A DAY AT RAF BRIZE NORTON AS A GUEST OF THE INTERNATIONAL DEFENCE CONTRACTOR - THALES
Imagine my delight as I was told that I was to represent my Institute of Transport Administration (IoTA) at a press event at RAF Brize Norton covering the contract placement of a comprehensive application called Swift2Move to the contractor Thales (rhymes with palace). During my RAF career I had departed from Brize Norton to the four corners of the world, so this visit was all the more poignant!
Thales is a leading international electronics and systems group, addressing defence, aerospace and security markets worldwide. Although French, it has a UK component employing 9,000 staff at more than 50 locations.
We were taken to Thales lecture room where the company executives explained the organisation and approach of the firm's application to the assembled delegates. These included a number of RAF officers involved with the firm's contract preparation at Brize Norton; and also civilians from the Thales Company as this was the successful conclusion of contract bidding which had now been victorious. All this was coming to a head in the signing by the MOD accepting Thales as the application provider.
Basically, all transport aircraft have to be loaded in a specific fashion as all aircraft are relatively fragile compared with other modes of transport and also move at high speed in three dimensions. Given the foregoing, all military loads on wheels are driven in by reversing up the ramp under strict guidance and being positioned over a particular floor compartment which the location of the axles is noted for floor loading and trim purposes and the whole vehicle locked down by chains to floor attachment points. If no motive power; then vehicles are winched up, but always in reverse, to afford a military exit in the forward area. In general, if these vehicles are being moved on exercise or to a theatre of operations then they are loaded to capacity with operational kit.
Of course, what I'm talking about is the Hercules type of aircraft with a rear loading ramp but all transport aircraft are not the same! However, the same criteria apply: loading of passengers and freight has to be recorded and balanced with aircraft's centre of gravity (CofG) within the range allowed.
In the non-ADP days all this loading was transcribed by pen or pencil onto a load sheet called a trim sheet in RAF parlance. The loading and positioning of all freight would then provide a C of G either within parameters or - not so - in which case load adjustments would have to take place. After this the payload would have to be compared with the aircraft fuel weight as there is a balance to work out as the fuel load + payload must not cause the aircraft's Maximum All Up Weight (MAUW) to be surpassed. This all had to be negotiated and either fuel not loaded to the full diversion requirement or non-priority freight - if there is any - offloaded.
So, as we were shown, all this has been streamlined and a movement's clerk now monitors and records the loading on to a laptop as it happens. The positioning of equipment in compartments can be accomplished before loading using the Swift2move application in planning form with the entire load given the best fit for the volume available. Also there is the facility to view loading in 3D which gives the opportunity to look under the - for example - a helicopter as there is space under the rear boom of the 'copter for loading suitable freight. The equipment is then loaded in that order.
The Swift2Move application encompasses all facets of Air Movement from passenger check-in, seat allocation and the issue of boarding cards to all the routine of cargo loading and documentation. This includes: positioning; tie-down; the tracking of Unit Load Devices (ULD's) which are the containers that carry baggage or freight and are locked down in the aircraft's compartment during flight but are offloaded at the terminal and taken away. Hence, the reason for tracking their movement from then on!
Thales then provided a buffet lunch after which I then thanked the senior executive for his firm's excellent presentation which I found most absorbing.