Past Talks : October 2021

JADTEU (Joint Air Delivery Testing & Evaluation Unit)by Lt.Col Sam Allinson, C.O., REME

Our first live talk in the FAAM auditorium for 20 months, since the Covid outbreak. Wonderful, and it was pleasing to see a very good turnout of familiar faces again. More than that it was a jolly interesting talk justifying the effort.

The military do like acronyms and in fairness this one truly spells out what JADTEU (Joint Air Delivery Testing and Evaluation) does. To illustrate this, Lt.Col Sam Allinson showed a film, about half way through the talk, that for me, summarised its reason for being. In 2013 a military cargo flight (operated by National Airlines, Flight 102) destined for Dubai, made a refuelling stop at Bagram Airport, Afghanistan. Just a few moments after taking off, a dashboard camera in a passing car shows the Boeing 747 freighter clearly tilting nose high before stalling straight into the ground. Full of fuel, you can imagine the scene, which killed all seven crew members. The cause? Improperly secured cargo, which broke free, crashed through the rear pressure bulkhead and disabled the flight control systems.

JADTEU exists to prevent catastrophes of the nature. It is a unique unit. To quote their own blurb: The primary role of Joint Air Delivery Test and Evaluation Unit is to conduct operational trials and evaluation to develop the delivery by air of personnel, machines and materiel on behalf of sponsors. Its output provides recommendations and guidelines on each of these elements.

Sam Allinson joined the Army in the year 2000. He is a member of REME (Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers) and his experience encompasses the Hussars, Cavalry and aviation/airborne. In recent times, Sam was a part of the Apache Helicopter Delivery Team, based at Leonardo in Yeovil, before being appointed Commanding Officer of JADTEU in December 2019. If you read on you will see that it is a role full of interest and a heavy responsibility, but with a satisfying sense of achievement.

The scope of the Unit includes: Trials and testing; Aerial Delivery; Air Portability; Parachute Testing Team; Helicopters; Training; Engineering – and looking ahead. Its history dates back to 1942 with involvement in Air Despatch and Air Transportation and much involvement with SOE (Special Operations Executive – the spy infiltrators).

Currently JADTEU is involved with the Joint Helicopter Development Unit and in the mid-1970s it set up its main base on the south side of the RAF Brize Norton airbase, in two large hangars, all separate from the main RAF base itself.

The primary mission of the unit is test and evaluation, for which they are fully accredited and compliant with national and international standards. In addition they have their own workshop and small manufacturing and welding facility, which enables them to not only describe improvements, but to develop and create them also. In many respects they are quite self-sufficient with in-house expertise in most areas and whenever necessary the ability to draw in groups from all services for the trials and testing. The personnel strength of JADTEU is 110 , comprising a mix of Army, RAF, RN and Royal Marines, plus of course a team of Civil Servants, including the workshop personnel, technical illustrators, photographers, etc..

The obvious purpose of all this testing and trials is to determine operational risks and to prove that the equipment and processes are fit for purpose. The UK is known to operate to very high, Gold, standards and results and data are shared with our international allies, particularly where common assetsare concerned. Naturally, JADTEU is deeply involved with the aircraft currently in service with the RAF, e.g. the Airbus A400, the C-17 Globemaster III and the C130 Hercules, although sadly, by the sound of it the C130 Hercules is being phased out of service rapidly and prematurely (due no doubt to budget cuts!).

In some instances it can take a roughly a year to bring together the information and equipment necessary to conduct trials and evaluations.

The range of activities undertaken is enormous and requires meticulous study for example of the requirement, the method and the means, followed by detailed planning to bring about the result and the reporting, dissemination and implementation of the recommendations.

