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Merlin helicopter instructor wins global award for life-saving innovation

Published: 6 Apr 2017

John Harvey, the Senior Merlin Instructor at RAF Benson’s Medium Support Helicopter Aircrew Training Facility (MSHATF), has been recognised by Serco with a global award for his innovative work in developing a potentially life-saving new emergency drill for Merlin helicopter crews.

John recognised that there was a deficiency in the existing Merlin Tail Rotor Control Failure Reference Card (FRC). FRC emergency drills are the written procedures intended for use by flight crews in high stress, emergency situations. As such, they must offer the best possible advice in a concise, clear and readily-understood format – ideally on a single page.

John took on the challenge of writing a new Tail Rotor Control Failure FRC drill for the Merlin helicopter, even though this was neither John's nor MSHATF’s responsibility. This was a complex task and it has taken three years to develop. The result is a new drill that not only improves Serco’s training delivery but also has the potential to save aircraft and lives.

For any conventional helicopter, a malfunction involving its tail rotor drive mechanism or control system is potentially life-threatening. Tail rotor malfunctions can take many forms, such as driveshaft failures, control jams and control breakages and sometimes, the aircraft might be barely controllable and the crew would have little time to respond. The methods of dealing with these unpredictable failures are diverse and complicated. Consequently, presenting a crew with simple advice that is applicable to all situations is an immense technical and textual undertaking.

Trevor Winchcombe, Serco’s MSHATF Contract Manager at RAF Benson, said: “John had the vision and determination to take on a complex and challenging task that many would have turned their backs on as being far too difficult to achieve. He has worked hard with our industry partners and others to share best practice and establish a viable solution to a long term problem and then transform an established working practice into a highly effective and valued solution. His contribution to helicopter safety, both in the field of FRC drill development and in his wider work, is exceptional and his commitment goes above and beyond that expected; indeed, he is an outstanding member of the MSHATF team.”

In over 30 years of helicopter instructional training, John has accumulated many thousands of hours of operational aircraft flight training and delivered simulation instructional training to UK MOD and overseas aircrews. John leads a team of 10 Merlin helicopter simulator instructors, who are widely recognised as being the subject matter experts on Merlin Mk3 simulation training. The team is responsible for providing highly demanding and technical helicopter simulation training to the RAF, RN and numerous overseas nations using two state of the art CAE AW101 Merlin Dynamic Mission Simulators (DMS). 

John was presented with his award by Serco Chief Executive Rupert Soames at an event in Birmingham marking the company’s UK winners of its Global Pulse Awards. The awards celebrate employees from among Serco’s 50,000 strong team around the world who have done extraordinary things for their colleagues, customers or communities.

Photo caption: John Harvey (left), the Senior Merlin Instructor at RAF Benson’s MSHATF was presented with his award by Serco Chief Executive Rupert Soames (right)