On Wed 21 Nov, 10 Engineers left RAF Coningsby for the long drive to visit BAE’s Warton site, home to approximately 7000 BAE employees. The site is currently BAE’s largest with its primary role being the final assembly and flight test centre for the Military Air and Information business.
The purpose of the visit was to understand more about how BAE works and interacts with the RAF from the production end of the spectrum. We also aimed to learn more about the different relationships between supply, production and design areas; (which really meant we were on the lookout for spares!)
The site has been an important part of the British aviation industry since 1940 and has been the testing centre for aircraft such as the Canberra,
TSR-2, Tornado and Hawk. Today the site is home to the final assembly of the British and Saudi Typhoons and their flight testing.
Upon arriving at Warton we were led deep into the heart of the site for initial introductions and to meet our host, Andy Flynn, Head of Contract Engineering Services for NETMA. From there we saw the Active Cockpit Rig; a tool used to test software changes for the typhoon cockpit. This room quickly became a health warning; it was completely spherical inside, like standing in the centre of a ping pong ball with a flat bottom. This surface was used as a screen to project what the pilot sees from the cockpit. This complete lack of reference points was initially quite discomforting, however just as most people were getting used to it the test pilot began to take off and quickly banked the aircraft to the right, throwing the majority of people in the room as what they were seeing no longer matched up with what they felt. It was, however, an extremely interesting part of the visit, understanding how improvements and upgrades are tested and to see how technology is used to simulate a flying aircraft.
We were then taken to the south side of the airfield to visit the Flight Development Centre. Here we were given a tour of the current aircraft being used for the development and flight testing of new equipment; some of which were on loan from the Royal Air Force. We noticed that BAE were experiencing similar issues with manpower for the number of aircraft; not only having to keep the aircraft flying but also undertake development work to integrate new equipment. While in this hangar some members of the group thought Christmas had come early as they spotted spares they had been on the hunt for a while. BAE proceeded to assure us that they had shortfalls of new components and spares so hands off then! This did highlight us to us that acquiring resources is not just an RAF issue.
The Telemetry demonstration and Synthetic Training section were also extremely interesting, especially to the C4I geeks amongst the party; it did highlight a number of communication points to those of us in the Aerosystems side of the branch which, and we hate to admit this, we actually found quite interesting!
The following day we visited the production line of the Typhoons destined for future use by the Royal Air Force or the Royal Saudi Air Force. The most startling thing about them, all lined up in their rows, was how clean they all looked! During this visit to the production hangar we were also given an opportunity to learn about how they manage their production and the visual aids that assist them in doing so. With the recent drive to improve visual management within the Wing, it was interesting to see ideas that we use ourselves and areas where we could aspire to be.
The couple of days spent visiting BAE’s Warton site was a fantastic experience and an excellent insight into a company we, here at Coningsby, work so closely with. It also presented us with an opportunity to invite those who hosted us to make a trip down to Coningsby, where we look forward to hosting them shortly. Lastly it gave us the much needed appreciation that the problems that we face are also experienced by BAE.
Fg Off Kirsty Ward OC FES HQ
Picture courtesy BAE Systems.