Aviation Spotters Online

Aviation Spotters Online

All posts by Dave Soderstrom

QANTAS Project Sunrise aircraft Selection, Airbus A350-1000

A350-1000, QFA

News for the airliner spotting community today from QANTAS’s head office, was that the airline had selected an aircraft for Project Sunrise. This is part of the airline’s plan to launch new nonstop flights from Sydney to New York and London that would be the amongst the longest flights in the world.  

The airline said in its press release that it was announcing several important developments for Project Sunrise ahead of a final go or no-go decision, which will now take place in March 2020. QANTAS’s Press release has been reproduced below, along with ASO details of the current A350 operators in Australia. 


After an extremely detailed evaluation of the Boeing 777X and Airbus A350, Qantas has selected the A350-1000 as the preferred aircraft if Sunrise proceeds. This aircraft which is powered by the Rolls Royce Trent XWB engine, has a strong reliability record after being in service with airlines for more than two years. Airbus will add an additional fuel tank and slightly increase the maximum takeoff weight to deliver the performance required for Sunrise routes.

No orders have been placed but Qantas will work closely with Airbus to prepare contract terms for up to 12 aircraft ahead of a final decision by the Qantas Board.
Airbus has agreed to extend the deadline to confirm delivery slots from February 2020 to March 2020. This provides additional time to negotiate an industrial agreement without impacting the planned start date of Project Sunrise flights in the first half of calendar 2023.


The last of three Project Sunrise research flights (New York to Sydney) will be conducted on 17 December. Once complete, Qantas will have almost 60 hours of ‘Sunrise flying’ experience and thousands of data points on crew and passenger wellbeing.
The data for crew will be used as part of final discussions with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to approve an extension to current operating limits required for these ultra long haul services. Based on detailed information already provided by Qantas on its fatigue risk management system, CASA has provisionally advised that it sees no regulatory obstacles to the Sunrise flights.


Industrial negotiations with representatives for Qantas pilots, AIPA, are continuing. The discussions are aimed at closing the last remaining gap in the Project Sunrise business case. Qantas has put forward a number of suggestions to AIPA on how the gap might be closed while still offering three per cent annual pay increases and promotional opportunities to its long haul pilots. Discussions centre on productivity and efficiency gains, including the ability to use the same pilots across its A350 Sunrise aircraft and the airline’s existing fleet of Airbus A330s.


Design of the customer experience for flights up to 21 hours continues, including new cabins across First Class, Business, Premium Economy and Economy. Research flights have underscored the importance of dedicated space for stretching and movement for Economy passengers in particular, as well as the potential benefits from re-designing the service on board to actively shift people to their destination timezone.

China Airlines A350 Business Class area


Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said the national carrier’s support for Project Sunrise was stronger than ever, particularly after the success of recent ‘dry run’ research flights.
“Between the research flights and what we’ve learned from two years of flying Perth to London, we have a lot of confidence in the market for direct services like New York and London to the east coast of Australia.
“The A350 is a fantastic aircraft and the deal on the table with Airbus gives us the best possible combination of commercial terms, fuel efficiency, operating cost and customer experience.
“The aircraft and engine combination is next generation technology but it’s thoroughly proven after more than two years in service. This is the right choice for the Sunrise missions and it also has the right economics to do other long haul routes if we want it to.
“From the outset, we’ve been clear that Project Sunrise depends on a business case that works. We’ll only commit to this investment if we know it will generate the right return for our shareholders given the inherent commercial risks.
“We’ve done a lot of work on the economics and we know the last gap we have to close is some efficiency gains associated with our pilots. We’re offering promotions and an increase in pay but we’re asking for some flexibility in return, which will help lower our operating costs.
“Airbus has given us an extra month to lock in an aircraft order without impacting our planned start date, which means we can spend more time on hopefully reaching a deal with our pilots.
“Can I thank both Airbus and Boeing for the tremendous effort they have put into Project Sunrise. It was a tough choice between two very capable aircraft, made even harder by innovation from both manufacturers to improve on what they had already spent years designing.”

China Airlines A350 cockpit


Currently the Airbus A350 Can be seen at many Australian Ports and in the form of many Airlines. China Airlines, Singapore, Cathay Pacific (in both the 900 and 1000 versions), Thai Airways, QATAR, China Eastern, Fiji Airways, Philippines, Vietnam Airlines. The type is now also in service with many other airlines including and not limited to, Delta Airlines, British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa, JAL, Finnair, LATAM and Sichuan Airlines. 

China-Airlines, B-18918
Singapore-Airlines, 9V-SMA
Vietnam-Airlines, VN-A891
Cathay-Pacific, B-LRG
China-Eastern, B-304N
Thai-Airways, HS-THH
Delta Airlines N5073
Finnair, OH-LWE
Sichuan Airlines, B-304U
Cathay-A350-1000, B-LXK

So far some 377 airframes in two main versions, the 900 and 1000 have rolled out of the Toulouse factory in France with over 600 committed so far to airline operators and even a couple of Military versions.  The airliner sure has a health order book with the impending QANTAS order the type will be a common site around Australia for many years to come. 

Dave Soderstrom 

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On Her Majesty’s Service, Royal Air Force Airbus A400M Atlas C.1 at the RAAF Edinburgh 2019 Airshow.

Airbus A400M from LXX Squadron, RAF Brize Norton

A welcome visitor to the recent Royal Australian Air Force Airshow held at  RAAF  Base Edinburgh,  was the inclusion of an Royal Air Force, Airbus A400M Atlas C.1 for static display.

Arriving on the Friday before the show from RAAF Pearce,  the aircraft was a welcome International visitor to the show. 

Aviation Spotters Online spent time with the crew from XXIV Squadron out of RAF Brize Norton. 

Captain Chris Gerrett has flown the C-130 and A400M Atlas in his RAF career.
Loadmaster Flt.Lt D. Kemp XXIV Squadron RAF Brize Norton

Royal Air Force and the Airbus A400M Altas 

Great Britain, along with the other partner nations including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Belgium, and Luxembourg, have all ordered the Airbus A400M.  The Royal Air Force originally ordered 25 aircraft which was later reduced to 22 examples.

The type entered service with the RAF in 2014, to compliment the current fleets of Lockheed C-130 Hercules, and the larger Boeing C-17A Globemaster already in service.

Airbus A400M Atlas C.1 ZM415

RAF Brize Norton Badge

Royal Air Force Base Brize Norton

RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, is approximately 121 kms West North-West of London. As one of the largest bases of the Royal Air Force, it is the home of RAF Air Transport, which comprises elements such as Air-to-Air refuelling and Military Parachuting units.   RAF Brize Norton  is home to many different types of aircraft such as the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, Airbus A400M Atlas and the Airbus Voyager.

Below is a list of the current serving Squadrons –

  • No.10 Squadron – Airbus Voyager KC2/KC3
  • No. 206 Squadron – Airbus A400m Atlas C.1 .    * Of note – As of  April 1st 2009, the Heavy Aircraft Test & Evaluation Squadron at RAF  Boscombe Down (Air Warfare Centre),  gained the 206 Squadron Number Plate, as 206 (Reserve) Squadron.  ( Currently the unit is split between RAF Boscombe Down and RAF Brize Norton).
  • No. 24 Squadron – Lockheed C-130J Hercules C4/C5 and  Airbus A400M Atlas – Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) which became the Air Mobility Operational Conversion Unit for the Hercules, Atlas and C-17 in 2013.  No.24 Squadron is responsible for aircrew training (C-130J Hercules and A400M Atlas) and engineer training (C-130J Hercules, A400M Atlas and C-17A Globemaster).
  • No. 47 Squadron – C-130J  Hercules C4/C5
  • No. 70 Squadron – A400M Atlas the squadron reformed on 1 October 2014 and was officially “stood up” on 24 July 2015  becoming the Royal Air Force’s first frontline A400M squadron.
  • No. 99 Squadron – C-17 Globemaster III
  • No. 101 Squadron – Voyager KC2/KC3

Some interesting facts attaining to the three active Squadrons within the RAF that operate the Airbus A400M  Atlas C.1 –  Numbers 24, 70 and 206 Squadrons.

RAF 206 Squadron Badge
Motto – Naught escapes us

Notable history of 206 Squadron includes:

  • Flew anti submarine patrols during the Second World War.
  • Former aircraft include the Avro Shackleton, the Nimrod and Avro Anson.
  • Moved from MoD Boscombe Down in 2014 to begin testing the Atlas (A400M) at RAF Brize Norton.
  • 1916 – Formed as a Royal Naval Air Service fighter unit.
  • 1918 – Reformed as a bomber unit, and renumbered 206 on 1 April.
  • 1936 – 206 Squadron reformed at RAF Manston providing advanced flying training for newly fledged pilots.
  • 1944 – Converted to Consolidated Liberators.
  • 2009 – The Heavy Aircraft Test & Evaluation Squadron, based at MOD Boscombe Down, became 206 (Reserve) Squadron.
RAF 70 Squadron Badge
Motto – Anywhere

Notable history of 70 Squadron includes:

  • Had the first British fighter equipped with a machine gun synchronised to fire through the propeller
  • Aircraft flown have included the Camel, Liberator VI, Dakota and the Hercules
  • Provided vital support to the UK relief effort in the Caribbean after hurricane Irma
  • 1916 – Formed at Farnborough.
  • 1928 – Took part in the world’s first large-scale airborne evacuation from Kabul.
  • 1956 – Dropped parachute troops in to Port Said during the Suez Crisis.
  • 2010 – The Hercules squadron disbanded while awaiting for Atlas (A400M).
RAF 24 Squadron Badge
Motto – Prepared for all things 

Notable history of 24 Squadron includes:

  • Formed in 1915 as a scout unit
  • Aircraft operated have included the Tiger Moth, the Dakota I and IV and the Hastings
  • Trains the aircrew and engineers of the Air Mobility Fleet
  • 1915 – Formed at Hounslow as a DH.2 scout unit.
  • 1945 – Began short-range operations on Dakotas.
  • 1945 – Supported personnel movement during the Nuremberg Trials.
  • 2013 – Became the Air Mobility Operational Conversion Unit for the Hercules, Atlas and C-17.

