Royal Marines

Exploring the new technology helping Commando Helicopter Force engineers

At the Somerset home of CHF, engineers are experimenting with a range of new machines, systems and gadgets.

Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) provides rotary support to the Royal Marines – transporting them into theatre anywhere in the world.

The three squadrons of the CHF provide crucial aerial support to the green berets as specialists in the maritime, Arctic and desert environments.

Forces News has been to Somerset to see how the unit is exploring new technology to help engineers working on CHF's fleet of Merlin Mk4s.

At the home of Commando Helicopter Force, Yeovilton, they are experimenting with a range of new machines, systems and gadgets – among them is augmented reality (AR).

The AR headset provides a live point-of-view feed of what an engineer is seeing, allowing them to communicate with a colleague, discuss solutions and share information.

If need be, this can all be done thousands of miles apart.

Colonel Del Stafford, Commanding Officer of Commando Helicopter Force, said: "In the military, we have to be responsive to the technology of the day and the technology that emerges.

A new headset will provide augmented reality for Commando Helicopter Force 17062022 CREDIT BFBS.jpg .jpg
The headset provides a live point-of-view feed of what an engineer is seeing, allowing them to communicate with a colleague, discuss solutions and even share information.

This deployable system is no bigger than a suitcase and uses a low bandwidth satellite connection, allowing a senior engineer at home to see exactly what his colleague in the field is dealing with and help them fix it. 

Col Stafford added: "We've been on a journey having upgraded from Sea King and Lynx aircraft to our Merlin and Wildcat aircraft.

"And along that journey comes a need to keep modernising and transforming our procedures, our processes, and the way we do things.

"It's about leveraging what we can see on the horizon and also what we see in other parts of defence, taking that best practice and getting it into our daily business."

Commando Helicopter Force new tech ,deployable system - no bigger than a suitcase - uses a low bandwidth satellite connection 17062022 CREDIT BFBS
The deployable system is no bigger than a suitcase and uses a low bandwidth satellite connection.

Commander Daniel Weil, Commander Air Engineering, describes how, on a head-up display, using augmented reality at home, "we'll be able to share videos, imagery and markings to say 'left a bit, right a bit, look at the right thing' and [send] that live advice to the technician who's on the ground."

The engineers involved in this experiment are part of X-Flight, a Navy team that is focused on new tech.

Among other things, they are trying out a smart toolbox that can sense which tools are taken and returned – even flagging up issues – while keeping an inventory of what is being used and by whom. 

3D printing is another aspect of the new technology being tested, specifically machines that are able to produce precise plastic parts in a bid to save time and money.

Royal Navy team, X-Flight focused on new tech such as a smart toolbox 17062022 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
Royal Navy team, X-Flight also focusing on new tech such as a smart toolbox.

Virtual reality is also being used, in an attempt to help familiarise new engineers with the layout of the Merlin, where certain components are located, and how to access them.

The hope is that this can eventually be made interactive so trainee engineers can actually 'work' on a virtual helicopter. 

For Commando Helicopter Force, the implementation of this new technology is very much the future.

Crucially, the technology could be a way of keeping more aircraft flying and offer a wide array of ways of training the men and women who support the unique fighting force.

virtual reality used to familiarise new engineers with the layout of the Merlin 17062022 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
Virtual reality is also being used, in an attempt to help familiarise new engineers with the layout of the Merlin.