Rebuilding Merlin helicopter rotor heads all in a day’s work for Rosie
Aeronautical Engineering apprentice Rosie Walker knows the inside of a Merlin helicopter main rotor head inside out. About halfway through her three-year apprenticeship programme, Rosie is part of the Serco team based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose who maintain Merlin helicopters on behalf of Leonardo in support of the Royal Navy.
Becoming an engineer was not always part of the plan. “I finished a degree in politics at the University of Exeter in Cornwall and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next,” Rosie said. “I’d always loved aviation and mum suggested I have a look at jobs in the local area. I was looking for an entry level position because I didn’t have any experience, so the Serco apprenticeship was perfect.”
Since joining the Serco team in August 2019, Rosie is enjoying the experience. “I really enjoy the hands-on aspect of the job which allows me to combine my interest in aviation and engineering. It’s a nice environment and people are willing to answer questions and show you how to do things if you’re not sure. When I first started, I wasn’t sure what I could or couldn’t say. There are lots of ex-military people in the team who like to have a bit of banter and I was accepted really quickly as one of their own. I don’t find that I’m treated any differently, and I still do the heavy lifting, same as anyone.”
Rosie’s day job is building main rotor heads for Merlin helicopters. In helicopters the rotor head is the part of the rotor assembly that joins the blades to the shaft, cyclic and collective mechanisms. “Merlin’s are quite large and bulky aircraft, so the rotor head is also quite big,” Rosie said. “To move the rotor heads around the workshop we use an overhead gantry which is a big pulley with chains which takes four people to manoeuvre safely. There is a team of about 10 of us working in the bay and we take turns so we’re not doing the same job over and over again.”
“I worked in a couple of different workshop bays prior to being in the rotor bay and in the second year we’d usually progress to working on the aircraft. But everything has changed because of Covid-19 so you just have to get on with it. It’s not all bad, apart from having to wear masks in the workshop and working in shifts we still go to work as usual. On Wednesday’s I still have my college day, although this is remote learning at home at the moment.”
Looking ahead, Rosie is looking to complete her NVQs in the final year of the programme. “I’d like to finish the apprenticeship and get picked up as a fitter’s mate, hopefully with Serco. I’d like to stay in the engineering industry if possible.”
For people thinking about getting into engineering, Rosie has some straightforward advice. “Expect to have to do a lot of maths! But honestly, go for it! The last time I did science was A Level chemistry, and I did a politics degree, so don’t have to have a background in engineering to do this apprenticeship.”