The Airbus A400M is now firmly apart of the Royal Air Force Air Transport group. Filling the gap between the Legacy C-130 Hercules and Boeing C-17A Globemaster.


The A400M was at the Edinburgh Airshow on invitation by the RAAF.
ZM415 Numberplate
Two of the four Europrop TP400-D6 turboprops,  each producing 8,200 kW, that provides some 11,000 horsepower each, and gives the A400M a cruising speed of  781 km/h at 31,000 feet.
Will we see the A400M in RAAF markings? Time will tell.

For further information on the Airbus A400M check out the teams photos and videos when they flew as guests with the Royal Malaysian Air Force and Airbus. 


Aviation Spotters Online wishes to thank the crew of  The Royal Air Force crew for their time and tour of the Airbus A400M Atlas during the RAAF Edinburgh  2019 Airshow

Airbus A400M Atlas C.1 ZM415

Dave & Mark.

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Tocumwal 2019, Inaugural NSW regional Airshow


The inaugural Tocumwal Airshow took to the skies for the first time on Saturday the 14th September, with a massive line-up of historical & performance aircraft taking  part in the event. With the event kicking off at 11am, the  four hours of aerial action included historic aircraft, warbirds, bi-planes, jets and aerobatics.  This coupled with various ground displays and great food made the event one to lock in for the next show slated for  2021. 

Held at the historic World War Two airfield, which was established in early 1942, Tocumwal was built for use by the United States Army Air Force. It was used mostly by the RAAF and from 1944, was home to the RAAF’s heavy bomber support, and operational conversion units including No. 7 Operational Training Unit.

Inaugural Opening 

Paul Bennett from Paul Bennet Airshows, Australia’s leading airshow display pilot kicked off the event with his trade mark style opening in the Wolf Pitts Pro. This was further enhanced with a skydiver who jumped out of the Cessna C-180 Skywagon, VH-OZA.  Once at altitude the skydiver leapt from the Skywagon deploying the Australian Flag. Paul following down in a 5G orbit.

Cessna C185 Skywagon VH-OZA
Paul Bennet in the Wolf Pitts Pro


QANTAS, provide a great backdrop for the start of the show.




A change of pace was next when the Jonker Sailpalne JS3 VH-NLP took to the air with the weather turning it on providing a perfect  blue sky. Powered by MDTJ-42 turbojet the sailplane Lumpy Paterson put on a fantastic display.  Pilots can choose between climbing at two metres per second at 135 km/h or fly at 200 km/h cruising speed. The jet engine doesn’t require aviation fuel and is able to run on regular diesel.

Jonker Sailpalne JS3 VH-NLP

Aerial Agriculture Showcase

A highlight of the show was the Aerial Agriculture segment. Three aircraft participated in the showcase, that comprised the CAC CA-28 Ceres VH-SSY, HAZAIR’s Transavia Airtruck VH-TRT and finally FieldAir’s AirTractor AT-402B VH-FZD. The Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation built the Ceres based on the wartime Wirraway trainer. Doug Hamilton owns the aircraft today and it is the only airworthy Ceres in Australia.  Steve Death flew his company’s Transavia Airtruck during the event showcasing another Australian built design that was sold across the world. Some 118 were to roll off the production line before, production ended. 

The third aircraft in the display was a Fieldair’s Airtractor AT-402B, VH-FZD. The aircraft put on a fantastic display showcasing the aircraft’s capabilities over the airfields canola crops. 

Transavia Airtruck VH-TRT
CA-28 Ceres VH-SSY


CA-28 Ceres VH-SSY
Transavia Airtruck VH-TRT





Transavia Airtruck VH-TRT
CA-28 Ceres VH-SSY
CA-28 Ceres VH-SSY
Airtractor AT-402B VH-FZD
Airtractor AT-402B VH-FZD
Airtractor AT-402B VH-FZD
Airtractor AT-402B VH-FZD
Airtractor AT-402B VH-FZD
Airtractor AT-402B VH-FZD
Airtractor AT-402B VH-FZD
Airtractor AT-402B VH-FZD

Paul Bennet and his team brought the Grumman Avenger to the show which never fails to impress with its size, sound and folding wings. 

Grumman Avenger VH-MML
Grumman Avenger VH-MML
Grumman Avenger VH-MML
Grumman Avenger VH-MML
Grumman Avenger VH-MML
Grumman Avenger VH-MML

A classic aerial pair was the next to showcase their displays. Built  by De Havilland Canada, the DHC-1 Chipmunk was sold and exported and assembled by the Canadian, British, and Portuguese, with some 1,284 examples built. Flying at the airshow were two of the companies finest, VH-DGZ, formally WB683 of the Royal Air Force, and VH-APL formally WP919, also from the RAF. 

DHC-1 Chipmunk VH-DGZ
DHC-1 Chipmunk VH-APL


Another highlight of the airshow was the RAAF Heritage Formation team. Consisting of former RAAF trainer aircraft including the CAC Winjeel, NZAI Airtourer, and North American Harvard. The aircraft are a mixture of civilian and RAAF owned aircraft. For this event three CT-4s, three Winjeels and a single Harvard preformed military like precision flights and formations. The aircraft were, NZAI CT-4s, VH-ZNP (A19-077) owned and operated by the RAAF Museum Point Cook, VH-CTV (A19-068) owned by Garry Herne also from Point Cook, and finally, VH-DGY (A19-030) owned by Benjamin Thompson from Gisborne.

Along side were three CAC CA-25 Winjeels which were, VH-FTS (A85-439) owned and operated by the RAAF Museum Point Cook, VH-HOY (A85-450) owned by Matt Grigg, and VH-WJE (A85-427) owned and flown by event organiser Matt Henderson. 

The final aircraft in the formation isn’t an RAAF aircraft. It is an ex Royal New Zealand Air Force T-6 Harvard, VH-HVD. It was flown by the RNZAF as NZ1075. Now if flies as part of the RAAF Heritage fleet.  

Together the aircraft were a sight to behold. With the CT-4, Winjeel and Harvard all doing solo performances after the formation flying. 

NZAI CT-4A Airtourer
NZAI CT-4A Airtourer
NZAI CT-4A Airtourer
CAC CA-25 Winjeel
CAC CA-25 Winjeel
CAC CA-25 Winjeel
North American T-6 Harvard VH-HVD






North American T-6 Harvard VH-HVD
North American T-6 Harvard VH-HVD
CAC CA-25 Winjeel
CAC CA-25 Winjeel
CAC CA-25 Winjeel
CAC CA-25 Winjeel


NZAI CT-4A Airtourer
North American T-6 Harvard VH-HVD

After this great display, it was time for some jet noise, courtesy of the Aero Verdochedy L-39. Jetride Australia and Mark Pracy brought the ex Ukrainian Air Force L-39 VH-IOT. Jetride Australia offer jet flight experiences from their base at Cessnock in NSW. You can get your jet experience by reaching the company at: https://www.jetflight.com.au 

Aero Verdochedy L-39 VH-IOT
Aero Verdochedy L-39 VH-IOT
Aero Verdochedy L-39 VH-IOT
Aero Verdochedy L-39 VH-IOT
Aero Verdochedy L-39 VH-IOT

Next up it was some jet turbine power from another member of the Airtractor family. This time it was the larger AT-802 again provided by Fieldair from Ballarat. VH-FFM is configured for the upcoming fire season and put on a demonstration of its capabilities to drop its 3200 litres of fire retardant of water on a fire. 

Fieldair Airtractor AT-802 VH-FFM
Fieldair Airtractor AT-802 VH-FFM
Fieldair Airtractor AT-802 VH-FFM

A two ship pairing of Cessna O-1 Birddogs showed of their roles as Forward Air Control (FAC) aircraft. The olive drab machine which is registered as VH-EAZ and is owned by Mark Binskin. It flew alongside  VH-FAC,  again, owned by Matt Henderson. 

Cessna O-1 Birddog VH-EAZ
Cessna O-1 Birddog VH-FAC





The next pairing were an earlier form of forward air control aircraft. The British Taylorcraft Auster Air Observation Post (AOP) or Auster III as it became known. Eventually fifty five examples were  to eventually serve with the RAAF. Flying at the event were VH-MHT (ex RAAF A11-49) and VH-BDM (ex RAAF A11-33). 


Another classic British pairing that partnered together for the airshow were another two De Havilland types. The classic Dh.82A Tigermoth flew a routine alongside the DH.94 Moth Minor. Both of these aircraft served with the  Royal Australian Air Force, showing the earlier designs for basic trainers used during the start of World War Two. Of both types 861 Tiger Moths, and 42 Moth Minors were to eventually serve in RAAF markings. During the airshow, VH-BEN which served as A17-736 and VH-CZB served as A21-42, flew a nice routine showcasing the two classic De Havilland designs.

