solution saves Navy £12m servicing Merlins

20 December 2021
Engineers who maintain Royal Navy helicopters have saved £12m with a simple fix on the state-of-the-art Merlin.

By replacing just one part – not an entire complex piece of machinery – they will save time and money across more than 50 front-line helicopters, vital to Royal Navy operations around the globe.

 

One variant of the Merlin is the mainstay of submarine-hunting and airborne early-warning operations, operating from the decks all major Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary 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.

 

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.

 

The experienced 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: 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.

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.

Chief Petty Officer Jamie Medlen

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 explained. “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.

 

“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.

 

“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.”

 

Meanwhile Chief Petty Officer Medlen has led the process within the Royal Navy and is working with industry to have the Merlins’ maintenance procedures rewritten.

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