Written by Matt Hogsden, Industry Secondee

With COVID-19 changing the way we work, we take a look at how ADS Member Leonardo Helicopters has found unique ways to adapt social distancing methods to the cockpit ensuring crew safety. 

As is the case with many of our defence members, Leonardo UK is continuing operations on its key programmes for the Ministry of Defence and others to maintain the readiness of the UK’s Armed Forces and those of our allies.  

On the airfield and in the skies, the flight operations aircrew continue with its essential flight testing of the Merlin, Wildcat and Super Lynx aircraft. However, since all these helicopters are dual pilot, it is impossible for both pilots to operate in the cockpit and observe social distancing practises. 

To overcome this, Leonardo Helicopters have developed an innovative helmet and oxygen mask modification. This allows the crew to safely operate the aircraft whilst in close proximity to each other. 

The solution takes the existing oxygen mask and hose and connects a standard filter from a Respiratory Protection Equipment industrial mask. The filters have screw threads, allowing easy replacement, and a bespoke attachment is fitted to the hose, enabling effective fitting of the filter and connection equipment to the life vest. 

As with any new device, safety remains the number one priority. The safety evaluation included monitoring the airflow during breathing to ensure no restrictions in the flow, assessing how the hose and filter fitted to the life preservers to avoid it become a loose device or snagging hazard in the aircraft, and a cockpit assessment looking at both normal flight operations and emergency egress. 

The new system not only protects the aircrew from contaminated air but also reduces the risk to and from maintainers. By combining the device with other practises such as rigorous cleaning of the aircraft switches and controls before and after flight, all personnel involved in essential flight operations are kept safe. 

This approach is one of many we have seen recently that highlights the creativity, flexibility and commitment of UK industry to adapt to the challenging new ways of working and to deliver equipment and services critical to the defence of the nation.