Dh.82A Tigermoth VH-BEN
Dh.82A Tigermoth VH-BEN
DH.94 Moth Minor VH-CZB
Dh.82A Tigermoth VH-BEN


Dh.82A Tigermoth VH-BEN
DH.94 Moth Minor VH-CZB

The next pair to display were two North American designs. Both trainers are based at Albury NSW and flown by their respective owners. John Kempton’s Vultee BT-13A Valiant (VH-JKV) paired up with Stephen Death in his North American T-6 Texan VH-YVI which was ex USAF 51-15202, after service with the USAF it moved onto serving with the Italian Air Force as MM53652.

Vultee BT-13A Valiant VH-JKV




North American T-6 Texan VH-YVI
North American T-6 Texan VH-YVI


As the afternoon sun kept its fantastic light going, it was time for the warbirds segment. With the the former RAAF base as a backdrop, it was a trip down memory lane. Launched first were the Temora based Lockheed Hudson and CAC Boomerang, along with Paul Bennet’s CAC Wirraway. Behind them was Ross Pay’s CAC built Mustang, which was joined by Alan Arthurs P-40N and Doug Hamilton’s P-40N. 

CAC CA-16 Wirraway VH-WWY
CAC CA-13 Boomerang VH-MHR



Lockheed Hudson VH-KOY
Lockheed Hudson VH-KOY






Lockheed Hudson VH-KOY
Lockheed Hudson VH-KOY
Lockheed Hudson VH-KOY
Lockheed Hudson VH-KOY

The final launch saw the World War Two fighters take to the skies. Curtiss P-40N Kittyhawks VH-PFO and VH-ZOC. Owned by Doug Hamilton and Allan Arthur respectively. Also taking to the skies was Ross Pay’s CAC built Mustang, VH-AUB that was flown by Paul Bennet. All three looked and sounded great in their formation flypasts and solo performances. 

Curtiss P-40N Kittyhawk VH-ZOC
Curtiss P-40N Kittyhawk VH-PFO
CAC CA-18 Mustang VH-AUB
Curtis P-40N Kittyhawk VH-ZOC


Curtis P-40N Kittyhawk VH-ZOC
Curtis P-40N Kittyhawk VH-ZOC


Curtis P-40N Kittyhawk VH-ZOC
Curtiss P-40N Kittyhawk VH-PFO


CAC built Mustang, VH-AUB
CAC built Mustang, VH-AUB
CAC built Mustang, VH-AUB
CAC built Mustang, VH-AUB
CAC built Mustang, VH-AUB
CAC built Mustang, VH-AUB
CAC built Mustang, VH-AUB

The Tocumwal Airshow committee are to be commended for a fantastic event. It’s sure to grow in the coming  years as the event continues to mature and gain momentum.

Roll on the 2021 event! 



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Road side Airshow, lead up to Avalon 2019

It is an exciting time the lead up to any airshow. Especially an International one where the manufacturers line up to display their latest in aviation technology. Airlines and defence forces bring their latest and greatest to wow the crowds. 

This years Australian International Airshow was of course no exception. Spotters come up to be road side nearly two weeks before the main event to catch the aircraft on the approach to Avalon Airport. This year the weather gods were certainly on the side of the spotters. The blue skies and warm weather let everyone catch the arrivals in some fantastic light.

These lead up days are also one where the spotting community come together to swap stories on all sorts of subjects. The cameras are joined by the deck chairs, cold bevies and even a BBQ or two. The number of spotters continues to grow at these sorts of lead up days. 

United States Air Force Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor

The United States Air Force again brought their fifth generation fighter to Avalon. Two aircraft from Elmendorf in Alaska arrived with their long range fuel tanks on the wing hard points. 40 F-22A Raptors are based at Elmendorf. The aircraft were flown and maintained by the active-duty Air Force’s 90th Fighter Squadron and Air Force Reserve 302d Fighter Squadron. 






Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker

Supporting the F-22s on their journey from Japan were two Boeing KC-135R Stratotankers. Operated by the 912th Air Refuelling Squadron which is a unit assigned to the 92d Operations Group. The unit operates from March Air Reserve Base, in California. The squadron is an active duty associate unit of the reserve 336th Air Refueling Squadron of the 452d Operations Group.





United States Air Force Boeing B-52H Stratofortress

The USAF brought the mighty Boeing B-52 Stratofortress to Avalon with both static and flying examples making appearances. First to arrive at the airport was B-52H Stratofortress ( 60-0007,  c/n-464372) ‘Guardians of The Upper Realm’, from the 23rd Bomb Squadron which is apart of the 5th Bomb Wing based at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. Another 23rd BS B-52H (60-0060, c/n 464425 ‘Iron Butterfly’), had made the 8 hour flight from Guam to perform its flyover.

During its return flight to Anderson AFB, 60-0060 due to a malfunction had to return to Avalon as a safety precaution, and in doing so, creating history, as this was the first time since the Airshow has been held at Avalon Airport that two Boeing B-52H Stratofortress bombers were on the ground at the same time, although if only for a 24 hour period.

ASO Avalon 2019 150 (1 of 1)

ASO Avalon 2019 151 (1 of 1)

ASO Avalon 2019 152 (1 of 1)
Boeing B-52H Stratofortress 60-0007 of the 23rdBS/5thBW, which is based at Minot AFB, North Dakota.

Japanese Air & Self Defence Force Kawasaki C-2

The JASDF returned to the Airshow with a rather unusual type, the Kawasaki C-2. Operated by the 第403飛行隊 (403nd Tactical Airlift Squadron dai403hikoutai) is the sole transport squadron of the 3rd Tactical Airlift Group based at Miho Air Base in Tottori Prefecture. Serial number 68-1203 ‘203’ arrived in some fantastic light.




Republic of Singapore Air Force 

The RSAF again had a big presence at the Airshow,with two  Pilatus PC-21s and a pair of rarely seen Boeing CH-47 Chinooks arriving for the event. The CH-47s arrived over head beating the air around them into submission. A first appearance for the Chinook at Avalon with the Super Pumas having been displayed several times in the past. 

The arrival of the PC-21s which have previously visited was further enhanced with the arrival of aircraft 9101 with its newly applied 25th Anniversary tail art. This was to commemorate 25 years of operations from RAAF Pearce. 



PC-21 9101 wearing its 25 years of Pearce detachment livery.
PC-21 9103
PC-12 VH-PIU flew as a support aircraft for the PC-21s.

Airbus and the Malaysian Air Force A400M 

Again making its presence was the Airbus A400M. The difference this time being the air arm which brought it for display. The Royal Malaysian Air Force’s (Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia (TUDM) 22 Squadron flew aircraft, M54-04 from Subang Air Force Base. 

ASO M54-04 A400M 2 (1 of 1)

ASO Avalon 2019 133 (1 of 1)

Royal Australian Air Force arrivals

The ADF including the RAAF are huge supporters of the Australian International Airshow. This year saw an example of all the latest and greatest along with soon to retire types.  

Boeing P-8A Poseidon 

ASO A47-001 P-8A 2 (1 of 1)

ASO A47-001 P-8A (1 of 1)
11 Squadron Boeing P-8A Poseidon.

Boeing E-7A Wedgetail

ASO A30-002 E-7A (1 of 1)
2 Squadron Boeing E-7A Wedgetail.

Alenia C-27A Spartan

ASO A34-010 C-27J (1 of 1)
35 Squadron Alenia C-27J A34-010.

Lockheed C-130J Hercules 

ASO A97-466 C-130J (1 of 1)
37 Squadron C-130J Hercules A97-466

Boeing C-17A Globemaster III

ASO A41-211 C-17A 2 (1 of 1)
36 Squadron Boeing C-17A Globemaster III A41-211

McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 ‘Classic’ Hornet 

ASO A21-16 (1 of 1)
RAAF F/A-18A Hornet A21-16 in its 2OCU 75 year livery.
RAAF F/A-18B Hornet A21-107 in 2OCU livery.
RAAF F/A-18B Hornet A21-109 in 2OCU livery.
RAAF F/A-18B Hornet A21-114 in 2OCU livery.

Aviation Spotters Online again thanks the Australian International Airshow for allowing the team to cover and present article and video from the event. 

We look forward to the next event which will be held over the 23-28th of March in 2021

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Australian Fire Season 2018/19 review

ASO N130CG Coulson C-130Q (1 of 1)Fire Season 2018-19 Overview

Aerial Fire Fighting in Australia

The 2018 fire season started a lot earlier than usual this season. With the first major fire occurring in the Southern New South Wales area of Nowra. It wasn’t long before one near Ulladulla and another in the Bega Valley burnt more than 4,600 hectares in August 2018. It was no surprise really, with 100 per cent of N.S.W in drought, forest fuels were extremely dry as that state transitioned into Spring.

As the season shifted into the summer proper it was Queensland and again N.S.W that saw fires of large sizes ignite just as the international aircraft and helicopters had started to arrive.

Two states that had an urgent call for aerial assets came from Tasmania and Victoria. As the fires continued to burn and spread, the call for additional support came from across the country.

Tasmanian fires were some of the largest in the state’s history. As the state only has a smaller aerial attack fleet, assets were called upon from N.S.W and Victoria to support the ground units.

The Victorian blazes in the high country and Grantville which saw all the local air attack assets put to work. Late in the season saw lots of fires which saw extension of contracts. The combination of all the LATS, SEATS, and rotary elements were all combined to minimise damage and destruction.

