Britain's Secret Engineers How to Build...


Britain's Secret Engineers

Documentary series. Workers at British defence contractor QinetiQ reveal a handful of their secretive projects, including robots to defuse roadside bombs.


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Transcript


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Many of the things that we work on are "mission critical".

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They save lives, they protect our troops.

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It's a big responsibility to carry.

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Our robots are silent stalkers

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and they see in the dark better than humans.

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The people that work at QinetiQ are all fairly technical

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and we've all got to be fairly secretive about what we do, so we're all nerds at heart.

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We all grew up studying science and technology.

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I know how important it is to get things done on time.

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If we keep these deadlines, the quicker they come out and can be used to save lives.

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I go home after a 12-hour day and I'll wake at 3.00am thinking about the aircraft.

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There's so much going on in your head, so much information and that is pressure, that's hard work.

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This Chinook helicopter is one the most important military aircraft in the world.

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200 of Britain's top aviation engineers have worked

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around the clock to rebuild it for the war in Afghanistan.

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Definitely a lot of extra pressure. It's a big milestone in the project

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and the last thing we want is any unservicabilities, due to us missing anything on the ground.

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This is what we're doing, we're making sure it is actually safe.

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I'll keep an eye on the instruments, if you're looking outside,

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so you do control and I'll do the engines.

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If we're going to have a problem, I'd like to have it at six inches, not 10 or 15 feet, it's much easier.

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Quite nervous, cos this is my first proper servicing.

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I've only just been trained up to do this, so quite nervous.

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It's an achievement, the amount of hours we put into it,

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doing the nights and days, being on the aircraft all the time.

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Coming to this final stage is good.

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It's taken the team ten months and nearly £9m.

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For all of them, today is a big day, as this Chinook will finally fly for the first time.

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The delivery of Aircraft Four is important,

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cos this is the day we prove that the aircraft flies, we've actually achieved the goal of the re-version.

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It will be good to see it in the air. The culmination of a lot of hard work.

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This is the story of the people who work

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on some of Britain's most secret and complicated engineering projects.

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QinetiQ is one of Britain's biggest defence contractors.

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The company isn't without its critics, but it does employ

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around 7,000 people in the UK alone.

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Most of their £1.5bn turnover comes from military technology.

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Controversial products to many, but the team here

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are trying to develop those innovations for civilian markets.

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QinetiQ's stock in trade is really intellectual property.

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We solve the problems that most people think about.

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It's quite interesting that 10% of our UK workforce have PhDs,

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so we employ a very strong group of very bright, clever people.

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QinetiQ work on classified government projects,

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so everybody is security cleared,

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at least as far as "restricted", often up to as far as "secret".

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There's not very many females in my field, but the great thing

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that I love about robots is that it really, really can save a life. It can take the human

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away from a dangerous situation,

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so the human never has to be exposed to a danger.

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I'm a mechanical technician by trade. Basically, I joined the Air Force back in 1991, Seven Squadron,

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and from there left and started working for QinetiQ on the Chinooks.

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That's everywhere from Norway, up in the Arctic, to Afghanistan,

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Bosnia, United Nations work, so I've seen and done a lot of operations with them.

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We spend time worrying about the things that are going to impact the country, both militarily

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and economically, in the future. We're a provider of good advice to governments all over the world.

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But the company has a controversial past.

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Originally a military research arm of the government - the real Qs of James Bond fame -

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in 2006, the company was floated on the stock exchange and two civil servants became multi-millionaires.

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Now the company operates under the commercial pressures of the private sector.

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Deep in the English countryside, in the heart of Salisbury Plain,

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is one of the company's key sites.

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Boscombe Down is a Ministry of Defence-owned facility,

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employing over 2,000 people.

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The men and women who work here

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develop and test cutting-edge technology.

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Today, one of the most important projects is the modification of Chinook Helicopters.

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They're being refitted for deployment into warzones around the world, including Afghanistan.

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Chinooks are one of the world's most iconic and powerful helicopters.

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They've been designed and built by American company Boeing since 1961.

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Used to transport troops and heavy loads, Chinooks can lift

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a double-decker bus or carry two Land Rovers in the back.

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The Chinook is used in a number of roles.

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It is in the basic resupply role at times, which is ammunition, food,

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bringing troops in and out of the operating base.

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It means less troops move on the ground

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and their exposure to roadside bombs and IEDs is reduced.

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And finally, and perhaps the most rewarding role, is casualty evacuation, which is not ideal to

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have to do it, but it does make the crew realise the value they bring.

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They pulled something like 1,000 people out off the battlefield just last year alone.

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The urgent need for Chinooks in Afghanistan hit the headlines

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when the government was criticised for not supplying enough.

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They actually owned eight new aircraft that had been mothballed

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because of problems in the way they were purchased.

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These Chinooks could not be cleared to fly.

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The only way to get them into service, and fast, was to replace their entire flight system.

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Three of the aircraft have already been delivered to the RAF. Work on the remaining five is underway.

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If the new Chinooks are going to fly safely,

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nearly every wire and electrical connection must be changed.

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A new cockpit is being installed and engines and fuel tanks are being refitted.

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Ship's Captain Si Jones is responsible for the delivery

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of the next Chinook - and he has only 12 weeks before it must fly.

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As you can see, major components are removed at the moment,

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fuel tanks are obviously removed, a lot of the bays are empty.

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We have a lot of work going on, a lot of technicians on the aircraft.

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So, when we get this completed,

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it will be quite a transformation inside here.

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Where these metal tie-down rings are down here is where the seats and seatbelt mount

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and then we can also fit ballistic protection, which would mount on the walls and floors also

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and on the sides, so that when they're operating in theatre,

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it gives the troops sensible protection.

