I’m sure we’ve all been amazed at the skill and bravery of the US Coastguard winchmen during the rescue operations on the East coast of America. Not that we’re expecting anything like these weather conditions to hit the UK (do I hear some secret prayers being given….), but it’s reassuring to know that our search and rescue winchmen are probably the best trained in the world, with the RAF Search & Rescue (SAR) Training Unit at RAF Valley being regarded as the crème de la crème of helicopter rear crew training.
The students at Valley are placed in a life size replica of the helicopter rear end, wearing a motion tracked head mounted display and seeing a virtual representation of their helicopter and the environment around them, where they are able to undertake the whole range of activities they would in real life, communicating clearly and concisely with the instructor. These include risk assessment by visual scanning of the environment around the aircraft; height determination (crucial); dealing with equipment faults, such as a winch failure or runaway; airborne rescue planning and briefing and operating the winch. These are all carried out whilst the instructor is presenting the student with extensive weather effects, such as wind interaction, turbulence and rain, different time of day and operating over land sea or cliffs.
As I say, we’re not expecting to be hit by similar weather, but Michael Fish didn’t expect the great storm of 1987…….