GAIA as it was christened by the NSW Rural Fire Service is the first of Coulson’s new 737 Fireliners fitted with the RADS delivery system.

The highs for season 18/19

2018/19 is notable for several reasons this season. It was the first deployment of Coulson’s Boeing 737 Fireliner, and Lockheed C-130Q ‘Rat Rod’ after its conversion to a fire bomber. Both were on contract to the N.S.W Rural Fire Service. The New South Wales state government announced funding of some $26.3 million to purchase one large fixed-wing air tanker and two fixed-wing lead/supervision aircraft to maintain a resident near-year-round large airtanker capability. This resident capability will continue to be supplemented by contracted seasonal large airtankers.

Western Australia has seen the deployment of a single Dauphin helicopter FIREBIRD 661. This has been brought on to boost WA’s aerial surveillance and reconnaissance capability. It will fly for up to 306 days of the year compared to the previous 110-day fixed service.

Victoria completed their work up trials and subsequent operational deployment of a night time fire fighting capability. The work up phase was a conjunction between the aviation regulator CASA, Victoria’s Fire Agencies, Emergency Management Victoria and Coulson Aviation and Kestrel Aviation. As mentioned the work up phase was completed just prior to fires taking off in the state.

Night time water bombing of the Rosedale fires saw the capability put to use. It also included a world-first hover-filling, in which choppers could quickly fill their tanks from remote water locations instead of heading back to base to refill.

To further emphasise the significance of this Kestrel Aviation of Australia, Coulson Aviation of Canada and Emergency Management Victoria’s Wayne Rigg, has been awarded a prestigious international honour for its pioneering work.

The Walt Darran Award was jointly presented collaborative work in developing safe and effective practices for aerial firefighting at night at a ceremony this month in France. This sort of recognition shows the growing level of professionalism and scope of operations now in effect across the country.

Moorabbin Fire 2019 5 (1 of 1)
Emergency Management Victoria’s Wayne Rigg, gives the thumbs up after another day working the fires in South East Victoria.
Helitak 748 draws water while fighting a fire near Newcastle.

Lows for season 18/19

As with all things in life with the highs there must be some lows. In August, while fighting the fires near Ulladulla, A BK-117 owned by Sydney Helicopters got its bucket cable caught in trees. Alan Tull the pilot, sadly didn’t survive the accident. Alan’s loss was a big blow to the industry, his professionalism and skills will be missed on the fire ground. 

Another incident in January saw one of the Erickson/Kestrel operated AirCranes crash into the dam which it was drawing from. The three crew managed to escape as the AirCrane flipped over into the dam. All Aircranes were temporarily grounded until a clearance to resume flights was granted a day later. The cause of the incident is still under investigation. The crane was later sad when it was up righted and dissembled in situ and lifted out by land crane. The pieces were then trucked to the docks for return to the Erickson offices for rebuilding. 

ASO Night Fire Trials (1 of 1)
Both Coulson and Kestrel helicopters launch as part of the work up phase for the Night Fire Bombing campaign.

Changes for season 2019/20

On the 5th of December 2018 The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison announced that his government would contribute an extra $11.0 million to aerial fire fighting for 2018-19 via the NAFC.

This was part of a larger funding package that included a number of other initiatives to support bushfire response and community resilience. The $11.0 million for aerial fire fighting is a one-off extra contribution for 2018-19, recognising that the Australian 2018-19 season is forecast to be above normal in key bushfire risk areas.

For 2018-19, it means that the total direct contribution to aerial fire fighting from the federal government will be $25.8 million. The NSW Rural Fire Service also announced that they will be acquiring two ex Australian Army S-70A Blackhawks for use in the 2019/20 Fire season. These will be used for a variety of duties including to fly emergency service personnel to bushfires, floods and other disasters across the state.

ASO Fire Granville 7 (1 of 1)
Bomber 391 lines up for a drop on the Granville fire in Victoria

Both Victoria and Tasmania were pushed to their limits this season. The combination of low rain fall and longer seasons making the states tinder dry. The call for back up from interstate was answered with aircraft and helicopters flying in to help contain the huge fires in both states.

On March 5th the entire Victorian air fleet was dispatched to fires within the state. Something never seen before, and hopefully not again in the near future. Although with the seasons now being longer and longer each year it will likely more common.

With fires still igniting in the exceptionally dry period in April, the 2019-20 season saw some contracts extended by an extra couple of weeks.

Bunyip Fire 2019 2 (1 of 1)
Bomber 391 follows the lead in Aero Commander on a drop at the Bunyip Fires in Victoria.

The NAFC issued tenders to suit the various types of fixed wing aircraft it can mobilise. Fixed wing aircraft used for fire bombing will be assigned a type number based on their water carrying capacity and design features, as specified below:

Type Engines Water carrying capacity
1 Multi engine Greater than 11,356 litres
2 Multi engine Between 11,356 and 6,813 litres inclusive
3 Multi engine Less than 6,813 litres
4 Single engine Greater than 2,270 litres
5 Single engine Less than or equal to 2,270 litres

Rotary wing aircraft are also broken down into four distinct types, based on their varying capacities. 

Type Internal payload Water Carrying capacity
1 2,268 kg or greater 2,650 litres or greater
2 Between 1,134 kg and 2,267 kg inclusive Between 1,135 litres and 2,649 litres inclusive
3 Between 544 kg and 1,133 kg inclusive Between 380 litres and 1,134 litres inclusive
4 Less than 544 kg Less than 380 litres

For a comprehensive overview of the various types and their respective specifications please click on the following link from last seasons review here: http://aviationspottersonline.com/australian-fire-season-2017-18-overview/

Fixed Wing Fleet

This season six large air tankers from North America worked across the country during the summer. Three of those tankers were based at RAAF Richmond in New South Wales. These included  737 (T-137), a C-130Q (T-134), and RJ85 (T-165). Two LATs were based again at Avalon Airport which were C-130Q (B-390) and RJ85 (B-391).  T-166 also an RJ85 was  based at Dubbo. These were joined by forty four Air Tractor AT-802s (including Fireboss versions) two PZL Dromaders, three Learjets, one King Air, three Turbo Commanders, two Cessna Caravans, three Cessna 337s and two Cessna 182s.

All the aircraft were on contract to the various fire agencies across the country. A total of 68 fixed wing aircraft are on contract this season. These are also backed up by significant number on call as required and contracted through government agencies.

As with previous years, there are a number of aircraft not on direct contract through the NAFC which were on call as required basis.

Boeing 737 Fireliner

A first for Australia and a first for an operational deployment in the world was, Coulson Aviation’s Boeing 737 Fireliner. The company has purchased six 737-300’s with GAIA being the first converted into a 15,000 litre “Fireliner” air tanker. After conversion and work up trials including drop pattern testing the aircraft N137CG was soon on its way to Australia. It wasn’t long after the aircrafts arrival it was soon deployed. 

It was used operationally for the first time providing support to ground crews at the Richardson Road, Campvale and Hospital Road, Weston fire in New South Wales in Late November. This season has been a very busy one with the aircraft deployed to assist in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania in support of the local fire services.

NSW Fire Service Crews prepare to reload GAIA for its next mission.
Even with a full retardant load and fuel tanks with 4.5 hours of endurance the aircraft is under its max gross weight the conversion of the aircraft has left it with the full interior and galleys in place.
While deployed in Queensland the Fireliner dropped over 300,000 litres of water.

From the periods of the 26/11/2018 until the 05/12/2018 in forty three drops by the 737 it dropped 533,961 litres over twenty seven flight hours

On the 14th of May the NSW Government signed a contract for the purchase of a new aircraft along with and two Citation V, Lead/Intelligence Aircraft. The government’s $26.3 million investment will see the ‘737’ operated by the aircrafts fire bomber conversion company Coulson Aviation. The purchases are accompanied by a ten-year operational contract where Coulson will provide all flight and maintenance personal.

Coulson Aviation CEO Wayne Coulson said he looked forward to being able to work with the RFS on this new venture and would be expanding its NSW base in the coming months and will be looking to hire Australian pilots and ground crew.

The new 737 is due to at RAAF Richmond in July this year.

Air Tractor

Air Tractors are certainly the backbone of the fixed wing aerial attack in Australia with eleven operators here flying the type on contract through the NAFC to the respective fire agencies across the country.

Operators of the type include Field Air from Ballarat, AGAIR in Stawell, Pay’s Air Service from Scone, Kennedy Air Ag from Gunnedah, Precision Aerial from Meandarra, Aerotech from Kent Town, Aircair from Moree, Sky Croppers in Griffith, Fred Fahey Aerial Services from Cowra, Dunn Aviation from Jandakot, and Aerotech NT from Bachelor all have Air Tractors on contract or working this season.

The benefits of a versatile machine such as the Air Tractor where it can be adapted to various roles is the main reason for their popularity. In the Fire Season the machines are converted from their crop spraying/dusting roles used in the winter and spring months see the spray bars and spreaders taken off and the belly tanks refitted for their fire fighting bombing roles.

It is worth noting that nearly all the Air Tractors have different styled tanks and door designs amongst other operational features.  Some operators have infra-red cameras installed, electronically controlled drop doors and a host of features all designed to get the water and or phos-check on target. 

