Pedal to Paris

This month, Josh Mellor, our Business Development Manager will be cycling from London to Paris with the rest of the “Team 42” group. Josh and the team will be raising money for the Royal British Legion, as they take on the route covering 460km of British and French countryside, culminating in an exhilarating finish along the Champs-Élysées. Here, one of the team, Lewis Cooper, talks more about why the British Legion is a cause that means a lot to him, and the importance of aviation principles.

 
I joined the Royal Air Force as an Aircraft Technician in Avionics just over eight years ago, during which time I have had the opportunity to operate in some incredible but often challenging locations around the world. My first posting was as an apprentice engineer on the Chinook heavy lift helicopter, an awesome feat of aviation engineering, capable of some incredible manoeuvres for an aircraft of its type.

It was during my time on Chinooks that I embarked on my first overseas taskings too. Most notable was a tour of Afghanistan in late 2011/early 2012. We were responsible for keeping all of the UK’s Chinooks in the country serviceable, these included aircraft tasked with routine troop and cargo movements, but more crucially, it also included the MEDEVAC aircraft. This was the Chinook held on permanent readiness to retrieve injured personnel from the front-line.

It’s difficult to explain the adrenaline rush that you get when the sirens sound for the first time to launch that aircraft, when even the least athletic members of the team seemed to be able to run at super human speeds from the hangar, out onto the dispersal area to ensure the aircraft got airborne as quickly as possible.

We worked constant 12 hour shifts day and night throughout the bleak, cold, Afghan winter to ensure the aircraft stayed serviceable. However, this wasn’t always possible and unfortunately on a couple of occasions this most crucial of aircraft suffered malfunctions during its start-up procedure. This was a nightmare scenario which subsequently required all of the medical equipment, weapons, and people involved to be transferred to another aircraft, costing precious time; an asset we were all too aware we had little of if the aircraft was to reach whoever it needed to in time.

After a further year of engineering training I was posted as a fully qualified Avionics Technician to work on the C130-J Hercules, a stroke of luck as it was the second time I had received my first preference of posting! This posting again took me to challenging overseas environments. Perhaps the most challenging of which was in response to the humanitarian crisis following the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. With just 5 hours’ notice, I and 41 others were airborne on our way to India, crammed into the back of the C130 amongst rations, emergency shelters and other essential equipment to help with the disaster relief.

For 30 days we operated between New Delhi, Dhaka, and Kathmandu distributing the much needed aid in a round trip which often meant working days of around 22 hours, only to be met with broken equipment on the ground in Nepal, meaning that at the end of these exhausting days we were left with no choice but to unload the 10 tonnes of aid carried each flight by hand.

People may assume that to do this kind of job requires something beyond what they possess, but for the most part this simply isn’t true. The reason (that in my experience at least) we are able to operate in austere environments under extreme weather conditions so often is that we’ve embraced a programme of rigorous and continuous training from the very earliest stages of our careers. This is a trait present throughout the military, but particularly where aviation is concerned. This ensures that the proper considerations of principles and processes are made when carrying out our tasks, even when performing in the most testing of situations which is an essential factor where flight safety is concerned.

Paired with our approach to continuous training and thorough engineering processes is a greater understanding of the effect of human factors. Within our industry it’s about recognising that the effects of working in such high pressure environments can manifest themselves in different ways amongst team members, so it’s imperative to have a close team bond in order to spot these arising, and make any necessary adjustments as soon as possible to avoid a possible flight safety hazard.

This is where the Royal British Legion can come in really handy. One of the many ways it offers support to Forces personnel is through a scheme called ‘Poppy Breaks’. This offers free breaks to service personnel and their families in times of need and I have personally seen this act as a lifeline to friends returning from stressful overseas tours. As a charity they recognise that it’s not just the older World War Two era Veterans that need help. The Afghan conflict alone saw more than 100,000 British service personnel deploy to the country, and it is this next generation of Veterans we must ensure have the support available through avenues such as the Royal British Legion.

This is why Team42 will be cycling from London to Paris this year to try and raise awareness and funds for such a worthy charity.

As team we would like to thank Sysdoc and particularly Tom Bugler for their generous sponsorship and continued support throughout all of our training and fundraising efforts!

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