Leading Seaman Daniel Crowe
(Image courtesy of Defence)
At what age did you become involved with aviation and how did it happen?
Growing up in a military family I had a wide exposure to the ADF including its various aviation services. I developed a passion for building model aircraft when I was about 12 years old after finding some models kits at my local school fair. It’s a passion I still hold today, except I get to do on a 1:1 scale! The interest in the ADF pushed me towards the Air Training Corps, now known as the Australian Air Force Cadets. After 6 years as a cadet my natural progression was to join the ADF.
What made you want to join the ADF and the Navy in particular?
Joining the ADF was a progressive step from my years as an Air Force Cadet. I naturally gravitated towards the RAAF and Army. I honestly hadn’t given a Navy career much thought. After going through the recruiting process it became apparent that numbers for RAAF and Army recruits had been filled however there were vacancies in the Navy and would I be interested? Without a second thought I said yes and accepted an Aircraft Technician position.
Can you tell us what educational and training pathway you have undertaken to end up as an airframe technician?
Most careers in the ADF require the completion of a Higher School Certificate or state equivalent. Having done my HSC, I was recruited and went to HMAS Cerberus where I completed the 11-week basic naval training and learned how to be a sailor.
From there the navy aviation category took me to RAAF Wagga and the School of Technical Training. RAAF Wagga is the training facility for all three services with regards to Aviation Technical Courses. Aircraft Technician courses range from Mechanical and Avionics courses through to Structures fitters and Aircraft Life Support Fitters.
I completed 18 months of training at RAAF Wagga graduating with a Cert II in aero skills maintenance. From RAAF Wagga, Navy trainees move to HMAS Albatross in Nowra to specify on a rotary wing type course. My first aircraft type course was on the Westland Sea King MK50 with 817 SQN. After completing my trade journal within the Squadron, I was awarded a Cert IV in aero skills maintenance and become a fully qualified navy aircraft technician.
What challenges does an applicant undergo in applying for a role as a technician?
The aptitude testing can be a challenge for someone who hasn’t had much exposure to technical skills. Those who have done previous school subjects of a technical nature like woodwork or automotive classes and metal work classes will tend to progress more quickly through training. Whilst undergoing training you are expected to maintain a high academic standard through your various subjects and are required to meet minimum pass marks on exams and assessments. These assessments are carried out as written knowledge exams and also physical hands-on tasks.
How did you find learning trade skills and operational skills – going through the stages of gaining type ratings and advancing up the system until you have reached on the Seahawks?
Trade skills and operations vary from aircraft types and the roles each aircraft carries out. The Westland Sea King was a very labour intense aircraft requiring many long hours for services and emergent maintenance. The Sea King was an antiquated aircraft technologically, but despite its complexity, it was very reliable.
In 2011, 817 SQN and the Sea King were decommissioned from service and I was posted to BAE Systems Nowra. BAE provides the contractor support for the S-70B-2 Seahawk helicopter operated by 816 SQN.
Through a Tech Mastery program Navy Aviation Technicians are able to work within the deeper maintenance facility gaining valuable skills and deeper level component knowledge that isn’t available at the operational squadron level. After a three year posting within the facility I joined 816 SQN and carried out my current airframe types course for the S-70B-2 Seahawk.
Being a Seahawk technician what kind of specialised training do you undertake and what are examples of some of the different aspects ie engine training, understanding your airframe etc?
There are a few specialised courses that technicians can undertake for maintenance and inspection of the Bravo Seahawk. A few of the primary ones are Vibration Analysis, the inflight monitoring of the aircrafts natural frequencies associated with its performance and operating components, such as the analysis of vibration through the main rotor head or tail rotor, engine drive shafts and gearboxes.
We also do courses in Non Destructive Inspection (NDI) which is the use of a penetrant dye to locate cracks and discontinuities not visible to the naked eye and inspecting for damage in a critical location.
Could you tell us about some of your operational work and what does that involve you doing on a weekly to monthly basis?