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You've obviously got a crew of four that operate on these aircraft in normal situations.

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You'd have two pilots in the front, to the left and right positions, and you'd also have two crew men.

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In the left hand bay, the avionics bay, really is the heart of the aircraft, where the majority

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of the flight-critical computers are located.

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As you can see from the mounting points, there are seven shelves here

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and each one will be populated with flight computers and other

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flight-critical equipment - comms, radios, etc.

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That is what we call a "critical path area" within the build.

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Clearly, you can see one man can stand and work in that area, there's a huge amount of work.

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It's vital when we plan this project we've got enough time

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to complete the work in this area. You can't just chuck three or four men in a space that small.

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Avionics technician Jade Watson has recently returned

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from the front line and has now joined the Chinook team.

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Before, I was in the Air Force, so I was out on the ERT,

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which is emergency response team, where we do the casualty evacuation.

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Because of the experience I've had, I know how important it is to get things done on time.

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The more we keep deadlines, the quicker they come out,

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the quicker they can be used to save lives.

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This programme's been 24/7 now for

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somewhere in the region of 15 months, so we've been working flat out

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to accelerate the delivery of the aircraft for operational needs.

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Each aircraft goes through the same refit process.

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First, almost every piece of electronic equipment and almost

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every wire is removed, leaving an empty shell.

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Then, the inside of the aircraft is completely rebuilt from scratch.

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It will take the engineers here 60,000 man hours to replace

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six miles of wiring. And a host of new equipment needs to be installed before the helicopter can fly.

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The cockpit, at the moment, is now fairly populated, most of the wiring in.

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Power distribution panels, as you can see, to the left and right open, and then the main inter-seat

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and main console area is now populated with wiring,

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but the LRUs, the line replacement units, gauges, etc aren't fitted yet and the floors are still out.

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We'll now be starting the build-up in that area in the coming weeks.

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There's all the flying controls, you've got pedal boxes that would normally fit in here,

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then all your standard controls, cyclic and collective sticks,

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which give you flying control operation. So, lots of equipment.

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Ballpark figure, there's somewhere in the region of 15,000 or 16,000

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wires that have been replaced in the aircraft, so a huge number.

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And if you can imagine, a lot of the wires start at this end

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and go down to the back end. That's a lot of wiring.

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At the moment we're scrutinising all the looms, all the cables.

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It's not like a car where you can say, "It's OK, it'll do the job."

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Unfortunately, there's no hard shoulders at 30,000 feet, so everything has to be perfect.

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There's troops flying these things, so we need to know that they're going to do the job properly.

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They've got enough to worry about, without worrying if the Chinook's serviceable.

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I'd rather not have to worry about that if I was flying.

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It's personal pride, just to get it right, make sure everything fits,

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cos everyone is going to be looking at your work

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for years to come. It's just nice to see it flying...eventually(!)

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I joined the Air Force back in 1991.

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Been on Chinooks since leaving school.

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Back in 2001, just after September 11th, Boxing Day of 2001, we got a phone call, into work,

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and the next thing we knew, two days later

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we were landing in Afghanistan, starting the "war against terror".

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With QinetiQ, and any of the civilian contract environments,

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in reality, when you finish work for the day, you finish work for the day.

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You're a civvy, you're a normal person, but the forces environment,

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you're expected to be ready at any moment, really.

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The Chinooks are just one of many aviation projects people here are working on.

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And the site at Boscombe Down has been used to develop and test

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futuristic military aircraft since 1939.

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The team here regularly upgrade the UK's fleet of fighter jets

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and other aircraft, enhancing and testing their performance.

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Mechanical technician Gaz Fountain has worked on Boscombe's Chinook project for 10 months.

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This is our hanger, where we keep the aircraft.

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Come and have a look over here.

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Mind your head.

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If you want to stay here a minute, you'll see this is the flight line here.

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If you look through those two jets starting up you'll see a green tower, that's air traffic control.

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And that hanger to your right-hand side, that's where they prep

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the cabs ready for flight and do scheduled minor servicing on them.

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It's a big old unit Boscombe Down, you've got the fixed wing,

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the fast jets, a training school for the pilots

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and they do a lot of testing for things which haven't been used on aircraft before.

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It may be an uncomfortable fact of life, but wartime innovation can and does drive breakthroughs

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in civilian technology, like thermal imagining used by rescue helicopters and new aircraft radar systems.

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In the future, unmanned aircraft controlled from the ground,

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could be used for crop spraying, traffic reporting or surveillance.

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The site also has the UK's only test pilot's school,

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where some of the world's best pilots and flight engineers

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test themselves, and aircraft, to their limits.

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The engineers and pilots are even working together to improve flight navigation

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and the possibility of the pilot commanding unmanned aircraft, whilst flying their own jet.

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This is effectively your command and control on the ground, so all

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of these assets and the command and control and Tiara are connected to each other via tactical data link.

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To exploit lucrative new markets, QinetiQ often takes

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military technology and adapts it to worldwide problems.

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Many of things that we work on are "mission critical".

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They save lives, they protect our troops,

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they keep us in forward operations. It's a big responsibility to carry,

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but the fun part about a company like this is that there are so many

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innovative, clever, technological ideas that spin out of that work.

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By 2020, the UK must increase its green energy production from 2% to 15%.

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And as we're Europe's windiest country, harnessing this resource

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could be the key to helping us meet this target.

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A single onshore wind turbine can meet the energy needs of 1,100 households a year.

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But there is a serious problem with them.

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Across the country, the construction of thousands of turbines, enough to provide power for 3.4m homes,

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are on hold, because of the unique effect they have on aviation radar.

