Aircraft Shelters, Clever Cranes and Happy Days for Paul G

If you look at pictures of deployed aircraft maintenance shelters they have lifting gantries that can support major components like engines. Obviously for an engine change on a Chinook you can’t just get a few hands on, mechanical assistance is needed.

The lighter shade hangars don’t have lifting structures but the maintenance types do.

Rubb Shelters - Aircraft Shade Shelter
Rubb Shelters – Aircraft Shade Shelter

The ones the UK uses are mostly from Rubb Military Buildings and called the Expeditionary Forces Aircraft Shelter System or EFASS. EFASS is available in a number of widths, can be fitted with two different door types and a range of accessories.

Depending on the shelter they can also be fitted with a gantry hoist from Erikklia with a safe working lift of between 1,000kg and 2,000kg.

Chinook Rubb Shelter Canadian Forces Afghanistan
Chinook Rubb Shelter Canadian Forces Afghanistan
Merlin Helicopter Maintenance Rubb Shelter
Merlin Helicopter Maintenance Rubb Shelter

The brochure has loads of details…

They even come packed in an ISO container, back of the net!

Rubb Shelters - ISO Container Storage and Transport
Rubb Shelters – ISO Container Storage and Transport
Rubb Shelters - ISO Container
Rubb Shelters – ISO Container
Rubb Shelters - ISO Container Transport and Storage
Rubb Shelters – ISO Container Transport and Storage

Yet another successful UK defence company with innovative products that we should be shouting from the rooftops about!

So, on to helicopter maintenance…

In this story from the MoD, the challenges of maintaining helicopters in Afghanistan are described.

As daytime temperatures soar towards 50 degrees Celsius in the shade in Afghanistan the heat is on for the engineers who keep the fleet of helicopters in the air.

The tri-Service Joint Aviation Group provides rotary wing support to British and coalition forces. At Camp Bastion in Helmand province RAF Chinook and Merlin crews operate alongside colleagues from the Army Air Corps and the Fleet Air Arm flying Apache, Lynx and Sea King helicopters.

Talking about the Merlin HC3’s one of the ground crew stated

The aircraft isn’t specifically designed to operate in these extreme temperatures, which brings with it a whole host of engineering challenges which we don’t see in the UK.

For example the engines require cleaning regularly, which requires more manpower, and our other equipment can also overheat very quickly in the height of summer

These helos were primarily designed for the North Sea environment and the vast amount of avionics equipment fitted does get to a phenomenal temperature out here

The Merlin is equipped with a complex avionics suite which generates a lot of heat when in use. Couple that with the extreme temperatures and dusty environment here and the kit gets very hot

The air conditioning in the shelter is self-evidently very important.

As an aside, this also brings into sharp relief the issues the Merlin has in environments that are hot and dusty, would be interesting to compare the maintenance effort with other helicopters in the same environment but I digress.

Where there is a need to do a spot of heavy lifting on an aircraft that is not in the controlled environment with a flat and hard ground surface a problem arises. Cranes in theatre are in short supply and not immediately available so there is a requirement for a lightweight crane that can be used away from the shelters or as a complimentary capability.

Enter stage left the amazing Unic Spider Crane.

Unic spider cranes are Japanese but are distributed in Europe by GGR Group

The RAF had seen just how versatile the Unic cranes are on a project to install a memorial to Bomber Command on Beachy Head the MoD placed an order for a small fleet to support operations in Afghanistan.

The models ordered were URW-276’s, each able to lift 2.9 tonnes at 2.5m span.

Although the crane weighs 4 tonnes it can be split into multiple loads and beyond the obvious colour change they have been fitted with controls to dim lights and turn off warning buzzers and extra lighting.