An average week for an Aviation Technician will involve servicing and maintenance repairs on the Bravo Seahawk on a scheduled basis or emergent as a result of aircraft faults. This will also include the day to day (or night) before flight and after flight inspections which may include aircraft configuration changes. We will also carry out tasks such as the refuel and arming of the aircraft, performing an aircraft wash, and line operations involving the launch and recovery of aircraft.
Squadron tasking can often come out of the blue with little or no notice, especially if there is a requirement for search and rescue. The Squadron also supports public events by providing aircraft for airshows or school visits. The Squadrons within the Fleet Air Arm provide aviation support to Navy fleet units. This may include deployments both at home and abroad as a ships flight or short term operations within our territorial waters in support of other government training or operations.
What kind of interaction do you have with the aircrews?
The majority of interaction, from a maintenance perspective, is carried out on the operational flight line or ships flight deck. When an aircraft is prepared for flight the line crew or ships flight deck team are the ones who ensure the aircraft is in a correct state for operation and is configured, fuelled, and possibly armed accordingly.
Whilst the aircrew conduct their pre-flight inspections of the aircraft the maintenance team or line crew are alongside able to answer or rectify any deficiencies identified. Aircrew and Maintainers have a very close knit relationship. Every day the aircrew’s lives are in our hands and they put a lot of faith and trust in our ability and professionalism. Aircrew are often our best source of information regarding aircraft behaviour and fault diagnosis and we rely a lot on their feedback to rectify any issues that may arise inflight or on start up.
What do you find the most enjoyable aspect about being part of the FAA that keeps the Seahawks flying?
The pinnacle of a Navy Aircraft Technician’s career is operating their aircraft in the seagoing environment as a ships flight. It takes a unique, well trained team to operate an aircraft at sea aboard one of our surface vessels. You are forced to operate in all kinds of weather, at any time of the day or night, and often at short notice.
A ships flight deck is no bigger than a tennis court and it moves about three axes constantly. When you combine a ships movement with bad weather, rough seas, high wind, and the need to recover an aircraft with a rapidly diminishing fuel level you end up with a cocktail of uncertainty and all you can do is rely on your training and your team to get the job done safely and get it done right.
How do you feel about your role in contributing towards the FAA goals of fleet defence?
As an Aviation Technician in the FAA I am part of an elite branch that provides naval aviation capability to Defence. That includes on the home front as well as operationally deployed. An aircraft becomes an extension of a ships eyes, ears and weapons systems. It gives our ships the ability to see further and fight harder when required. It also provides a ship with an airborne Swiss army knife that a Commanding Officer can call upon for any number of reasons. We are the ace up a ships sleeve.
What is your most memorable flight experience so far that you would like to share?
For the first half of 2016 I was deployed aboard HMAS Anzac. On completion of the deployment there was an operational requirement to fly Seahawk Tiger 72 from Darwin to Perth over a period of four days. This long distance transit included a low level flight over the Bungle Bungles, the Ningaloo Reef, and the Kalbarri Gorge along the Western Australia coast. The constant change of scenery provided endless viewing worthy of postcards and prints for hanging in a doctor’s office.
What goals have you got for the future with your military aviation career?
I would like to pursue a career change from maintainer to aircrew in the near future. The challenges associated with being a maintainer have instilled an interest in being a pilot. I can say with certainty that I’m capable of fixing it, but I want to know if I’m capable of flying it. Only time will tell.
Is there anything else you would like to share or add?
The Fleet Air Arm and Naval Aviation is a very unique and elite environment. The personnel within the Fleet Air Arm units and Squadrons are very highly trained and very highly motivated and we provide a specialised capability to the Navy and the wider ADF.
I strongly encourage those interested in a Navy Aviation career to seek out members of the FAA and gain some insight in what it takes to be part of this elite branch and we can teach them our saying: If it don’t hover….don’t bother.
DUAN thanks Daniel for taking time to gives us insights to his RAN career. We also like to thank Defence Media and Navy Media for facilitating this interview request.