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Air traffic controllers use bounced radar pulses to locate moving objects.

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Because of their spinning blades, turbines reflect these pulses in the same way as an aeroplane,

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so air traffic control can't distinguish between a wind farm and a rogue moving aircraft.

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At the moment, the problem is vast.

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Up to six gigawatts of power is being held up in the process,

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because of the aviation problem.

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There is a huge pressure on everybody to get this problem solved.

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The aviation problem affects many different stakeholders in the aviation community.

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On the MoD side, we have RAF bases and they have air traffic

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control services and air defence services to safeguard.

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Also, we have civil airports and then, on top of that, we have NATS,

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who are responsible for the on-route services, the transatlantic flights that don't even stop here.

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It really is like a motorway in the sky.

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But now engineers believe they may have found the solution...

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..stealth technology.

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For over six decades, they've been working on ways to make boats and planes "disappear" from enemy radar

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and now the team are applying these techniques to the wind turbine problem.

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-Ready?

-Yeah.

-Clear, yeah, its looking good. Round about 30 DBs.

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'Stealth is the shape of the vehicle and the materials it is made of.'

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You either reflect the signal away from the radar that's looking for it

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in a different direction and you do that by

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by shaping the aircraft or ship, or you make it out of something

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that absorbs the energy sent out by the radar.

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QinetiQ don't build wind turbines, so they're working with

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one of the world's biggest turbine manufacturers, Danish company Vestas, to solve the problem.

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It's been a hugely complex challenge.

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Because every inch of a turbine blade has been precisely engineered for maximum performance,

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the shape, weight or manufacturing process can't be changed.

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Engineers here are working on a special solution

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to add stealth material layers into the composite skins of the blades.

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Almost weightless, but complex.

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These guys are just measuring

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and marking the position of the various materials,

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so we get them in the right place.

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It's important that we put these materials to within

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a few millimetres, otherwise we could upset the later joining of the two parts of the mould.

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It's nice to get away from computer models of what we're doing

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and work with these guys and see it coming together as a component.

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The composition of these layers is a closely-guarded secret, but they work by absorbing most of

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the radar pulses, so only a very small amount is reflected back.

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With the weakened returned pulse, the turbines become distinguishable from aircraft to radar operators.

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Initial tests are positive and the teams are now building

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what will become the world's first "stealth turbine".

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The success of this project could mean cleaner energy for everyone,

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with a British company at the forefront of a multi-billion pound expansion worldwide.

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Stealth turbines are one of an increasing number of civilian projects in development.

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But this company still relies on the Ministry of Defence

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for most of its contracts and has been working with Boeing to deliver the helicopters on time.

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These Mark 3 Chinooks also have upgraded fuel tanks.

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Gaz Fountain is in charge of preparing them before they can be refitted.

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You all right, boys?

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Double the size of standard fuel tanks, the Chinooks exact range is a closely-guarded secret.

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Each tank is lined with a large rubber bag, that is divided by baffles into five sections.

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These stop the fuel swilling back and forward when the aircraft climbs or dives.

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And today, one of the fuel pipes inside this tank needs replacing,

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so Gaz will have to crawl inside to sort it out.

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It's not a nice job and breathing in aircraft fuel vapour can be deadly,

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so the site's fire service is on standby, in case things go wrong.

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Hopefully, I've got this mask on, so I won't be able to smell a thing, but it does smell pretty, er,

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imagine being at a petrol pump, filling your car up - it's ten times worse, basically.

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It smells nice for a while, but, no, it's not the best smell in the world.

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We've got this equipment here, which the fireman have provided,

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forced oxygen, they do all their checks before I go in, anyway.

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-All right, buddy?

-Let's do it.

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I've got a first aid kit, with general first aid equipment.

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We also have an oxygen bottle just in case he collapses in there.

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We keep that handy. A gas monitor, which is in the tank

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at the moment, that's monitoring the levels inside.

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And we've also brought along this

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little electrical cotton saw. We will try and take him out manually

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and if we can't, absolute last case scenario,

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we will hack away at this carbon fibre chassis to get him out.

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To stop the fumes from building up dangerously, a second hatch is opened at the other end of the tank.

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Gaz will have to be careful, as the tank is packed full of delicate fittings.

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The cramped conditions and vapours mean it's only safe for him to stay inside for 20 minutes at a time.

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-Backtrack.

-See you at the other end.

-OK.

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Head clear.

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Toasty... Very toasty!

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With Gaz's new fuel pipe installed, the aircraft's tanks are ready to be fitted.

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You've obviously got a very, very close fitting tank and you've got areas like very delicate strings,

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beams, IFIS beams that it mounts on, and the guys have actually got be careful they don't damage anything.

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This is probably one of the most time consuming and awkward jobs within the tank section.

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It's very easy to cause damage, so it requires a large team of guys and a lot of careful supervision.

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A tense moment for the whole team - and Gaz, in particular.

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Stop, you need to go down a touch.

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Down, down... Down about half an inch.

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Where the bag tank is supported inside by para chord strings. If they were to be sheared,

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which they could do by just touching the structure, the tank would have to be reworked,

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the tank would have to come back off and the strings would be replaced.

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You're looking at a couple of hundred man hours of work, clearly a lot of time, effort and money, to boot.

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Down. Down.

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It's a very delicate operation. Once it's in position,

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they've got the laborious task of bolting it up, which will then take

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a further five or six hours to get the tank installed, so it's a long process.

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OK, I think we need to give the guys a bit of breathing space now.

0:26:390:26:43

It's at a point where it's make or break with getting the tank fitted.

0:26:430:26:48

Stop!