Unic Spider Crane (Image Credit - Plain Military)
Unic Spider Crane (Image Credit – Plain Military)
Unic Spider Crane (Image Credit - Plain Military)
Unic Spider Crane (Image Credit – Plain Military)
Unic Spider Crane (Image Credit - Plain Military)
Unic Spider Crane (Image Credit – Plain Military)
UNIC Spider crane in Afghanistan
UNIC Spider crane in Afghanistan
Flight Trial of Spider Crane
Flight Trial of Spider Crane
Flight Trial of Spider Crane and Leap Trailer
Flight Trial of Spider Crane and Leap Trailer

UNIC Crane 02

Flight Trial of Spider Crane
Flight Trial of Spider Crane

So why happy days for Paul G?

Back in 2011 one of our regular commenters and ex REME chaps, PaulG, said this

I suggested this crane for helicopter services but as i was in my last 6 months I think it went into file 13, but it’s awesome fits through a normal house door!

I think that is called vindication mate!

To see just how versatile these cranes are have a look at these pictures of one sitting on top of the Shard in London

UNIC Crane - The Shard
UNIC Crane – The Shard
UNIC Crane on The Shard
UNIC Crane on The Shard
UNIC Crane on The Shard
UNIC Crane on The Shard
18 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
paul g
August 9, 2012 10:11 pm

if i find my WO2 got a gems for this i will hunt him down!!! On a serious note how did they take so long to change from a 17 ton recovery truck to do this (often away on tasking so delaying the change)
video here;

Right who do i write to about the k-max!!

Tubby
Tubby
August 10, 2012 10:03 am

Very interesting post, but I do have a couple of questions – was EFASS already part of the RAF’s core equipment or did they UOR it for Afghanistan? Will the EFASS system Unic spider cranes be brought into core equipment or are they destined to be left behind in Afghanistan?

paul g
August 10, 2012 10:40 am

@tubby, good question, from my experience (and one of the reasons i suggested this years ago). When on an aircraft recovery you took a low loader for the cab (lynx and gazelle in our case, obviously not the chinny), a land rover with the crew and then a 4 tonne truck with an atlas cab crane on the back to remove the “bonk” which was the weight on the top and the rotors.
problems were you needed a HGV 1 driver for the loader and then HGV 2 for the 4 tonne possibly more if it was a distance like middle wallop to prestwick on a friday, grrrr! if the 4 tonne was in service or off the road, then it was a case of the 25 MPH coles crane!!

I would hope common sense prevails, it’s small enough to be brought back, it will probably prove it’s worth 10 times over, on a channel 4 programme the RAF had to wait 24 hours to get the army foden to do the engine lift on a recently arrived chinook. It’s not that expensive and there is a good UK support package. Still with all that sound reckoning and reason, probably no chance of been taken on!!!

Tubby
Tubby
August 10, 2012 11:20 am

Thanks Paul G,

If I understand you correctly, beyond Unic’s in Afghanistan there is little equipment specifically purchased to allow you to maintain helicopters in the field, if you have a flight of helicopters on exercise and one suffers an engine failure half way through it, its a case of leaning on the Army for them to provide you with cranes, low loaders and trucks?

paul g
August 10, 2012 12:28 pm

I couldn’t confirm that, when we went on exercise (i’ve been out since 2005) we had a section that covered all the bases, ie we had low loaders for recovery and bedford with the atlas cab crane never did a joint maint area with the RAF but i can only assume they have similiar, although the low loader wouldn’t be required, i know RN had an extendable kings trailer for sea king recovery. The coles was replaced thank god as we had to send it ahead of convoys due to it’s arse top speed (25mph) and the ear defenders had to be worn due to noise in cabin.

Hopefully the crane will be taken on by the REME as well as a dedicated vehicle crane can/does cause problems, we had 2crane 4 tonners VOR (vehicle off road) for months which screwed things up. Another good thing about the UNIC apart from the ability to switch between diesel and electric power which enables it to be used indoors or out is the remote control so the operator is actually in situ no shouting or mad hand signals when dropping engine into place.

