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Culdrose engineer reaches rare milestone of flying hours

15 December 2023
An engineer has reached a rare feat of 400 hours of flying, a milestone unusual for someone who spends their time maintaining helicopters rather than flying in them.

Normally it is the aircrew who get to fly but Chief Petty Officer Gary ‘Disco’ Furneaux has passed more than 400 flying hours.

For a Royal Navy air engineer that is extremely rare, unless like the 47-year-old they serve with RNAS Culdrose’s Flight Test Department.

CPO Furneaux, originally from Somerset and now living in Helston, has a wealth of experience, having flown every Merlin Mk2 helicopter in the fleet

He knows how to safely bring the mighty Merlin back to fighting fitness following depth maintenance, and regularly assists units in resolving vibration issues.

“It's such a privilege not only to see the aircraft actually flying from an operator's point of view, but also to know that the testing work that we do is so vital in ensuring they stay safe," he said.

His milestone of more than 400 hours was congratulated by Lieutenant Commander Sam Kingdon, officer-in-charge of the test department, who added: “It is brilliant to be able to celebrate this significant achievement with Disco.

“The flying hours he has amassed are nearly all while conducting very complex and critical test flights. His knowledge and experience have been key to delivering hundreds of test flights and depth output deliveries.

"His direct impact on the forward fleet should not be underestimated.”

It is brilliant to be able to celebrate this significant achievement with Disco.

Lieutenant Commander Sam Kingdon,

CPO Furneaux initially began flying the Merlin Mk1 helicopter in April 2005 as a flight maintainer, and then progressed onto the Merlin Mk2 as a flight test recorder in April 2015.

He has now completed two assignments as the lead flight test recorder within the department and has helped the flight test team develop and improve.

To be able to carry out the role, an engineer must not only be medically fit but also pass an aviation medicine course to spot the symptoms of hypoxia or lack of oxygen. They must show they can escape from a ditched helicopter – the ‘dunker' training – and then go through pool and sea drills using life rafts.

They must also learn airmanship procedures, so they are able to perform many of the key functions of fully-fledged aircrew, such as radio communications and emergency procedures.

And then there's are all the flight test knowledge a qualified flight test recorder must master including a vibration course to analyse and record the data from each flight and look at trends through all the aircraft, and a zonal surveyor's course to identify areas of the helicopter that may need attention.

It takes a lot of hard work - on top of already being a mechanical expert in CPO Furneaux’s case - demanding a good deal of studying, but the senior rating says the results are well worth it.

He is qualified to provide expert analysis on the performance of four variants of the Merlins currently in service with the Fleet Air Arm, the Mk2 submarine-hunter, Mk2 airborne surveillance and control, and the Mk4 and Mk4A commando aircraft.


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