The great Grob re­prieve?

Pilot - - PREFLIGHT - Philip White­man, Ed­i­tor

Awel­come an­nounce­ment on the day this is­sue of Pi­lot went to press: the Air Cadet Grob mo­tor­glider fleet, grounded since 2014 and sched­uled to be scrapped, ap­pears at the eleventh hour to have won a re­prieve. The Air Cadets will not get them back, but a num­ber of the air­craft at least are set to fly again – and be used to give young peo­ple in the UK and abroad air ex­pe­ri­ence flights – in a joint en­ter­prise by the Spit­fire Her­itage Trust and the Light Air­craft As­so­ci­a­tion.

This is a rather hap­pier end, at least as far as the air­craft are con­cerned, to the sorry saga of Cadet fly­ing be­ing cur­tailed af­ter the en­tire Air Cadet fleet of seventy Grob Vik­ing glid­ers and sixty Vig­i­lant mo­tor­glid­ers was ‘paused’ by the mil­i­tary duty holder, No.2 Flight Train­ing School.

In fact the of­fi­cer in com­mand, Group Cap­tain John Mid­dle­ton didn’t have much choice in 2014 but to ground the fleet, af­ter an RAF en­gi­neer­ing au­dit of civil­ian com­pany Serco, which had been con­tracted to main­tain the air­craft, re­vealed fun­da­men­tal air­wor­thi­ness is­sues. These prob­lems arose not be­cause the Vik­ings and Vig­i­lants were ac­tu­ally un­fit to fly, but were re­lated to the pa­per­work – poor ad­min­is­tra­tion and record­ing of main­te­nance tasks and re­pairs.

In an at­tempt to put right all this non­sense, a ‘re­cov­ery pro­gramme’ was es­tab­lished in­volv­ing two out­sourc­ing spe­cial­ists, Serco (again) and Bab­cock. Both in turn sub­con­tracted their work to what you might call proper air­craft main­te­nance com­pa­nies (one won­ders how much of the con­tract value was nev­er­the­less trousered by the two ser­vice providers)

Serco sub­con­tracted work to Mar­shall. They have not re­cov­ered any air­frames and given up on that task. Bab­cock sub­con­tracted the re­cov­ery of the glid­ers to South­ern Sailplanes Ltd. South­ern Sailplanes has so far de­liv­ered most of the to­tal of 46 glid­ers ex­pected to come back into ser­vice.

So some­thing of a re­sult there? Sadly not: Serco cur­rently man­ages to keep avail­able for fly­ing around a dozen of those forty or so glid­ers. The BGA ad­vises that its glid­ing clubs reg­u­larly achieve close to 100% glider fleet avail­abil­ity.

You have to ask why it is that the MOD and its con­trac­tors have failed to get the mo­tor­glid­ers, cur­rently in stor­age at Lit­tle Riss­ing­ton, back into the air. Al­though they are said to be fac­ing some (surely ar­bi­trary) air­frame life lim­i­ta­tion, the air­craft are re­ported to be in good con­di­tion. Would it have been such a prob­lem for Grob to cer­tify and re-life them as civil­ian air­craft? The dif­fer­ences be­tween Vig­i­lants and the cer­ti­fied 109 are min­i­mal. It seems that the main is­sue was that the Grob/ Lim­bach en­gine is no longer sup­ported, so the Vig­i­lants would have needed to be re-en­gined, per­haps with Ro­tax nine-se­ries en­gines. How­ever, it is hard to see how this would have been much of a prob­lem.

Well, we know there is now an av­enue open – pro­vided that the LAA can ne­go­ti­ate suc­cess­fully with the CAA to recog­nise the Vig­i­lant as a NON-EASA air­craft – but the fact re­mains that Air Cadets have lost their mo­tor­glider fleet and get their ‘wings’ to­day af­ter merely fly­ing a glider sim­u­la­tor and be­ing taken on an air ex­pe­ri­ence flight. And the MOD has blown £8m on a re­cov­ery plan that has put just a dozen Air Cadet glid­ers back into reg­u­lar ser­vice and failed to re­turn a sin­gle mo­tor­glider to the air.

De­spite the air­craft be­ing saved from the scrap­man’s axe, it is hard to see this en­tire af­fair as any­thing less than an ab­so­lute scan­dal. While Bab­cock seems to have done the right thing, the MOD, the RAF and Serco should not be al­lowed to get away with it!

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