Hopefully someone from the chinook side of life can comment on a “before and after” of it’s introduction

Topman
Topman
August 10, 2012 1:22 pm

@ Tubby

‘ was EFASS already part of the RAF’s core equipment or did they UOR it for Afghanistan? ‘

We had RUBBs and various sun shelters for a number of years. They are used in the UK as well as overseas. Some additional ones may well have been UOR but quite a few were well before afghan.

http://www.militarysystems-tech.com/suppliers/military-hangars-and-buildings/rubb-buildings-ltd

The most common one that I’ve seen are the ‘clam shell’ type at the top of that link. 5001 Sqn at RAF Wittering store/maintain/assemble them all.

Mike
Mike
August 10, 2012 2:20 pm

You know, the RUBB shelters we assembled in Lithuania when it came to our turn for the NATO Baltic policing mission are still in use and going strong, grand pieces of kit.

Good post C:

Topman
Topman
August 10, 2012 2:31 pm

@ Mike

Ex F3s ?

Tubby
Tubby
August 10, 2012 2:31 pm

Thanks Topman/Mike for confirming that we have EFASS as core equipment and thanks Paul G for your thoughts on what will happen to the Unic’s once Afghanistan ends.

Out of interest, did we use EFASS with our Harrier’s and if so, did we ever erect them over airfield matting or were they always erected over a proper hard standing?

Topman
Topman
August 10, 2012 2:38 pm

@ Tubby

Yes I believe they were the same type as we now use for the Tornados and on hard standing in KAF. As to historically for Harriers I’m not sure.

paul g
August 10, 2012 6:12 pm

BTW it looks like they have bought 2 types there as the crane in picture No3 is the non seat version,you can see the controls right at the back, the one that can go through a normal single door. pictures 1 and 2 have the seat in view, and the controls are up there.

I can’t understand why they got the buzzers and lights supressed, not a dig at the RAF being non tac it’s just generally even in the field people know your there due to the chuffing great big wokka wokka you’re working on!

DominicJ
August 11, 2012 7:22 am

Why, after 11 years, are we still operating out of, for lack of a better term, caravans?

Its hot during the day, this should not be a surprise.
The locals deal with it, they build big thick walls, which absorb the heat during the day, and bleed it back out at night.

Using field equipment?
Does anyone know what sort of helicopter (and fast air) maintenance kit they have at Mount P?
Do they rely on Royal Engineers cranes?
Or is it just part of the airbase infrastructure?

paul g
August 11, 2012 9:59 am

cough cough, royal electrical and mechanical engineer’s cranes

IXION
August 11, 2012 10:23 am

DJ

Yea after few months surely something a bit better –

Hesco/container/sandbag based with double tin roof should have gone up!

Brian
Brian
August 11, 2012 3:56 pm

Those Rubb Shelters look like much improved <a href="Bessonneau hangars.

And the OV-10 Bronco was begun with a concept for a light air support aircraft that could, among other cababilities:

“9. Transport to the Area of Operations. For transport to the area of operations there are a series of choices. With ferry fuel tanks a range of over 2,000 miles can be obtained at a cruising speed of about 240kt at approximately 25,000ft. If a carrier deck were available, of course, the airplane could fly off with ease and it should be noted that storage space required would be small. While the first experimental aircraft will not have this feature, it is quite feasible to design the various components so that it can be disassembled easily and stored in a box that would fit in a 6×6 truck bed together with the equipment needed for re-assembly in the field. It could thus be transported by amphibious shipping and either heli-lifted or driven ashore by a 6×6 truck.”

Close air support in an ISO container :)

Brian
Brian
August 11, 2012 4:17 pm

Ooops! That’s Bessonneau hangars.

DominicJ
August 11, 2012 5:58 pm

Paul G
I hang my head in shame and accept the customary punishment

Ix
Better than what exists at the moment by miles it seems

Mark
Mark
August 25, 2012 11:31 am

This may have been cover elsewhere but I’ve
Just come across this but could potientaly be quite important. One of the big issues with composite repairs outside of main factory is doing them in a climate controlled environment but if approved this maybe a big step in the right direction

http://www.shephardmedia.com/news/mil-log/farnborough-2012-aero-sekur-exhibits-new-portable-/

http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/farnborough-aero-sekur-demonstrates-inflatable-maintenance-shelter-373883/