UK

RAF Shawbury: Inside The Billion-Pound Centre Training Future Pilots

A £1.1 billion pound investment at the Shropshire station has helped make the base become a world-leader in helicopter training technology.

Forces News has been granted special access into how a new, billion-pound facility is training the UK's next generation of military helicopter pilots.  

New simulators, training aircraft and buildings are all part of the upgrade at RAF Shawbury which is now considered a world-leader in its field.

The upgraded facilities were only opened in April and the Defence Helicopter Flying School has already seen its first set of pilots graduate.

The school now boasts 29 Juno helicopters - the biggest fleet in the country, as well as three Jupiter aircraft.

The new helicopters used by the students have modern touch-screen avionic displays.
The new helicopters have modern touch-screen avionic displays.

The new helicopters are more technologically advanced than their predecessors, kitted out with touch-screen avionics rather than more old-school analogue dials. 

New graduate, Flight Lieutenant Jamie Johnson, said: "Effectively, they're an iPad with buttons around the edge, that's all they really are.

"As soon as you get into your head how the systems work together, there's really not too much difficulty and they're actually designed to be really user-friendly, so it's a real step up."

On average, the school's helicopters spend around 100 hours per day in the air.  

But before flying, students have to keep their training firmly on the ground.

Cockpit of military helicopter simulator at RAF Shawbury
The cockpit of the simulator at RAF Shawbury, used to train budding-pilots before flying for real.

Inside a state-of-the-art classroom, there is some of the world's latest simulator technology, used to teach students how to fly.

In total there are four unique simulators which have matching cockpits to those found in the Jupiter and Juno aircraft. 

"If you get close to trees or if you crash this aircraft, your body reacts and you will sort of screw up your eyes," said pilot synthetic manager, Eleanor Lodge.

"It's certainly seducing enough to make you think you are in a real aircraft."

Once the students learn how to fly, they move on to the command tactics trainer.

"Rather than just flying the aircraft around, they now have to start learning how to command the aircraft, command the resources within the aircraft and also deal with other entities outside," said instructor, James Clarkson.

With the latest equipment and technology now up and running, the Defence Helicopter Flying School will continue to play a key role in producing the British military's future helicopter pilots.