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Technical Training ‘Down Under’Text and photography by Patrick Dirksen and Frank Mink of tristaraviation.orgRAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) base Wagga, located next to the town of Wagga Wagga in New South Wales, Australia, is where most technicians in the Australian armed forces start their careers. One of many MB.326 that are used in various rolesThe base itself was founded just before World War II to house a flight training school, but by the time the war ended, the flying units had left, and the base was turned into a maintenance depot. In 1946, the role of the airbase changed again when the Ground Training School was established. This unit was renamed School of Technical Training (RAAFSTT) in 1952 and it still bears that name today. Many buildings that were built during WWII, including some of the hangars, remain in daily use.Multiple rotor engineering tools and engines in the backgroundEvery year, 200 to 400 trainees, of which about 25 percent are female, apply for Initial Employment Training (IET). Their ages range from 17 to 45, and their ethnic backgrounds and educational levels are diverse. When asked about the experience the fresh recruits generally have, Wing Commander Dean Collins (recently succeeded by Wing Commander Sheena Stapleton) answered, “This varies significantly: some have worked in similar technical environment before joining the defence force, others have transferred within the ADF (Australian Defence Force) to train for a new mustering, and some have never used basic tools before, like a hammer or a spanner.”SA.226 MetroNew trainees first spend ten weeks with 1 RTU (Recruit Training Unit) which is also based at RAAF Wagga, before they go to RAAFSTT. They then spend another ten weeks learning seven basic aviation trades skills: Avionics Technician, Aircraft Technician, Aircraft Structural Fitter, Surface Finisher, Life Support Fitter, Armament Technician, and Aviation Support Technician. Despite its name, the Aviation Support Technician is the only one of these trades not be to be considered a ‘technician’ in the generic sense. This trade includes flightline support and marshalling. After this training, the following route for the trainees depends on the specialisation that is assigned, and this remaining phase lasts between 6 and 18 months.One of the CT/4s that is used for taxiingMost of the 400 regular trainees and 600 post graduate trainees of the school live on base. This is a well-considered choice, as the school intends to give these students a full life experience as well. Although established as an RAAF school, the army started sending their cadets there in 1969, and when the navy also joined in 1992, the school became a tri-service installation. From 2013, the facilities have been licensed to British Aerospace, which provides a ‘turnkey solution’. This is called the Defence Aeroskills Training Academy (DATA). All facilities and infrastructure are still owned by the RAAF though, in order to keep an eye on the quality of the results. Only the aircraft that are used are owned by BAe, apart from two UH-1 Iroquois helicopters which are still owned by the army. Bae’s fleet includes no less than eighteen MB.326Hs, eight CT/4As, six more modern CT/4Bs and three SA.226TC Metros. Recently, six PC-9As arrived that are complementary for now, but might replace some of the MB.326s in the future. About half of the staff on site serves with the military, while the rest are contractors. Most of these are former defence personnel as well. Some have only just left military service, while some have been at the base for some thirty years. To make things realistic, most still wear a uniform.Genfly simulator with MB.326s in the backgroundIn addition to the real aircraft, simulators are used for various purposes. There are two Generic Flying Controls Trainers or ‘Genfly simulators’, which are the same as the Royal Air Force uses at RAF Cosford. They are operated by Pennant and are used to teach troubleshooting. Every button every pedal is logged, so after a session everything can be played back. This way, students can “learn without getting hurt” as SQNLDR Ron Batcheldor explains. Virtual Reality (VR) is not used yet, but will most certainly become a future asset as well. “But you still have to touch it to learn it fully,” Batcheldor is convinced.Instructor monitoring training on the Integrated Avionics Maintenance trainer (IAMT) - Courtesy of Australian Government, Department of DefenceTwo Integrated Avionics Maintenance Trainers (IAMT) have also been operated by Pennant since 2015. These are full size cockpits which are currently equipped with a Hawk 127 layout, including a Head Up Display (HUD) and multiple Multi-Function Displays (MFD). All controls can be operated and the system responds to all input. These are used to simulate ground runs and compass swings, including all kinds of checks, with ground power and other support equipment. Next to these two main types of simulators, numerous smaller training rigs are in use for teaching electronics, cabling, etc.Tool control, as well as health and safety training areaFrom day one, tool control is considered essential. Students receive their own toolboxes and are responsible for accompanying paperwork. Also, ‘health and safety’ is an important subject. All training takes place in realistic scenarios wherever possible. Collins explained, “Trainees are placed in a Simulated Work Environment (SWE) phase in different segments of their training. The SWE is run as a typical squadron work area where the trainees are expected to comply with-all normal maintenance policies and procedures. So, from day one, students are in an environment as close to the real world as possible.” This includes the oh so important paperwork, “Trainees are required to use maintenance publications and apply correct technical administration during their SWE components of training.”Marshalling simulatorSubjects like parachute folding and marshalling aircraft are taught at Wagga. For the latter six, CT/4B aircraft are used outside on the platform, but the facility also has a state-of-the-art simulator. That makes it possible to teach how to handle unexpected events such as an unauthorised crossing by a car, hot brakes or an engine fire, in a safe manner. Also, weather scenarios and fuel leaks can be simulated. When trainees pass this phase, they go outside for the real deal with the CT/4s. There is also a flightline office with controllers who have a view of the flightline.MB.326 used for refuelling training and flightline servicingTwo MB.326s are parked outside and are used for refuelling training and flightline servicing. These aircraft are only towed, as they are not able to taxi. Students act as a maintenance crew, while staff take on more of a supervising than teaching role.
When students leave, they receive a ‘statement of attainment’ from BAe and a ‘completion statement’ of the RAAF. For them, the next phase will be training on the job, as only operational units can provide the certification assessments needed to earn the formal aircraft type certificates. With these type certificates, the former trainees are ready for the operational part of their careers.
At RAAF Wagga they say, ‘God created aircraft technicians so that aircrew could have heroes too’. And it clearly is their mission to make sure Australian aircrews do get their heroes!
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