Improving maintenance for Navy aircraft 05 December 2023

Royal Navy aircraft maintenance

A new initiative that is transforming the speed and efficiency of maintenance and turnaround times on operational aircraft within the Royal Navy is being described as a ‘game changer’, reports Brian Wall

Driving more effective maintenance and ultimately enabling aircraft to get out on operations much more quickly is one of the key goals for the Royal Navy – and nowhere more so than for its Portsmouth-based 1710 NAS (Naval Air Squadron), a forward support group specialising in helicopter repair, condition monitoring, modification design and scientific research.

However, in the past, analysing complex data to understand the state of health of any aircraft about to undergo routine maintenance and precisely what that might entail has often proved to be something of a challenge for the service’s engineers, tasked with poring through masses of often complex data to establish an aircraft’s maintenance history and ongoing requirements.

Now, that lengthy and multifaceted process has gone through a radical transformation: in partnership with Microsoft, the Royal Navy has launched an innovative data exploitation application, known as Motherlode, that ensures this information can be used far more quickly and easily, reducing the burden on engineers.

By reducing naval engineers’ maintenance data burden, the new capability is expected to ‘change the game’ for aerial asset readiness, as the application’s real-time data processing and advanced analytics is employed by Motherlode users to optimise maintenance timelines, predict material reliability and bolster the Navy’s overall fleet availability.


Developed by 1710 Naval Air Squadron (NAS), the application concept was produced in RNAS Yeovilton, with the programme finalised over 12 months. It is now in operation at multiple air stations, with plans to be extended. For Nicholas Almond, commanding officer of 1710 NAS, the launch of Motherlode provides the potential to transform the way in which aircraft maintenance is carried out, using smarter decision-making.

The actual maintenance data itself is located within 1710 NAS’s engineering and asset management system GOLDesp (from Tapestry Solutions, part of Boeing Global Services). However, GOLDesp was never really designed to be a data exploitation tool. “It was always a record of the maintenance that was done on the aircraft, in order to maintain it. So, the Motherlode project is about mining or exploiting the data within that system right across the defence aviation space, with the squadron providing repair modifications, material science, condition-based monitoring services and data exploitation for defence aviation.”

While the data, and the software previously used for recording that data, was perfectly adequate, the issue was how long it took to mine that data for exploitation purposes, for continuous improvement activity or for investigative purposes. “For example,” states Almond, “when it comes to the scheduled maintenance review for a helicopter, whereas it once took months to extract the data from the archive and analyse it, that now takes minutes, because the data is much more readily accessible through the Motherlode tool.”

Prior to Motherlode, data would come in a fairly raw format on Microsoft Excel, with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of rows and columns, points out Lieutenant Commander Oliver Burrows, monitoring deputy head and 1st lieutenant of 1710 Naval Air Squadron. “Manipulating spreadsheets is a cumbersome process and really we want our engineers spending as much time as possible solving problems, rather than working their way through lots of numbers. The new tool is very user friendly and intuitive, providing the right data, in the right format, that’s needed to make the right decisions. It’s changed things fundamentally.”


And the new system is widely employed. Rotary Wing platforms, such as Merlin, Wildcat, Chinook, Puma and Apache, as well as uncrewed aerial vehicles, will all use GOLDesp and Motherlode now or in the near future. And what Motherlode has brought particularly is congruence and unity of purpose. “Many different platforms were using the data, but in slightly different ways,” adds Burrows, “whereas now we have a common platform and user interface. That means numerous people can look at this data not just for their specific platform, but pan-platform and perform like-for-like comparisons in some cases, so it’s quite powerful from that perspective as well.”

Another advantage that Griffiths singles out is how the architectural design of Motherlode meant scaling up and adding additional platforms – whether that might be fixed or rotary wing – is relatively easy to do, with that architecture being in a cloud environment. “It’s all part of our goal of freeing up our engineers, so they can just access the data they need and kick on with the job – with the actual data analysis done elsewhere.”

The positive ongoing impact that Motherlode is having is evident, says Almond. “Initially, the concept was applied to just one aircraft type, but that has now been scaled up to five. Also, using machine learning, we’ve identified that there’s potential in scaling this even further, all of which serves to improve the readiness of the Royal Navy and defence aviation. The ultimate aim is to maximise the availability of our aircraft, so that we are always ready to deliver operations.

“We also need to confirm that the maintenance we are doing is safe, and where there may be potential inefficiencies. So, for instance, on Wildcat we’ve identified a number of scheduled maintenance activities that could be reviewed and reapportioned, with the potential to save 5,000 maintenance hours per year. That’s the sort of benefit we’re now achieving.”

What gives him most satisfaction is how Motherlode is helping to make working lives on the frontline – on the back of ships, for example – run that much more efficiently, helping to drive cultural change and positivity. “There’s a lot of anticipation around our next steps when it comes to maximising availability and improving readiness by taking our many data sources to the next level.”

Allen Hart, Microsoft UK defence client delivery partner, confirms that Motherlode has been “an exciting project for Microsoft and we hope this collaborative endeavour will help the Royal Navy maximise aircraft availability.”

Brian Wall

Related Companies
Royal Navy

This material is protected by MA Business copyright
See Terms and Conditions.
One-off usage is permitted but bulk copying is not.
For multiple copies contact the sales team.