ASO Mt Gambier Firebase (1 of 1)
One of two of Aerotech’s AT-802s on stand by at Mt Gambier South Australia.
ASO Firebase Mancefield 7 (1 of 1)
Pay’s Air Service AT-802 VH-LIM at rest at Firebase Mansfield in Victoria.
ASO Firebase Jandacot 2019 (1 of 1)
Dunn Aviation have moved into their purpose built base at Jandakot this year. This enables faster launch times and staging facilities for the pilots and filling crews.
ASO Hamilton Fire base 2019 (1 of 1)
Field Air have five Air Tractors on contract this season. One in Cambridge Tasmania, two in Bairnsdale Victoria and two more in Hamilton Victoria as seen here.
ASO Firebase Latrobe 7 (1 of 1)
Field Air Bomber 362 VH-FZX departs for another drop out of Firebase Latrobe.
ASO Firebase Latrobe 2 (1 of 1)
Field Air Bomber 361, VH-FFB comes into reload at Firebase Latrobe in Gippsland Victoria as VH-FZX depart.
ASO Casterton Fire base 2019 (1 of 1)
AGAIR have four AT-802s on contract this season. Two based at Casterton in Victoria and two at their home base of Stawell in Victoria.
ASO Firebase Latrobe 3 (1 of 1)
Powered by the hugely successful Pratt and Whitney Canada, PT6 turboprop.
ASO Firebase Stawell (1 of 1)
Bombers 351, 354 and 355 VH-ARA VH-VBV and VH-ZJZ respectively all part of the AgAir fleet, are seen back at the companies base at Stawell in Victoria, after the completion of their contract season. 
VH-NTM or Bomber 381 operated by Aerotech in the Northern Territory.

Airtractor AT-802 Fireboss

ASO Avalon 2019 76 (1 of 1)
A unique version of the Air Tractor is the Fire Boss. Equipped with floats for water operations. These machines are highly praised for their versatility. Kennedy Air brought one of their Fireboss aircraft fresh from fighting fires in Tasmania to display at the Australian International Airshow at Avalon Airport.
Pay’s Aviation Fireboss VH-FBZ flying as Bomber 218 working the fires near Newcastle NSW.
ASO VH-FBX Pays AT-802 Fireboss (1 of 1)
Pay’s second Fireboss VH-FRX operates as Bomber 360. It is seen here at the Albury Hume Firebase in NSW.

Airtractor AT-504

An interesting type which is not all that prolific in numbers is the AT-504. Dunn Aviation has a single example VH-FEC or Bomber 614 based at Jandacot. This machine is capable of carrying some 1836 Litres of water or mixed tank for dropping on a fire. It does have one other very unique feature, its a two seater. Not like its bigger AT-802 which seats two people in tandem. The AT-504 seats two people side by side, a perfect training platform for an upcoming fire bomber pilot. This is exactly what Dunn Aviation uses the type for, training pilots on drops and fire bombing techniques. 

ASO Firebase Jandacot 2019 2 (1 of 1)

Cessna C-337

For this season three Cessna 337’s are contracted through the Victorian Government. Ballarat operator Aerovision provided them for use across the state. The type is extremely well suited to the roles of fire detection, reconnaissance and fire supervision, hence the Birddog call sign. The aircraft can loiter on scene for up to 7 hours on a single tank of fuel. The speed of the Cessna 337 is well matched to the Air Tractor AT-802 firebombing aircraft.

ASO Firebase Latrobe 9 (1 of 1)
VH-IEV holds for Bomber 361 at Latrobe.
ASO Firebase Latrobe 8 (1 of 1)
VH-IEV flying as Birddog 374 is seen at Firebase Latrobe.
ASO Hamilton Fire base 2019 3 (1 of 1)
VH-ZEV flying as Firebird 373, is seen at Firebase Hamilton.
ASO VH-AEV Cessna 337 (1 of 1)
VH-AEV flying as Birddog 381 is seen on standby at Bendigo Airport.

Gates Learjet 

For season 2018/19 the Victorian and NSW Governments have contracted three Learjet 35/36 fire scanning aircraft. Operating at high flight levels, the aircraft are equipped with a pod which features infrared and mulitspectrial line scanning instrument and data processing equipment. The imaging is processed on board with GPS coordinates and terrain elevation data. 

This processing geo-rectifies the image to make it usable in mapping software and geospatial information systems. The combination of thermal and visual sensors used and the geo-rectification process creates images that are easy for fire fighters to interpret and for them to understand where the fire is and what it is doing.

A broadband satellite data communication system enables rapid transfer of processed and raw data from the aircraft to users on the ground regardless of the aircraft’s location.

Air Affairs Learjet 35 VH-LPJ is seen at Rockhampton in Queensland during the fires which were near by.

Rockwell Turbo Commander 

The NSW, Victorian and Queensland Governments have all contracted an example of the Commander for use within their respective states this season. A fourth piston engine Commander is also on contract. The type is used to supervise Airtanker operations.

Seating five people, one of the passengers is an Air Attack Supervisor will direct air tankers on where and how to drop their loads on a fire. Another role for the ‘Birddog’ is as a lead in aircraft where the Commander flies the drop profile for the larger tankers where to drop and what to be aware of on a drop. This role is done using a smoke trail for the tankers to follow in. 

ASO Firebase Avalon (1 of 1)
Pesca Aviation’s Turbo Commander VH-ATF flew as Birddog 370 this season. The aircraft is seen at Firebase Avalon.
AgAir’s Turbo Commander VH-HPY fling as Birddog 275 was contracted to the NSW Rural Fir Service. It is seen here at Rockhampton when the fires in the state were supported by assets from NSW.

Beechcraft KingAir

The Victorian and NSW Governments both contracted through NAFC, one Beechcraft King scanning aircraft. The aircraft is operated by Nowra based company Air Affairs and was kept busy this season. The aircraft is used to photograph and produce real time imagery for the fire agencies which are used to draft the plans to fight the fire both on the ground and in the air. 

ASO VH-LAB AIr Affirs B200 (1 of 1)
VH-LAB lands at Essendon Airport where it worked the fires grounds in the South East of the state.

Cessna C-208 Caravan

Cessna’s C-208 Grand Caravan is contracted through the South Australian and Victoria State Governments. Four are on contract this season. The type flies mainly in the air supervision role and also acts as transport for fire officials and other crews to quickly get on scene as required.  

ASO VH-TFV Cessna Caravan (1 of 1)
VH-TLV operated by Pay’s Air Service is seen at its Albury base.
Moorabbin Fire 2019 11 (1 of 1)
Wrightair’s Cessna 208 flew as Birddog 396. It is seen here at Moorabbin in Victoria.

BAe RJ85

This season was the first time that three of the Conair/Field Air operated RJ85s went into action across New South Wales and Victoria.

C-GVFK was the first to arrive and commenced standby at RAAF Richmond in late August 2018 with the callsign Bomber 165.  It was joined just over two months later when C-GVFT Bomber 166 arrived into New South Wales and commenced standby at Dubbo Regional Airport.

At the beginning of December, Bomber 165 moved down to Victoria and took up its usual position operating from Firebase Avalon Airport (with a change of tail number and callsign to the familiar Bomber 391).  During its contract it was also deployed to a temporary base at RAAF East Sale working on the large Rosedale fire in South Eastern Victoria. 

Bomber 166 remained based at Dubbo Airport on a NSW Rural Fire Service contract for the balance of the seasons The aircraft at one point joined the fight helping out in Tasmania as well as a number of short deployments in Victoria. 

The third RJ85 that operated this season was N366AC callsign Bomber 163. It completed one of the NSW contracts and unfortunately could stay no longer due to crew/aircraft commitments back in USA.

During the season, the RJ85’s conducted operations in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania, delivering over three million litres of fire suppressants. Both C-GVFT and C-GVFK returned to their home base in Abbotsford BC in April 2019.

RJ85 C-GVFT working a fire near Newcastle.
RJ85 C-GVFT again this time in Queensland in support of the fires in Rockhampton.
Fire crews begin to load RJ85 C-GVFT.
ASO FieldAir (1 of 1)
RJ85 C-GVFK arrives at Avalon after working a blaze in Gippsland Victoria.
ASO Field Air 2 (1 of 1)
Bomber 391 comes back to its Avalon base after dropping on a fire in Victoria.
ASO C-GVFT Conair RJ85 (1 of 1)
Bomber 166 departs Avalon on its way to Hobart to assist in the huge fires the state endured this season.

Lockheed C-130 Hercules

Coulson again brought two of their Lockheed C-130 Hercules on contract this season. Once again Victoria contracted N130FF, Bomber 390. The NSW Rural Fire Service contracted a second aircraft N130CG or Bomber 134. This aircraft had only recently left the conversion facility at its home base Mesa, Arizona where it was transformed into Coulson’s fourth C-130 air tanker.

Bomber 134 wasn’t in the country long when it was called to assist on a fire near  NASA’s Deep Space Network of satellite antennas near Canberra. This was the aircraft first usage on a going fire anywhere in the world. Bomber 134 has been seen and operated out of NSW, ACT, Victoria and Tasmania this season. It was called into to supplement Bomber 390 in Victoria this season when the aircraft was off line for some maintenance. Both were kept exceptionally busy working the fires burning in Victoria late in the season. The two returned back to the United States in mid March in preparation for taking up working contracts for the start of the Northern fire season.