0:26:500:26:51

With the fuel tanks almost in place, Gaz can finally go home.

0:26:530:26:58

That's me done and dusted. Probably going to just shoot off. The lads will meet us down the pub

0:26:580:27:04

for a quick half, then get a good night's kip, ready for tomorrow. Long day again.

0:27:040:27:08

I start in the dark and then come back and it's dark again,

0:27:080:27:11

so not much goes on, really, feel a bit like a vampire.

0:27:110:27:15

This is my first contract away since we've had our little nipper.

0:27:150:27:19

It's the longest period of time away from my partner and kids, so...

0:27:190:27:23

Like Gaz, most of the Chinook workforce have been specially recruited because of their expertise

0:27:260:27:31

and that can mean working and living away from home.

0:27:310:27:36

They come in after work and we talk about

0:27:360:27:38

our grandchildren, who are four and five,

0:27:380:27:40

and they tell us what their children did at the weekend.

0:27:400:27:43

I suppose it makes them feel that their families are a bit nearer.

0:27:430:27:47

It can be tough. I live 100 miles away.

0:27:490:27:52

Basically, work and live for each weekend.

0:27:520:27:55

Home sweet home.

0:28:080:28:10

It's a little bit on the old chilly side, but the radiators soon warm that up.

0:28:100:28:15

Right, I'm having a brew. See you later, lads.

0:28:190:28:22

At the company's Farnborough HQ, over 2,000 scientists and researchers

0:28:410:28:46

are tackling complex engineering problems,

0:28:460:28:49

from the vastness of space, to sub-atomic particles.

0:28:490:28:53

Thrusters are being developed, which it is hoped can propel

0:29:040:29:07

space craft to the outer limits of the solar system.

0:29:070:29:09

Nano-materials are being created that could change the way we manufacture everyday objects.

0:29:090:29:15

Flight simulators are blurring the line between reality and computer-generated fantasy.

0:29:160:29:23

And the performance and durability of cutting-edge equipment

0:29:270:29:30

is being tested under the most extreme conditions.

0:29:300:29:34

And it's here that an established military device is being developed for civilian use.

0:29:420:29:47

So, it's quite simple, that's battery levels, video signal,

0:29:470:29:51

video signal level there, which is useful. Obviously you've got a video channel.

0:29:510:29:56

To expand this area of the business and build on the UK robotic team,

0:29:590:30:03

the company needed to seek out some of the world's top robotic talent.

0:30:030:30:08

3,000 miles away from their UK HQ, in a sleepy suburb of Massachusetts,

0:30:270:30:32

is the company's robotic division of North America.

0:30:320:30:36

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are forcing engineers here

0:30:390:30:42

to continually redesign their robots to deal with the latest threats.

0:30:420:30:48

Firing.

0:30:480:30:49

To date, 3000 Talon robots have been sent to Afghanistan

0:30:510:30:54

and the Middle East, to help in the fight against roadside bombs.

0:30:540:30:58

Our defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt has been talking

0:30:580:31:01

to the men and women who risk their lives to save others.

0:31:010:31:05

-REPORTER:

-The single biggest killer of British troops in Helmand - the roadside bomb.

0:31:070:31:12

Some 80% of British deaths at the hands of the Taliban are down to these -

0:31:120:31:16

improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

0:31:160:31:19

Talon robots are used to reduce the risk to soldiers' lives.

0:31:210:31:26

When cell phones and garage door openers

0:31:260:31:29

created a command-detonated IED explosion,

0:31:290:31:33

service members needed to go with a robotic piece of equipment,

0:31:330:31:38

rather than going up by hand to dismantle the roadside bomb.

0:31:380:31:42

Here, the teams produce an army of up to 100 robots every single month.

0:31:420:31:48

-We need to get the guys lined up on that and get the kits onto the floor.

-Absolutely.

0:31:480:31:53

And be able to go from there, so...

0:31:530:31:55

Derek Daly is in charge of the production line.

0:31:560:31:58

We keep a reminder on our manufacturing floor here of exactly why we come to work everyday.

0:31:590:32:06

This is an inspiration for us all, because obviously without this tool

0:32:060:32:12

that would have meant that either a first responder and or soldier would have had to suit up and go

0:32:120:32:17

down-range and deal with the threat, with potential loss of life or limb.

0:32:170:32:21

This particular system is obviously scrap, but wherever we can,

0:32:210:32:25

if we can repair and or save any of the materials from this to go into another robot to help

0:32:250:32:31

repair another robot and get that back into the fight, we do that too.

0:32:310:32:34

A couple of systems here that have genuine Iraqi sand on board.

0:32:360:32:40

They're back for an overhaul. They'll get refurbished a bit, get cleaned up and get ready to go.

0:32:400:32:45

And we also have to demilitarise any systems that get damaged by IEDs and the like.

0:32:450:32:52

In this factory, specialists modify the robots for the specific job they'll be asked to do.

0:32:560:33:01

Talons are built to be repaired in battle,

0:33:070:33:10

so their major parts can be removed quickly using fast release pins.

0:33:100:33:15

The robots enable soldiers to keep a safe distance,

0:33:180:33:22

12,000 metres away, from explosive devices.

0:33:220:33:24

There's a misconception about the use of robots on the battlefield.

0:33:300:33:34

there are no autonomous robots on it, making their own decisions.

0:33:340:33:38

They are human-operated machines, where the human decides

0:33:380:33:43

where it goes, how fast it goes, what it does when it gets there.

0:33:430:33:46

It allows a soldier on the battlefield

0:33:460:33:48

to have an arm that is a mile long.

0:33:480:33:51

Most of Talon's design specifications

0:33:530:33:55

are a closely guarded secret, but their electric motors are powerful enough to pull a small car.