So, let us look at some examples of the tasks undertaken:

Air Delivery – we are all familiar with film showing an aircraft flying overhead and troops or equipment pouring off the lowered ramp and arriving safely on the ground. Before any of this is put into service it is all tested to ensure the object of the exercise will be achieved and how it is done successfully and consistently. All options are considered. The A400 aircraft is relatively new to the RAF transport fleet and trials have shown that it can deliver loads up to 24 tonnes. Dropping vehicles from a moving aircraft is potentially fraught with problems. The whole object is to deliver it where and when required and then for someone to jump into it and drive off with the minimum delay – and to not rebuild a wreck before doing so. For this purpose, the C130 Hercules delivers vehicles in a specially constructed cage, which had to be carefully thought out and then constructed, tested, improved and made fit for purpose. The A400 can deliver large boats for the SBS (Special Boat Squadron – the Royal Marine opposite numbers to the SAS, but very low profile by comparison), plus paratroops at the same time. Sam made it clear that troops were not dropped while sitting inside the boat, which apparently the Russians have done, but how successfully is another matter and one that makes me go cold to even contemplate.

Static drop trials are often carried out inside the hangars and are filmed with high speed cameras, so that the film can be studied in depth while showing the entire process in slow-motion. Likewise the military port facilities at Marchwood, near Southampton are used for sea borne trials and for diving trials. Unsurprisingly, the Brize Norton hangars also contain full-size sections of fuselage of the various transport aircraft in service today, to enable functional trials of payloads to be conducted realistically.

If you are going to deploy helicopters in a particular situation, it is unlikely that you will fly them thousands of miles just to get there. You will of course transport them by air – but how best to do it and can all transport aircraft carry them? Sam showed us many examples of what this requires and how it is accomplished in the most practical and least disruptive manner.

Troop deliveries are a familiar sight with them scampering off the back of the aircraft ramp or jumping out of the doors on each side of the aircraft. Looks impressive doesnt it. However, each type of aircraft has its foibles and you cannot just jump out and assume everything is going to be fine. The turbulence of each different aircraft type is very different and can affect the parachutist when he exits. For example when troops jump out of a door on each side of the aircraft at the same time, the risk of the troops colliding can be very high, so techniques have to be carefully developed and perfected. Apparently the newA400 aircraft has a very distinctive slipstream different to other aircraft, so exit points are suitably modified to ensure that risks are minimised and the security and capability of the parais not impaired.

The A400 is also being used in Exercise Delta Drop, which is to demonstrate that high altitude drops are feasible and practical. If I noted the facts correctly, to date drops have been made at 12,000ft and drops from 25,000ft are scheduled in due course. That is high. Meanwhile, the French Armed Forces are using their A400 aircraft to trial the opposite by developing drops at very low altitude, necessitating much larger parachutes. Needless to say, information exchange with the French is part of the process so that both sides learn and benefit from each other. Another aspect of parachuting is the carrying of loads. When looking at the film shown by Sam, I found it hard to believe just how much kit and baggage already goes out strapped to the paraand how much more is being tested to add to it. The words kit and baggagestrapped to a para can of course include people, where they are politely called passengers, or a tandem jump. JADTEU does employ its own specialist expert paras, who in the course of one day regularly make several jumps and in the process carefully note and then formally report on the outcomes.

Wind tunnels are also used for trials, plus exercises are regularly held in California, USA to test equipment and techniques in hot temperature environments.

As transport aircraft are tested for their ability to carry loads, so are helicopters. Specialist members of the team carry out trials of every conceivable manner, including delivering loads to special locations such as a radar unit to the top of Gibraltar Rock, plus delivery of troops while the helicopter is in the hover and even more novel, the retrieval of troops via a ladder while in the hover.

Sam showed several examples of where JADTEU examined existing equipment and its original method for anchoring inside a transport aircraft. He then showed the potential weaknesses and how the JADTEU evaluation improved the anchoring and minimised risk, while enhancing safety by a simple method of thinking and awareness.

The tasks and techniques involved in all aspects of their work are seemingly endless and JADTEU clearly earns its keep by enhancing capability, reducing risk and improving efficiency. A splendid talk and well illustrated. Thank you to Lt.Col Sam Allinson for a very informative and enjoyable evening.