N130CG or Bomber 134 turns for another pass on the fire near Newcastle.
N130CG also assisted with the fire in Rockhampton. It was a very busy aircraft all season. Being deployed to NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmanian fires.
Another drop on target for the experienced crews of N130CG.
ASO N130CG Coulson C-130Q 4 (1 of 1)
The well maintained flight deck of N130CG. And upgrade is being planed for the aircraft with new glass screens to replace the old steam gauges.
ASO N130CG Coulson C-130Q 10 (1 of 1)
After N130CG had finished its tour of duty here in Australia. The aircraft was flown back for maintenance and repainting.
aso c-130 (1 of 1)
N130FF heads off to drop on a fire in a state forest north of Avalon.
aso c-130 2 (1 of 1)
Returning from a drop in Northern Victoria, N130FF proudly wears the EMV logos.

ASO N130FF Coulson C-130Q (1 of 1)

American Champion 8GCBC Scout

Western Australia has again contracted six Scout aircraft for the season. Owned and operated by the Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions. Operated in the Firespotter role which supervise waterbombing operations in the south-west, relaying information on fire behaviour to fire controllers. The aircraft are based at Albany, Manjimup, Jandacot and Bunbury.  ASO Firebase Jandacot 7 (1 of 1)

VH-KTG returns from another patrol to its Jandacot base.

Ayres Thrush 

The Ayres Thrush is also in use in the fire fighting role within Australia. Central Highlands Aerial Services based in Emerald, Queensland. The company deployed two of their Thrush S2R aircraft on fires in the state. 

Emerald-based Central Highlands Aerial Services (CHAS) Thrush S2R-T660 aircraft VH-PMD “Bomber 434” and VH-KCS “Bomber 435” are seen operating out of Rockhampton Airport.



Rotary fleet for the season

This year was another growth year for the rotary fleet. Both in terms of numbers, types and capabilities. Starting with the larger Type 1 fleet which is a machine able to carry or hold more then 2,650 litres of water. Six Erickson S-64’s, three Sikorsky S-61’s, three UH-60 Blackhawks from Firehawk/TOuchdown and Timberline/Pay’s and fourteen Bell 214B Big lifters make up this large array of machines. The operators like, Erickson, Kestrel, Timberline, Pay’s and McDermott’s coupled with very experienced and well seasoned crews make for a formidable lineup.  Additional smaller types like the AS-350, BK-117, Bell 204, Bell 206 are part of the varied mix required by the NAFC fleet. 

ASO Firebase Wesburn 11 (1 of 1)
The big and small of the Helitak fleet. Microflite’s fully refurbished Bell 212 VH-JJR winding up at the Grantville fire seen here with the Essendon Skycrane Helitak 748 passing over.

Airbus helicopters AS350

One of the more numerous types in service across the country is the Squirrel. With some twenty five of the single and twin engined versions. The number of operators is just as long. 

ASO Firebase Mancefield (1 of 1)
Paton Air’s VH-UAS flies as Firebird 311. Based not far away at Maindample, Paton Air had two of their machines at Firebase Mansfield.

ASO Firebase Mancefield 5 (1 of 1)

ASO Firebase Mancefield 11 (1 of 1)
Based out of Bankstown during the NSW season as an AIG platform, VH-XXM came back down to VIC to assist with various fires such as the Dandongadale, Matlock, Bunyip and Cambarville just to name a few. Seen here at Mansfield airbase it played a big role in providing valuable aerial intelligence during the Dandongadale/Rose River fire.    
Bunyip Fire 2019 11 (1 of 1)
Firebird 325 AS355 Twin Squirrel landing at Gembrook football oval for fuel during the devastating Bunyip fires. FB325 was used as a secondary AIG platform during the fire season to assist FB300.

ASO Firebase Gembrook (1 of 1)

Originally built as A22-005 for the Royal Australian Air Force. Now owned by Aero Logistics, VH-BUK flies as Firebird 287.
ASO VH-TSV Touchdown AS350 (1 of 1)
Touchdown Helicopters AS350 VH-TSV on standby at Bathurst NSW
Moorabbin Fire 2019 16 (1 of 1)
Microflight’s H125 VH-XXW flies as Firebird 300. Seen here returning to its Moorabbin base after working the Bunyip fire.
ASO Fire Season 1 (1 of 1)
Professional Helicopters AS355 operating as Firebird 318, teen during the night fire fighting trial work up phase.
ASO VH-SGK AS350 (1 of 1)
In South Australia VH-SGK flying as Firebird 510 is operated by Helifarm on contract to the CFS. It is seen at Firebase Mt Gambier.
ASO Firebase Cambridge (1 of 1)
 AS350 B3 VH-ZBQ operates as Firebird 707 seen at rest. The machine was part of the fleet working out water bombing in the Huon Valley in southern Tasmania. The aircraft was on loan to Helicopter Resources.
ASO Firebase Latrobe 11 (1 of 1)
Aeropower who base them selves at Rothwell in Queensland had AS350 VH-SHD flying as Firebird 329. It is seen here departing Latrobe Firebase to work on fires nearby.
ASO Firebase Launceston 16 (1 of 1)
AS355 VH-HGU flying as Firebird 474 is part of the McDermott fleet. The helicopter is seen here landing at Firebase Launceston.
ASO Firebase Launceston 18 (1 of 1)
Professional Helicopters based at Moorabbin in Victoria deployed Firebird 321, VH-AWK to assist with the fires in Tasmania.
ASO Firebase Latrobe 14 (1 of 1)
Forest Air’s, Firebird 310 VH-LEY was seen right across Victoria this season. From Colac to Latrobe and places between. Seen here departing Firebase Latrobe.
Firebird 319 VH-ZKK
VH-ZKK another AS355 operates as Firebird 319.

Eurocopter AS365N2 Dauphin

The Dauphin, is deployed with two examples by DFES in Western Australia this season. Firebird 661 and 662 with 1000 and 1200 litre tanks fitted respectively. Firebird 661 is also fitted out for surveillance and reconnisannce as well. 

ASO Firebase Jandacot 6 (1 of 1)
N365IL is seen at McDermotts base in Jadacot.

Airbus Helicopters EC-120

The Victorian Government through the NAFC has three EC-120 Helicopters on contract this season. Operated by Jayrow and Microflight Helicopters from Moorabbin Airport. The type is a very suitable platform for the Firebird role in which it is employed. The large windows allow for great air observation of fire fighting activities by Helitaks. Its high speed makes it ideal to get quickly on scene in preparation for fire bombing. The information from the Firebird is then passed onto the incident control team. 

VH-JYX Jayrow EC-120 (1 of 1)
Jayrow Helicopters EC-120 VH-JYX operated as Firebird 305 this season. Seen here deployed at Firebase Bendigo.
ASO Wesburn 9 (1 of 1)
Microflite’s EC-120 VH-ECP operates as Firebird 306. A very busy airframe it was based predominantly based at Essendon Fields and operating with the Aircrane. It is seen here departing Wesburn firebase during the Cambarville fires. 
ASO Firebase Gembrook 2 (1 of 1)
Firebird 309 VH-KXX working alongside Birddog 370 and many other firefighting aircraft to help contain the Bunyip fires which started from lighting late Friday 1stMarch 2019.
Moorabbin Fire 2019 2 (1 of 1)
Microflite also had EC-120 VH-KXX operating as Firebird 309. Seen here returning after working the fire in the Bunyip forest.


A type seen regularly in New South Wales is the the MBB/Kawasaki BK-117. The helicopter is extremely versatile and can be used for a variety of tasks, including water bombing, reconnaissance, mapping and aerial incendiary work. When used for water bombing operations a tank with up to 1,000 litres of water and retardant is fitted. It can also be used to winch Remote Area Firefighting Teams and Rapid Aerial Response Teams into difficult to reach areas.

Helitreck owns and operates five Kawasaki BK117B2 helicopters which can be used for water bombing operations with up to 1,000L of water and retardant. Since 1999, the company has operated as a contractor to NSW Rural Fire Service. 

ASO Firebase Wesburn 12 (1 of 1)
NSW RFS BK117, Helitack 202 is seen on arrival at Latrobe to support the fire fighting effort.

Sikorsky S-76

Last year we spoke about the important role of the Sikorsky S-76 in the Night Fire Bombing role. This season at the culmination of the work up phase the S-76 operated by Coulson Aviation was put to work. The S-76 which acts as the Supervision aircraft has an air attack office on board. The role he conducts is too safely guide the helitak aircraft to their field of operations and conduct the fire bombing drops based on the reconnaissance of the area that was done prior to working the fire ground. Once water bombing has begun the infrared camera on the single example of the Sikorsky S-76A in operation records and also monitors hot spots which will need further dousing. The Coulson Aviation team who were operating the machine are extremely skilled, with some of the crew with over 20 years of fire bombing operation experience. 

ASO Fire Season 2 (1 of 1)
Seen on the final night of night fire bombing training the crews have proven the concept to work. It wasn’t long prefer it was being used on large fires across Victoria.
ASO Firebase Wesburn 10 (1 of 1)
Firebird 322 or C-FIRW has a moment of rest after working a night shift on the Wesburn Fire.

Bell 205

A small fleet of the ubiquitous Bell 205 or the civilian version of the UH-1 Huey are in use in Australia this season. Valhalla Helicopters returned again this season with three machines from their fleet. This included Bell 205 C-GRUV. As seen in the photos the Valhalla machines are some of the cleanest looking examples of the type in operation I have seen. Originally built for the use by United Arab Emirates Air Force Silāḥ al-Jaww as-Sulṭāniy ‘Umān (Royal Air Force of Oman), this particular machine was built in 1975. 

ASO Firebase Launceston 2 (1 of 1)
Helitak 253 C-GRUV depends into the Firebase near Launceston.