0:33:550:34:01

They're equipped with up to four hi-spec cameras, allowing their operators a 360 degree view.

0:34:040:34:10

And with infrared and night vision, Talons can see in the dark.

0:34:100:34:14

Our robots own the night.

0:34:150:34:18

They are silent stalkers and they see in the dark, so the vision systems are hugely important,

0:34:180:34:25

that they are capable of seeing better than humans in the dark.

0:34:250:34:31

The Talon uses a manoeuvrable gripper and arm to perform its tasks.

0:34:310:34:36

A key design feature is that it can be replaced quickly and easily.

0:34:360:34:40

New arms are attached to the robot in less than 20 minutes,

0:34:400:34:43

because that arm is what gets blown up many, many, many times.

0:34:430:34:47

We want an expendable hand.

0:34:500:34:52

But these robots are not just used on the battlefield.

0:34:570:35:00

They can be modified to enter other deadly environments.

0:35:000:35:04

Jen Pagani is a sensor specialist, who has worked with robots for six years.

0:35:040:35:09

She's currently adapting them to be used by civilian rescue services.

0:35:110:35:16

This quick release rack has an array of detection instruments.

0:35:160:35:19

One of the sensors is toxic industrial chemical detector.

0:35:190:35:23

Another sensor is a radiation detector and then we have a detection instrument

0:35:230:35:28

that is a confined space gas monitor so it will detect combustible gases and other gas-type threats.

0:35:280:35:34

We also have a temperature sensor on this specific robot, as well.

0:35:340:35:39

Thank you.

0:35:390:35:40

We're just going to verify all of the detection instruments

0:35:410:35:44

are communicating back to the operator control unit. Test one.

0:35:440:35:49

BLEEPING

0:35:490:35:51

-Communications check.

-Check.

0:35:510:35:54

-Clear check.

-Check.

0:35:540:35:57

The gases Talon detects are so deadly, Jen must use

0:35:570:36:00

a safe chemical substitute, to check its sensors are working.

0:36:000:36:05

-Communications check.

-Check.

-Clear.

-Clear.

-OK.

0:36:050:36:11

Jen has been working with her colleagues in the UK on this new project.

0:36:140:36:18

It will tell you chlorine, it will tell you carbon dioxide,

0:36:180:36:21

but it'll also tell you your combustible limits, as well.

0:36:210:36:24

Could we put a different sensor with it or would that be complicated?

0:36:240:36:28

We'll get that right over to you and test it out.

0:36:280:36:32

It would be great to hear feedback of which sensor they like better.

0:36:320:36:35

-OK, I'll let you know how we get on when we get it.

-Thanks, Rob, talk to you soon.

0:36:350:36:39

This work means Talon robots are now being deployed on the streets of the UK.

0:36:460:36:50

In London, a specialist team are already on 24-hour standby to be called to industrial fires.

0:36:520:36:59

The idea is that we're a hazardous materials response team,

0:37:000:37:03

so that if the fire brigade encounters a situation where any hazardous materials are involved,

0:37:030:37:09

we can give them a stand-off to keep their guys safe, by deploying robotic vehicles.

0:37:090:37:13

Talon and its big brother Bison

0:37:170:37:18

are operated from a custom-fitted vehicle.

0:37:180:37:21

So, this is the command centre of the van, so we can record

0:37:290:37:32

all the video feeds from all the robots, including the van cameras,

0:37:320:37:36

and everything that's going on automatically for forensic evidence,

0:37:360:37:40

if the fire brigade needs it at a later date.

0:37:400:37:43

If this London experiment works, we could see Talon robots

0:37:450:37:48

dealing with deadly chemical incidents across the whole of the country.

0:37:480:37:52

We're basically on a monthly contract where we could get called out any time of day, 24 hours a day.

0:37:560:38:01

I'm part of the team that's on call, so I have to keep my mobile switched on and stay off the beer!

0:38:010:38:07

Just like Rob, Jen just can't stop thinking about robots.

0:38:110:38:17

I have been continuing my education at night,

0:38:170:38:20

so within a month or two, I'll have my Masters in Mechanical Engineering.

0:38:200:38:26

Everyone thinks that I'm an ultimate geek, you know. "The robotics engineer"!

0:38:260:38:32

Isn't geek in now, I think?

0:38:320:38:34

Is it cool to be a geek yet? I don't know.

0:38:340:38:37

We all make fun of each other, really, in terms of the people who work at QinetiQ.

0:38:420:38:46

We're all fairly technical

0:38:460:38:49

and we've all got to be secretive about what we do,

0:38:490:38:52

so we're all nerds at heart,

0:38:520:38:54

we all grew up studying science and technology, so we were always the geeks at school, but trying

0:38:540:39:00

to make up for it by drumming in a band and things like that, you know.

0:39:000:39:04

Tuesday nights are normally our band practice nights, I'm in a band outside of work.

0:39:040:39:08

There's a load of guys from QinetiQ who got together

0:39:080:39:12

and formed a six-piece party band called Surrender Dorothy.

0:39:120:39:15

We play all sorts really, but we try and play the covers that people want to hear.

0:39:150:39:20

With the combined brain power of six of the company's graduates,

0:39:200:39:23

this is quite possibly Britain's brainiest band!

0:39:230:39:26

# Play that funky music, white boy

0:39:260:39:30

# Play that funky music right

0:39:310:39:36

# Play that funky music, white boy

0:39:360:39:40

# Lay down and boogie

0:39:400:39:42

# And play that funky music till you die... #

0:39:420:39:47

For Si Jones and the Chinook team, social lives have been put on hold.

