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ROV Pilot Technician

Leighton Rolley

From a very young age Leighton Rolley had been interested in shipwrecks, underwater exploration and the technology which was being used to make this possible.

It was this early enthusiasm that influenced Leighton’s choices at school and latterly his decision to study Computing Science at the University of Glamorgan.  As part of his BSc, he undertook an industrial placement year at Southampton Oceanography Centre (now the National Oceanography Centre) which reignited his passion for the deep sea.

Intensive ROV pilot technician training

On completion of his degree, Leighton accepted a position with the National Oceanography Centre supporting science operations in remote parts of the globe on board the Royal Research Ship, the James Cook, where he gained his first encounter working with ROVs.

This experience led him to The Underwater Centre, Fort William, where he completed the three-week intensive ROV Pilot Technician Course to train for a new career.

‘Unlike the commercial sector my original interest was to use ROVs as a means to explore underwater archaeological and scientific sites,’ he said. ‘This area really grabbed my interest, even as child growing up in the 1980s when ROVs like Jason Jnr were being used to explore the Titanic.

‘The mixture of exploration and technology really got me interested in pursuing a career supporting ROVs and science in remote parts of the planet. How could a kid not be excited by this technology being used to explore the oceans when his Commodore 64 took 45 minutes to load?

Easy to understand and practical hydraulics trainingLeighton Rolley The Underwater Centre Fort William ROV Pilot Tech student (2)

‘The course at The Underwater Centre taught me about many areas that I didn’t have any experience in. Before attending the Centre I had no experience with hydraulics, and this really removed some of the mystery, which was explained in an easy to understand way.’

Leighton is now working with the Schmidt Ocean Institute and travels the world in his role as Lead Marine Technician on-board the research vessel, the Falkor.

However, his crowning moment was when he led a successful expedition to find the Terra Nova, the ship which had been used by the polar explorer Robert Falcon Scott on his ill-fated attempt to be the first person to reach the South Pole.

‘As a child who liked shipwreck stories I grew up seeing these memorials and I always wondered what happened to the ship that Captain Scott and his team had used.

‘The good thing about my career at sea is that it gave me an understanding of the difficulties involved in finding the ship and over several years I conducted a lot of research into the Terra Nova that helped identify her final resting place off Southern Greenland.

‘Luckily I was able to secure time on a research ship that was operating in the area and by carrying out extensive seafloor mapping using a Kongsberg Em710 system, we found the Terra Nova within 45 minutes of starting the survey. We were then able to lower a camera system down onto the wreck and verify it as the Terra Nova 100 years after Scott’s attempt to reach the Pole – it was a childhood dream come true!’

Progression of his career with scientific ROVs

Leighton Rolley Falkor research vessel Schmidt Ocean InstitureLeighton is now building on the skills he learned at The Underwater Centre to progress his career and is working on developing ROVs which are capable of reaching the deepest parts of the ocean.

‘The long term goal of the organisation is to build three scientific ROVs with varying capabilities. The first vehicle is in the design stage and will be 4,500m rated. The second vehicle will be 7,000m rated and the final vehicle will be 11,000m rated.

‘I hope to have involvement in the design and operation of these vehicles – namely the computing and interface side. They promise to be exciting and very capable ROVs.

‘The motto here is ‘go deep or go home’ – the biggest challenge is building a vehicle that can go to the deepest parts of the oceans – a truly hostile environment.’