ASO Firebase Launceston 3 (1 of 1)

ASO Firebase Launceston 20 (1 of 1)
C-GRUV has like most Helitaks been fitted with a bulbous window for the pilot to look down on their drops, sling load or bucket.

Bell UH-1 Huey

Touchdown Helicopters operate several examples of the UH-1 Huey in the fire suppression role. All are equiped with Bambi Max  multi drop aerial fire fighting buckets which are also configured with foam-injection capabilities. The buckets have a 1230 litre capacity. VH-OXE  and OXI were both noted flying into Rockhampton Airport in support of the fire which was very active at the airport during December 2018. 

ASO VH-OXI Touchdown UH-1H (1 of 1)
Touchdown Helicopters UH-1H Iroquois VH-OXI flying as Helitak 229. Is seen here at Bathurst Airport NSW.

Bell 206 Longranger

Another type from the Bell factory is the smaller Bell 206 Longranger. Several examples are tasked for operation during the fire season. It is particularly well suited to the supervision of firebombing operations with its high speed enabling it to keep up with the largest of firebombing helicopters and the ability to slow down and loiter in the fire area. When working as a ‘firebird’ the primary responsibility for the crew is to supervise aerial fire fighting operations and to collect intelligence information about a fire and pass it on to the incident management team. 

Heliwest Bell 206 VH-VJG Seen here working a fire in Western Australia  (Image provided by Brenden Scott)
ASO Firebase Mancefield 13 (1 of 1)
Paton Air Bell 206 VH-FKT seen here as Firebird 315 on standby at Mansfield.

ASO Firebase Mancefield 12 (1 of 1)

For an airframe built in 1979 Paton Air’s Bell 206L-1 certainly doesn’t look its age.

Bell 212

A well seasoned campaigner here and abroad for fire fighting is the Bell 212. Six of the type are on contract for the season. When fitted with the 1477 litre belly tank, the versatile Helitak is frequently on task. Victorian operators like Microflight, Jayrow and Kestrel all operate the type. Some of the 212s on contract can be fitted with a rappel line system to insert specialist smoke jumpers into areas that require a back burn where transport by vehicle is inaccessible or safe. 

ASO Fire Granville 9 (1 of 1)
Built in 1986 for the Royal Thai Army. It then became the personal transport for HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. Imported into Australia in 2008 it is now part of the large Microflight fleet based at Moorabbin Airport in Victoria. Helitak 338 was used extensively during the Victorian bush fire season.
VH-JJR seen here working the Wesburn Fire.
ASO VH-NSY Kestrel 212 (1 of 1)
Kestrel’s VH-NSY was built in 1977 on an order for Bristow Helicopters in Great Britain. Today it flies on as Helitak 330 and was seen here on standby at its Firebase Shepparton.
ASO Firebase Grantville (1 of 1)
Kestrel VH-KHO was built in 1981 for the Kaijō Hoan-chō (Japanese Coast Guard). Now flying as Helitak 333 and is seen here departing to work on the Grantville fire.
ASO VH-JJY Bell 212 (1 of 1)
Jayrow Helicopters Bell 212 VH-JJY, was built as JA9536 and flown by Kaijō Hoan-chō (Japanese Coast Guard). It flies as Helitak 340 and is seen on standby at the Bendigo Firebase.

Bell 214

The bigger version of the 212 is the Bell 214 ‘Big Lifter’. It is one of the more numerous rotary types on contract this season again. Some twelve are deployed across the country with Tasmanian, New South Wales, Victorian, and Western Australia fire agencies.  Fitted with a 2,650 litre belly tank or Tsunami tank which is able to be filled within 35 seconds. The 214 is the most powerful single engined helicopter in the world.  

ASO Firebase Launceston 15 (1 of 1)
Another part of the large McDermott Aviation fleet. Bell 214B-1, N49732. It was built for use by Silāḥ al-Jaww as-Sulṭāniy ‘Umān (Royal Air Force of Oman) in 1976. Now flying as Helitak 402.
N216PJ is seen in Western Australia before it moved down to Tasmania. (Image from Brenden Scott)
ASO Firebase Launceston 10 (1 of 1)
Built in 1981 N216PJ is part of the large McDermott Aviation fleet. Seen here landing after working the large fires in Tasmania. Helitak 677 joined the huge fleet of air assets working the large blazes in the state.
VH-SHU McDerrmott B214 (1 of 1)
Seen at Firebase Bendigo is Helitak 335 VH-SUH.
ASO Firebase Jandacot (1 of 1)
McDerromtt’s modern service facility at Jandacot is vital to the companies fire fighting operations.
ASO Firebase Jandacot 3 (1 of 1)
P2-MLJ flying as Helitak 674 seen at its base at Jandacot in Western Australia.
ASO Firebase Jandacot 4 (1 of 1)
N254SM operated as Helitak 673 this season. It is seen at McDemott’s Jandacot base.
ASO Firebase Jandacot 5 (1 of 1)
Flying with the DEFS this season is Helitak 676, VH-SMI.

Bell 412

The twin engined Bell 412 is a popular type in the fire frightening role across the world. Commonly fitted with a 1400+ litre belly tank, the type is able to get into areas where the larger machines can’t. The tank is also able to have a foam concentrate injected to further increase the effectiveness of the tank during a drop. Both the NSW and Victorian Governments have contracted five 412’s this season. 

ASO Firebase Ballarat 2019 (1 of 1)
Kestrel’s Helitak 334 now flies as VH-KHW. Originally built for the Japanese Fire and Disaster Management Agency as JA6792. Flying from the Aichi Prefecture, as part of the Disaster Prevention Air Corps From June 1996 until joining Kestrel’s fleet in April 2018. Seen here on Standby at Firebase Ballarat 2019.
ASO Fire Season 3 (1 of 1)
VH-KHU was also part of the fleet in the night fire fighting trials.
Bunyip Fire 2019 7 (1 of 1)
Kestrel’s Bell 412 VH-KHU flies as Helitak 346
ASO Firebase Bacchus Marsh (1 of 1)
Kestrel’s Bell 412 VH-XCW flies as Helitak 345. Seen here at rest at Bacchus Marsh airfield.
Moorabbin Fire 2019 4 (1 of 1)
Kept busy through out the season Helitak 345 returns from fighting the fires in South Eastern Victoria.

Bell 230

A unique aircraft in the aerial fire fighting fleet and even more so as a type on the Australian VH register. Rotor lift Aviation from Hobart in Tasmania operate Firebird 700, VH-XCW. The aircraft was previously in aeromedical configuration with Careflight in Queensland.

Now operating in the Firebird role the aircraft was very active in the firefight around Southern Tasmania this season.  With a light passenger loading and full fuel tanks the aircraft has approximately fours endurance which is extremely useful in the fire observation and control role.  

ASO Rotorlift 1 (1 of 1)

ASO Rotorlift 2 (1 of 1)
Seen as rest at Rotorlifts base in Hobart, Tasmania.

Erickson S-64 Air-Crane

As was noted previously, Eriskson and Kestrel again teamed up to bring in and operate the Air-Crane this season. This long standing operation see the merging of two well experienced companies who deploy six of the Air-Cranes across the country. The pilots and maintainers are very seasoned campaigners, with some having over twenty plus years of experience with the type. Pilots from New Zealand, Canada, United States are among some of the countries that the experience is drawn from.

These large Type 1 helicopters are well known in Australia now having been deployed continuously for over 20 years now.  This season saw the machines working fires across the country with high utilisation. The high tempo was made more so with the incident of N173AC crashing into a dam in South Eastern Victoria. Thankfully the three crew were uninjured and the Air-Crane was recovered and will be rebuilt to fly again. Being one machine down put a large workload on the remaining five machines which saw them being moved to where they were required and being deployed into other states.  

The six machines on contract this season were:

  • N176AC ‘Lucille’
  • N173AC ‘Christine’
  • N194AC ‘Delilah’
  • N218AC ‘Elsie’
  • N189AC ‘Gypsy Lady’
  • N154AC ‘Georgia Peach’
N176AC ‘Lucille’ sits at rest at Essendon Fields Airport
ASO Fire Granville 3 (1 of 1)
Tank full Helitak 748 heads off for another drop.
ASO Fire Granville 2 (1 of 1)
N176AC Helitak 748 or Lucille about to draw water while working the Wesburn fires.
Air-Crane departing on another mission with Firebird support.
ASO Firebase Essendon 2 (1 of 1)
N173AC is seen at its Essendon Airport base. This was the airframe which was involved in the incident this year.
N176AC Helitak 748,  works the fire near RAAF Williamtown.
Bunyip Fire 2019 8 (1 of 1)
N194AC, Helitak 342, Delilah lands at the refuelling base at Gembrook.
Moorabbin Fire 2019 9 (1 of 1)
N194AC, Helitak 342 aka Delilah, shuts down at Moorabbin Airport after working on the Bunyip Fire.
Elsie (1 of 1)
N218AC Helitak 734 was based in South Australia for most of the season. It did spend some time in Victoria during that states huge bushfires that erupted later in the season. Elsie, is seen here at Moorabbin Airport.
N154AC Helitak 733, Georgia Peach is seen on task at a fire North of Perth. (Image courtesy of Brenden Scott.)
End of season, three of the Air-Cranes await flights to Geelong Docks for shipment back to the Northern Hemisphere.