0:39:480:39:51

It's too early. Holly appreciates the company first thing,

0:39:520:39:56

but even she goes straight back to bed, so the rest of the house is in darkness.

0:39:560:40:00

Sarah sort of rolls over when I get up and then straight back to sleep.

0:40:020:40:06

It's the school holidays. I don't think anyone will surface before 9am.

0:40:060:40:09

I'll have done three hours work by the time they get up.

0:40:090:40:13

It's an early start, but you just get on with it.

0:40:130:40:17

All the team are keen to work around the clock to get the Chinooks into service as quickly as possible.

0:40:230:40:29

The task managers, which are like the main supervisors on the aircraft,

0:40:290:40:33

they start shift an hour before me.

0:40:330:40:37

So, a good friend of mine, Bryan, he will be getting up about 4.30am, leaving at 5am to be in for 6am.

0:40:370:40:43

I normally start for 7am and then he'll work through till handover's complete at 7pm,

0:40:430:40:48

so they're doing 13-hour days, plus travelling as well, and the technicians are doing

0:40:480:40:53

much the same, 12-hour shifts, a lot of hours put in by a lot of people.

0:40:530:40:56

Today, the team are about to tackle a really critical part of the refit.

0:41:080:41:13

Everyone is feeling the pressure and there is no room for error.

0:41:140:41:19

Divided into two shifts, day and night, this is a 24/7 operation.

0:41:190:41:25

The second pedal box co-pilot went in last night.

0:41:270:41:30

There's a couple of bits and pieces to wrap up on that to allow the interconnect rods

0:41:300:41:35

between co-pilot's and pilot's pedal boxes to be fitted and 2,028 connections were also completed.

0:41:350:41:41

-The hoist we talked about yesterday, did that go through QA OK?

-I haven't spoken to the guys.

0:41:410:41:46

Can we find that out? If it does, we need to get the de-graph guys

0:41:460:41:50

lined up to come and have a look.

0:41:500:41:51

We'll have to have a look to see and get that sorted.

0:41:510:41:54

With almost all the flight system wiring replaced,

0:41:540:41:58

the interior work can begin. First, the communications instruments can be fitted.

0:41:580:42:02

-Paul, how you doing?

-Yeah, good thanks.

0:42:020:42:04

Just an update on the AV bay. How we getting on with pitostatics?

0:42:040:42:07

Pitostatics, we're nearly in. We've got this lot up here to do, about half a day to do that.

0:42:070:42:13

We're about 95% done on the connections, it's just the gap on the corner where they come in.

0:42:130:42:20

That's a fairly big old connection.

0:42:200:42:22

Rest of the stuff we've shrunk down, done the floor, so...

0:42:220:42:25

And as soon as that's finished, we'll get the shelves in.

0:42:250:42:28

The cockpit instruments mirror each other.

0:42:280:42:31

one set for the pilot and another for the co-pilot, mean either can fly the aircraft.

0:42:310:42:36

We're putting these in now

0:42:360:42:38

just to trial fit, to make sure all the plugs reach,

0:42:380:42:41

that they've got the right plugs on

0:42:410:42:43

or that the right instruments have been supplied.

0:42:430:42:46

The instruments will be powered up and tested independently.

0:42:460:42:50

With the comms and flight instruments in place,

0:42:510:42:54

the complete electrical system needs testing, luckily, not by hand.

0:42:540:42:59

This custom-built machine analyses over 20,000 wires and flags up any faults it finds.

0:42:590:43:06

It should take about two minutes to do all the pins,

0:43:060:43:10

which is about 2,600 odd.

0:43:100:43:12

Each click you can hear is the pulses going down.

0:43:120:43:17

At the moment, fingers crossed, we've got no errors apparent. It's all good.

0:43:170:43:22

The DTMCO tester was originally designed for drive-in movie theatres.

0:43:220:43:26

I think it was such a clever bit of kit for testing wiring,

0:43:260:43:31

it's been developed into aircraft use now and is used extensively across the aircraft industry.

0:43:310:43:36

It's not just military aircraft, I think Airbus and all that sort of stuff use it.

0:43:360:43:41

It's an automatic way of checking what is a huge amount of wiring on an aircraft very quickly.

0:43:410:43:45

With any luck, it will just be one more 82 P7

0:43:450:43:50

-and the probe, which we'll flag up, and that'll be us.

-Brilliant.

0:43:500:43:54

The Chinook re-fit is one of the company's highest-profile projects

0:43:560:44:00

and Chief Executive Leo Quinn takes a close interest.

0:44:000:44:05

This looks so much more advanced now.

0:44:050:44:07

It's amazing what's happened in the last two or three months. It doesn't look like the same helicopter.

0:44:070:44:12

All the flight controls are now in, all the flying control build up, all through the closet now is done.

0:44:140:44:19

I think we're looking at getting the rigging started,

0:44:190:44:22

possibly on night shift tonight.

0:44:220:44:24

'The pressure on these guys at this moment of time is tremendous.

0:44:240:44:28

'They're working 24/7, and, with that sort of pressure,

0:44:280:44:33

'it's important that we strike a sense of balance'

0:44:330:44:35

and it doesn't go so far we end up with unnecessary accidents

0:44:350:44:40

or people are put under too much strain and pressure.

0:44:400:44:43

So it's really important to deliver on the Chinook helicopters,

0:44:430:44:46

to deliver a safe and healthy environment and also to make sure that people do get some rest.

0:44:460:44:53

But throughout the project, all the team have been acutely aware of just how important their work is.

0:45:000:45:05

This has been the bloodiest month for NATO forces in Afghanistan,

0:45:070:45:11

leading to questions, not just in Britain, over whether the sacrifices are worth it.

