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Wednesday, 03 September 2014

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Carlisle museum staff cherry-pick £19m helicopter job

It was far from a typical day at work, when museum volunteers were called upon to help repair a stranded £19m military helicopter.

Solway museum photo
Work undereway on the RAF Merlin helicopter

Staff at Solway Aviation Museum, based at Carlisle Airport, received the unexpected emergency call for help at the weekend.

An RAF Merlin helicopter had developed a fault with a tail rotor gearbox sensor, and military technicians were struggling to get access to the vital part.

They had tried to scale the craft with a ladder, but needed something more mechanical to ensure they could reach the problem in the gathering wind.

With all hire companies closed, it looked like a long wait for the crew unless they could find some other help. It then emerged that the Solway Aviation Museum last year had purchased its own “cherry-picker”, after organisers recognised they needed a more reliable way of ensuring staff could get to some of their bigger aircraft.

It was a big step for the museum, and four volunteers went on an IPAF (International Powered Access Federation) course to operate the equipment.

When the Merlin crew issued their appeal for help, David Kirkpatrick – one of the qualified drivers – answered the call from his home in nearby Crosby-on-Eden.

Alongside a ground observer from the museum, David helped the military crew get to the part that needed repairing.

Unfortunately, the £19m helicopter was more damaged than first feared and, despite replacing various parts and testing, the crew finally had to admit defeat.

A more advanced technical crew was called from RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, and is set to arrive to make the repairs this week.

The Merlin helicopter had been on a three-week exercise involving four others, flying out of West Freugh in Scotland.

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