One of the Royal Australian Navy’s new MRH-90 helicopters recently supported the Basic Fast Rope Course at HMAS Cerberus. The 40 course members who took part in the rigorous assessment had to overcome the challenge of sliding down a rope to disembark a helicopter in hover.
It takes a physically and mentally strong and confident individual to qualify in fast roping. It is, by nature, a high-risk activity that may appeal to your inner thrill seeker. Taking part in the course is not for the faint of heart and not everyone passes.
There are nine Basic Fast Rope Courses held annually and around 200 candidates apply. Less than half of them will complete the course.
The ‘roper’ has to rely on the strength of their arms and hands, the friction they can create on the rope using their legs and adherence to good technique in order to control their descent. If that doesn’t sound too daunting, picture the strength and technique required to hold your weight on that rope for 20 seconds, wearing service issued boots, a helmet, goggles, flying inner gloves, leather outer gloves and 18kg of additional equipment without slipping more than 10cm.
To really understand the mental and physical drive required, anyone thinking of applying should consider the environment these maneuvers are executed in – with a ship’s deck pitching and rolling beneath you, while you are suspended under the helicopter, being bashed by rotor wash.
Senior Instructor of Detached Parties, Boarding Operations and Fast Roping at HMAS Cerberus, Chief Petty Officer Boatswain Thomas Whitworth said the course was tough by necessity.
“Any member of the Royal Australian Navy can attempt the Fast Rope Course, but only those that are truly physically and mentally prepared will succeed. A lapse in concentration can be fatal, so our assessments are necessarily stringent,” Chief Petty Officer Whitworth said.
Fast roping is a unique method of insertion that Australian Navy uses to conduct fast and efficient boarding operations. It allows a boarding party to insert on vessels located some distance away from their warship, or when the sea state rules out carrying out boarding operations by sea boat.
Currently, there are around 150 Royal Australian Navy personnel who are qualified and ‘in date’ to fast rope. To remain current and ‘in date’, a roper must conduct two jumps in each six-month period, with one jump being in combat equipment.
“There are a lot of people who think they have what it takes to pass the course. Physically some do, but mentally they’re just not prepared to be so far out of their comfort zone. Of course, staying current requires commitment and dedication too,” Chief Petty Officer Whitworth said.
For some, there may be nothing scarier than the act of dangling from a helicopter hovering 20 meters above a moving platform, in dubious weather conditions, while holding their own body weight plus an extra 18kgs of cumbersome equipment. For others, it’s just another part of their job.
Press Release, May 19, 2014; Image: Australian Navy