0:45:110:45:15

As the death toll rises, the government here has come under

0:45:150:45:18

increasing pressure over resources and equipment for the British troops fighting in Afghanistan.

0:45:180:45:24

The pressure levels here are huge.

0:45:240:45:26

I go home after a 12-hour day and I'll wake up at 3.00am thinking about the aircraft.

0:45:260:45:30

That's not normal for a job. There's so much going on in your head. There's so much information there.

0:45:300:45:35

And that is pressure. That's hard work.

0:45:350:45:38

We know what we've got to do. We know what we've got to deliver.

0:45:380:45:42

If you take a couple of days off for the weekend,

0:45:420:45:44

come Sunday night, you know you're going to be out of the loop.

0:45:440:45:47

Two days is a long time in here.

0:45:470:45:49

In two days, we're achieving, what, 48 hours-worth of work.

0:45:490:45:53

It's a 24/7 environment, so in any normal environment

0:45:530:45:57

that's a week's worth of work happened in those two days you've been off.

0:45:570:46:00

So coming in at 6.00am on a Monday morning, so much could have changed.

0:46:000:46:04

So many problems could have developed, or you could have

0:46:040:46:07

achieved a lot. The pressure's there.

0:46:070:46:09

With the clock ticking, the aircraft is ready for its blades to be fitted.

0:46:270:46:32

It's a delicate job - each blade costs up to £150,000.

0:46:340:46:40

This is the last stage of the build that could really jeopardise delivery.

0:46:400:46:44

Lift up square to start with, yeah?

0:46:450:46:48

We'll be going straight up.

0:46:480:46:49

As we get to well clear of the staging, we'll get the nod from Brian that we're clear of the staging.

0:46:490:46:55

I want you then to walk the blade in.

0:46:550:46:57

-Bri, do you want to receive the blade coming in this way?

-That's fine.

0:46:570:47:01

Once Brian's got a firm hold on this, you'll then be able to release that and go to the centre section.

0:47:010:47:06

You'll possibly need to do some jiggling when you get it up there.

0:47:060:47:10

Walk it round to him.

0:47:220:47:23

Rotor brake's off, Bri.

0:47:260:47:28

Basically, the guys are about to align the actual blade root tip into the housing.

0:47:330:47:39

And then the big silver portion you can see,

0:47:390:47:41

that's the blade pin, the pin that holds the rotor blade on.

0:47:410:47:45

This is obviously a tricky moment now, getting it all aligned, and then the blade will slot into the housing.

0:47:450:47:51

See the lines, literally, above and below, in line with the sling,

0:47:510:47:56

that's the centre of gravity of the blade, so we know exactly where to put it on there.

0:47:560:48:00

Too far either way, it wouldn't sit square and wouldn't fit.

0:48:000:48:03

Now they're just wiggling it, to align all the seats of the blade pin.

0:48:060:48:11

These rotor blades are big, heavy bits of kit,

0:48:110:48:14

on average, 380lbs each in weight, so heavy blades. It's quite a time-consuming task.

0:48:140:48:21

On now.

0:48:230:48:24

Does it need to come down a touch more now, Bri?

0:48:260:48:29

OK, come out of that.

0:48:300:48:31

What blade's next?

0:48:330:48:35

You have got...green. Shout when you're ready, Bri.

0:48:350:48:38

Working as a team is crucial to get this job right.

0:48:400:48:44

The blade-lifting crane can't move, so the aircraft is turned around

0:48:570:49:01

before the front blades are fitted.

0:49:010:49:03

But with a 100-metre turning circle, it's not a simple task.

0:49:030:49:07

The nature and size of the blades, as you can see, it's a big sweep.

0:49:270:49:30

You've got to be very careful, because obviously if you hit a blade on staging or whatever,

0:49:300:49:35

they're made of composites, so they'll damage.

0:49:350:49:37

They are very tough blades.

0:49:370:49:39

They're designed to withstand bullet rounds, but we're not meant to be dinking them into anything,

0:49:390:49:44

so a lot of care is taken when we move them.

0:49:440:49:46

Most helicopters use a vertical tail rotor to stop the body of the aircraft spinning.

0:50:010:50:06

Instead, Chinooks have two sets of main blades.

0:50:060:50:10

The blades interweave, but are attached by a drive shaft and timed so they don't swing into each other.

0:50:100:50:17

To make the aircraft stable, if one tries to spin clockwise

0:50:170:50:21

and the other anti-clockwise, it will balance each other out.

0:50:210:50:24

So forward and aft heads, one going one way and one going the other and it just balances out.

0:50:240:50:29

This means a Chinook's centre of gravity is larger, making them more stable, so they can lift more.

0:50:290:50:36

The aircraft weighs over ten tonnes and it will pick up about ten tonnes, so about 20 tons of lift is a lot.

0:50:360:50:43

But at the end of the day, each one of these is the same as an aerofoil on an aircraft,

0:50:430:50:47

like a normal wing, and you've got six wings effectively, so they'll generate a huge amount of lift.

0:50:470:50:54

With its blades fitted, the Chinook will enter its final phase of safety checks.

0:50:550:51:00

Then it will face its greatest challenge -

0:51:000:51:03

will it fly?

0:51:030:51:04

Finally, after ten months, Aircraft Four's refit is complete.

0:51:170:51:22

It's been kitted out to precise RAF specifications,

0:51:240:51:29

ready to move troops and equipment across the battlefield.

0:51:290:51:32

And now, it's about to be put to the ultimate test -

0:51:320:51:37

its first takeoff and flight.

0:51:370:51:41

We're doing a before flight servicing.

