Galliford Try operations manager pilots RAF project to success

5 October 2018

The training centrifuge

A new RAF high G-force training facility will become operational this month. Sam Fowkes, operations manager at Galliford Try Building East Midlands, describes the challenges.

Sam Fowkes

Galliford Try was principal contractor for a new high G-force training facility at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire: the first facility of its kind for jet fighter pilots to be built in the UK since the 1950s, and I was excited to be involved in this unique project.

Pilots flying the Hawk, Typhoon or new F35 Lighting II aircraft can experience up to 9G – nine times the normal gravitational pull of the Earth. The new facility was needed to train RAF and Royal Navy pilots to counter the effects of these forces on their bodies during combat missions.

The new 39-tonne centrifuge will accelerate from zero to 9G in one second when it comes into operation in October 2018, at which point it will be travelling at 58mph and rotating 34 times a minute.

Galliford Try was appointed by defence contractor, Thales UK, to design and build a two storey in-situ concrete frame “drum” building to house the human centrifuge, as well as control and observation rooms, classrooms, offices and pilot welfare facilities at RAF College Cranwell, near Sleaford in Lincolnshire.

As operations manager, my role was to oversee the project team and provide a point of contact for Thales, who will maintain and operate the facility for the MoD.

RAF Cranwell

The construction phase of the project started with excavation of limestone rock to a depth of 4.5 metres using a heavy excavator with a rock bucket to create a basement to house the centrifuge motor room. With 20 tonnes of main drive and gear box below ground generating around 3200 KW at peak power (around 4300hp), the foundations were critical.

A significant milestone was reached on site in May 2017 with the casting of the ground floor slab of the centrifuge chamber, which contained the 2m diameter insert ring that holds down the whole body of the centrifuge arm.

The insert ring had to be positioned exactly in the centre of the chamber to millimetre accuracy using a precision optical plummet with an accuracy of +/-1mm per 30m. This was a critical and challenging element of the project and a huge achievement by the whole team.

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