In September, HMAS Parramatta’s Flight Deck Team conducted a Vertical Replenishment (VERTREP) with Spanish replenishment ship ESPS Cantabria while participating in Exercise Triton Centenary 13.
What made this VERTREP a special occasion was the use of an MRH-90 helicopter to transfer the stores from Cantabria to Parramatta. For most of the Flight Deck Team, and indeed many of the Ship’s company, this was the first time they had seen an MRH-90, let alone worked with one. For 808SQN, this was the first time that the MRH-90 had worked with an ANZAC Class Frigate.
With a recent change out of personnel, Parramatta had a relatively new Flight Deck Team who hadn’t had much deck time together; however this did not curb their enthusiasm. The evolution commenced with the more experienced Helicopter Control Officer (HCO) LCDR Alaric O’Neill and Flight Deck Marshaller (FDM) POML-P Jay Stevenson taking the lead. This allowed the members under training to observe the MRH-90 and the magnitude of its power.
The MRH-90 transferred 18 pallets of victuals with a total weight of 12 thousand kilograms.Parramatta’s passageways soon became a temporary dry store as the stores piled up. It took a little over 2 hours to transfer all stores, with only a quick break to refuel the aircraft on Cantabria.
As well as having an experienced HCO and FDM, Parramatta also has a less experienced ‘Grade One’ HCO and FDM. For both of them, this was only the second aircraft they had worked with in their roles at sea and the first VERTREP to be conducted. After finding their feet they were ready to give it at try.
Grade One FDM LSML-SC Lisa Thompson was nervous at first but with the experience and the guidance that PO Stevenson had given her she quickly gained confidence under the downwash and took over.
“It really helped knowing that the PO was right behind me and it gave me a greater appreciation for personnel movement around the flight deck,” she said.
For Grade One HCO SBLT Samantha Best the experience was a little different. While she may not have come out of the serial with helmet hair like LS Thompson, she still gained a unique perspective of an MRH-90 undercarriage. The serial provided a greater understanding of the importance of effective communications involved in such an evolution.
“There were a few moments when I wasn’t sure where the stores were going to land: the deck or on top of the LSO shack,” she said.
Everyone in Parramatta was excited about working with the MRH-90, with many people finding ways to sneak a peak of the aircraft through the LSO shack. The Flight Deck Team enjoyed the experience and gained a lot from the evolution. Their skills and aircraft awareness were sharpened which always helps leading into an Aviation Sea Safety Assessment (ASSA). Parramatta ‘first born of the Commonwealth’ has again led the way as the first ANZAC Class Frigate to work with the MRH-90.
Press Release, October 16, 2013; Image: Australian Navy