0:51:410:51:43

You don't miss anything out then, so everything gets checked

0:51:430:51:47

before it's ready to go out onto the line.

0:51:470:51:49

I'll be at the top, checking the lag dampers on the rotor heads,

0:51:490:51:54

just checking the irons, just a general inspection.

0:51:540:51:57

Make sure they are clean and undamaged.

0:51:570:51:59

As I'm looking in, I'm just making sure there's nothing

0:51:590:52:02

that can obstruct, there's no leaks from these here,

0:52:020:52:06

which are the brake cables, and make sure it all looks good, basically, nothing's interfering.

0:52:060:52:11

Obviously, the environment we're in now is a flight environment, so the aircraft's going to be

0:52:110:52:16

going for a flight, so if anything spotted, we can prevent an accident.

0:52:160:52:20

There's people's lives at stake. It's going to be the air crew.

0:52:200:52:23

It's a big machine to be flying around in if something gets missed.

0:52:230:52:27

I'm quite nervous. This is my first proper servicing.

0:52:270:52:30

I've only just been trained up to do this, so quite nervous.

0:52:300:52:34

Everyone on the Chinook project knows their skills and efforts are about to be put to the test.

0:52:490:52:54

Once you see it flying, you look up and see it and think,

0:52:550:52:58

"I had a part in that. Some of my work's flying out there".

0:52:580:53:01

Yeah, it's good. At the end of the day,

0:53:010:53:03

it's a little bit of self-satisfaction in the job you do,

0:53:030:53:07

what you're putting together and the quality of the job.

0:53:070:53:10

Being ex-service, I understand where they're going to

0:53:100:53:13

and, obviously, the importance of them and how much they're needed.

0:53:130:53:16

So, yeah, in a way it'll be good to see them out there actually doing what they've been built for.

0:53:160:53:21

And for Si Jones, this is the most important day of the year.

0:53:260:53:30

For the delivery of Aircraft Four, it's one of the most important days,

0:53:330:53:37

because this is the day we prove the aircraft flies and we've actually achieved the goal of the reversion.

0:53:370:53:42

All the hard work that's gone on over the last many months has obviously culminated in actually getting

0:53:420:53:48

this aircraft in the air and making it a safe and airworthy aircraft. That's the key.

0:53:480:53:52

It'll be good to see it in the air - the culmination of a lot of hard work.

0:53:520:53:56

The pilots and ground crew have spent hours meticulously planning the test flight.

0:53:590:54:03

I'll just keep an eye open

0:54:040:54:05

for any torque fluctuations or any problems on the PTIT.

0:54:050:54:11

I'll keep an eye on the instruments. You do control and I'll do engines.

0:54:110:54:15

OK. And if there's a problem, just say "abort"

0:54:150:54:17

-and rather than slam the controls down, I'll just ease them down.

-OK.

0:54:170:54:22

If we're going to have a problem, I'd like to have it at six inches,

0:54:220:54:25

not 10-15 feet. It's just much easier.

0:54:250:54:27

It's taken hundreds of people almost a year to rebuild,

0:54:470:54:52

and now the aircraft is in the hands of just two men.

0:54:520:54:56

All day, I've been going through what if scenarios and thinking about

0:54:590:55:04

"OK, what if this happens, what if that fails, what have I got to do if I see this?"

0:55:040:55:09

Ordinarily on a typical flight, you don't typically do that until you sit in the airplane.

0:55:090:55:15

But when you have a first flight, first programme, I start thinking about that very early.

0:55:150:55:19

I was a US Marine for 23 years, retired, was in the first Gulf War,

0:55:190:55:25

actually with a ground unit. I know exactly who the customer is.

0:55:250:55:29

The customer is the young enlisted man, the young officer

0:55:290:55:32

who's leading foot patrols, who's on a truck tour or a truck patrol.

0:55:320:55:36

Getting him off those roads and up in a helicopter moving

0:55:360:55:40

from point A to point B is absolutely the most important thing.

0:55:400:55:43

I'm really proud to be part of the process that's getting these aircraft

0:55:430:55:48

there as quickly as possible, in the best possible condition they can be in.

0:55:480:55:52

Batteries on, APU is off, compass is set two zero zero.

0:56:290:56:34

OK, one-zero-one-two is set and I have two-one-zero.

0:56:340:56:38

OK, I have the first brake check.

0:56:470:56:49

Power's coming in now.

0:56:520:56:54

There's no going back now.

0:57:020:57:04

The quality and the level of work put in by the guys is superb.

0:57:260:57:29

A lot of dedication from the ground crew, air crew and the whole team.

0:57:290:57:33

If there'd been any real problems, it would have been on the ground

0:57:330:57:36

straight away, so it seems to be going well.

0:57:360:57:39

With its first flight a success, this Chinook will now face

0:57:460:57:50

a full month of further testing, before being ready for active duty.

0:57:500:57:54

But for Britain's Secret Engineers, the clock is still ticking.

0:57:540:57:58

Tomorrow, they'll begin work as usual,

0:57:580:58:02

ensuring that the next helicopters are delivered to the frontline as quickly as possible.

0:58:020:58:07

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:360:58:39

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:390:58:42

If you need to build a top-secret piece of equipment in the UK, there's one place many people choose to go: defence contractor QinetiQ.

We follow workers at this leading British company on a global journey, as they reveal a handful of their secretive projects. We meet the scientists and engineers building robots to defuse Afghanistan's deadly roadside bombs and learn how they're adapting them to help in dangerous civilian situations in the UK. We find out how British experts are using stealth technology to make wind turbines less visible to radar and, with unprecedented access, we follow the engineers racing to get Chinook helicopters ready for frontline service, including Afghanistan.


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