Virtual training wins actual award

A NAVAL officer who has served in both the Royal and the Australian Navy has been honoured in this year’s Australia Day awards.

Lieutenant Commander Richard “Taff” Foster from HMAS Albatross was awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross (CSC) for his efforts in delivering a training package for aviation simulation of the new Canberra class amphibious ships.

It is the second time he has been honoured.

Upon leaving the Royal Navy after 24 years’ service he was awarded the BEM in the 1990 Queen’s honours.

Lt-Cdr Foster also completed 24 years’ service in the RAN.

The RAN has ordered two new amphibious ships, known as LHDs, Landing Helicopter Docks, with the first expected to come into service sometime this year.

“The RAN hasn’t had a flat top ship since HMAS Melbourne so there has been nothing to train and prepare personnel to be flight deck teams or aircraft handlers,” he said.

Lt-Cdr Foster developed a training area at HMAS Albatross that allowed crews to be trained and be ready to operate the new ships.

That created problems, as there was not a spare open space bigger enough on the base to simulate the actual landing area of one of the new LHDs.

He developed a modified area, almost the size of football pitch, and then came up with the equipment to stage training programs.

That included developing two mock aircraft, looking and weighed like real helicopters, which crews could tow and manoeuvre as if they were on a ship’s deck.

A virtual reality system was also developed which allowed four personnel wearing special goggles to be placed on the flight deck of an amphibious ship and undertake simulation exercises.

He also developed a specialised firefighting simulator that allowed crews to practice crash rescue routines.

All this was done on an extremely tight time frame and budget.

“To be honoured is absolutely brilliant. I’m so chuffed,” he said.

“When I think of the thousands of defence personnel both here and abroad who are all doing outstanding jobs serving their country, to be recognised like this is something else.

“I love doing what I do. Getting an award like this just tops it off.

“You certainly don’t expect it.”

After 24 years in the Royal Navy, where he was a search and rescue diver reaching the rank of chief, he decided to retire and with his wife Ann and children Sarah, Kim and Robert immigrated to Australia.

He joined the RAN as a leading seaman and worked his way through the ranks to Lieutenant Commander.

His aim now is to continue to work until November 2016, by which time he will have completed 50 years’ service in the two navies.

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