An Erickson crew member prepares to launch N154AC ‘Georgia Peach’ on another mission. (Image from Brenden Scott)

Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk

Australia was host to its largest fleet of Blackhawks fighting fires ever this season. Timberline again in cooperation with local operator Pay’s from Scone NSW brought two UH-60A Blackhawks to work on call as required contracts. These two machines were in operation across NSW, Victoria and Tasmania blazes. Another UH-60 operator in Australia this season is Touchdown Helicopters. Working in a partnership with the owner of the helicopter, Firehawk Helicopters from Leesburg Florida. The partnership has brought another ex US Army UH-60A Blackhawk modified for the fire fighting role. All three Blackhawks were flown in operations with the Bambi bucket on a long line.

Life in the airframe thanks to Australian involvement. 

As the Blackhawk and Seahawks enter the civilian market from military stocks, the use of the machines for firefighting works sees companies develop new technologies for these airframes as the retire from military service. One such company is Queensland based Helitak Fire Fighting Equipment. The company has developed a underslung belly tank for the Blackhawk with the design on show at this years Australian International Airshow at Avalon. Paul Blundell the Operation Manager at Helitak and Jason Schellaars took time to show ASO over the tank and its features during the show. 

ASO Avalon 2019 155 (1 of 1)

With a capacity of 4500 Litres and electric control of the drop distribution the tank has been designed so it can be fitted in as little as 25 minutes. The tank is fitted with a 6000 litres per minute fill pump which enables it to be filled in 46 seconds. The impressive design has been ordered by several overseas companies. Some of the unique features of the design also include:

  • The Helitak designed bomb doors are over 2m in length providing an unequalled delivery of controllable water to the fire ground.
  • Next generation Programmable Logic Controller that provides complete reporting of tank operations and telemetry analysis via the cloud to the operators operations centre.
  • A proven fire suppression tank with operators enjoying over 1000 hours of operations  
Image provided by Helitak showing the tank in its extended (full) position.
Image provided by Helitak show the tank in the stowed position.
Image provided by Helitak, showing the tank in its working position.

The company is also currently in discussions with hopes of supplying the tanks to a new Australian Blackhawk/Seahawk operator,Skyline Aviation Group. A helicopter operator out of the Newcastle and the Hunter Valley region’s who announced the acquisition of eleven former Royal Australian Navy S-70B-2 Seahawk helicopters. All of which are now at the companies headquarters awaiting conversion. 

ASO N274TH Timberline UH-60A+ (1 of 1)
‘The Other Thing’ was deployed in NSW and Victoria this year working on several fires.
ASO N274TH Timberline UH-60A+ 2 (1 of 1)
N274TH ‘The Other Thing’ at rest at Bathurst NSW.
ASO Firebase Launceston 4 (1 of 1)
N563DJ deployed to Tasmania to fight the large fires that where across the state.
ASO Firebase Launceston 6 (1 of 1)
N563DJ ‘Thing 2’ at rest after working the fires in Tasmania.
Moorabbin Fire 2019 6 (1 of 1)
N563DJ returns to Moorabbin Airport after working the Bunyip fire in Victoria
Bunyip Fire 2019 4 (1 of 1)
N563DJ leaves the area to refill its Bambi Bucket
Bunyip Fire 2019 5 (1 of 1)
N563DJ with its Bambi Bucket on the long line heads off to refuel.
ASO Wesburn 1 (1 of 1)
N9FH returns to refuel after working the Wesburn Fire.
ASO Wesburn Fire 2019 4 (1 of 1)
N9FH flies at Helitak 231
ASO Wesburn Fire 2019 6 (1 of 1)
N9FH with its primary Bambi Bucket and secondary smaller bucket on standby should it be needed.

Sikorsky S-61

This season Coulson Aviation Australia has supplied three Sikorsky S-61N Type 1 helicopters based across Victoria. Helitak 347 C-FXEC in its striking black and white livery was deployed from Colac most of this season. Helitak 348 N161CG, was based most of the season from the fire-base at Mansfield in Victoria’s high country.  The third S-61, Helitak 349 C-FIRX operated from Ballarat providing both a daytime and night time fire-bombing services. 

Helitak 349 was part of the fleet involved in the Night Fire Fighting trial and fire deployments.  Helitak 349 operated at night at various locations in the rugged eastern part of Victoria and the south eastern interface areas of metropolitan Melbourne during the season. An Australian connection to the two Canadian registered S-61s is their tanks, which were built in Australia.

ASO C-FXEC Coulson S-61 (1 of 1)
C-FXEC is seen at rest at its Colac base.
ASO Firebase Mancefield 2 (1 of 1)
Originally built for Greenland Air as OY-HAH in 1968. The helicopter stayed in Denmark until 2000. Converted by Coulson, the this helicopter has been seen in Australia previously.
ASO Firebase Mancefield 4 (1 of 1)
Helitak 348 with its 3000 litre Bambi bucket also has its 4000 Litre fixed tank. This allows the machine to be tailored to the fire.
ASO Night Fire Trials 2 (1 of 1)
S-61 Helitak 349 C-FIRX seen during the work up phase of the Night Fire Bombing program.

ASO Fire Granville 10 (1 of 1)

Aviation Spotters Online, wishes to thank all the pilots, crew and companies who have taken the time to work with us on this article again. It is dedicated to all the fire Fighting personal, both paid and volunteer who go above and beyond to protect Australian’s from fire. I hope this article does you proud for the vitally important work done on the fire ground. 

Thanks to the ASO team in helping out with photos and also to Brenden Scott for the use of his images.


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2 Operational Conversion Unit Hornet, visits its wartime home one last time.


2 Operational Conversion Unit, Royal Australian Air Force


Mildura Airport located approximately five hours from Melbourne has a significant wartime heritage. This weekend that history was again honoured with a visit by a Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18B ‘Classic’ Hornet. The aircraft from the 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2OCU) arrived to honour the units history which started at this very airport. A21-116 painted in the spectacular Anniversary Tiger livery, arrived Friday afternoon. The units Commanding Officer Wing Commander (WGCDR) Scott Woodland, arrived in the aircraft which would be the last opportunity to showcase the aircraft before the squadron transitions to the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter. 

A parade with a contingent of 2OCU personnel along with Australian Air Force cadets marched through the city of Mildura on Saturday morning, which was followed up with the Hornet inspection on the Sunday. Some 10,000 people descended on Mildura Airport. 

Unit History of 2OCU:

Established and stood up as an active unit in April 1942, the No. 2 (Fighter) Operational Training Unit (No. 2 OTU) initially operated from Port Pirie, in South Australia. The unit was soon relocated to the new RAAF Station Mildura, Victoria, in May the same year. The unit was formed to train pilots for the war effort. 

Wing Commander Peter Jeffrey, a fighter ace who had led No. 3 Squadron in North Africa. Wing Commander, Jeffrey brought Nos. 75 and 76 Squadrons on line to defend Northern Australia as the Japanese advanced toward New Guinea. Fellow instructors included, Clive Caldwell and Wilf Arthur fellow aces from the North African campaign.

Once the unit established itself in Mildura it was quickly operating a diverse range of types which included, P-40 Kittyhawks, Vultee Vengeances, Avro Ansons, CAC Boomerangs, Supermarine Spitfires and Airspeed Oxfords. The unit remained operational after the war, March 1947 it was disbanded. 

A Curtis P-40E Kittyhawk. (Image courtesy of Historic Australian Aircraft)

2OCU Museum 

It is worth noting that at Mildura Airport there is a museum dedicated to the preservation of the unit’s history while stationed at Mildura.  The 2OTU museum is run by volunteers and has a fantastic and interesting history on display of the unit within their building.  The museum is under going some expansion with the addition of its first complete aircraft, a CAC Sabre, example A94-989 that is soon to arrive from the Australian National Aviation Museum at Moorabbin. The group is also wishing to acquire an F/A-18 Hornet from defence disposals once the aircraft is formally retired.

A second group is also trying to build a new memorial and museum to honour the men who served at 2OTU. The group formed by Anthony Koch and Sean Morgan back in 2014, had their plans and display on show.

 In addition to this a further project being embarked upon is the desire to display a P-40 Kittyhawk within a building expansion also under planning. Some of the museum’s volunteers were on hand during the Hornet inspection on Sunday to showcase their works and some parts of the P-40 Kittyhawk which were collected and will be incorporated into a static airframe. A recent piece of work has been on a new tail assembly which was on display. 

As with all projects this is no small feat nor is it cheap. So the group is asking for the donation of P-40 parts and also financial help to see the honour of the men who paid the ultimate sacrifice presented appropriately. Please contact the team via their Facebook page for any assistance you can offer: https://www.facebook.com/mildura2OTUheritage/ 

The lads from the 2OTU group with their P-40 Fin and one of the undercarriage assemblies on display during the event.
Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc (Image courtesy of Historic Australian Aircraft)
A flight of CAC Boomerangs. (Image courtesy of Historic Australian Aircraft)
A wartime image of Airspeed Oxfords. (Image courtesy Historic Australian Aircraft)
A nice line up of early Mk.1 Avro Ansons. (Image courtesy of Historic Australian Aircraft)
Vultee Vengeance A27-17 taxies out for another mission. (Image courtesy of Historic Australian Aircraft)

It wasn’t long before the unit was re-formed, this time at RAAF Williamtown in March 1952. This was due to the demand for more highly trained pilots to serve in the Korean War.

CAC Wirraways and Mustangs were used post war by 2OCU. (Image courtesy Historic Australian Aircraft archives)

Equipped with Wirraways, Mustangs, and de Havilland Vampire jets. Dick Cresswell took command of No. 2 OTU on 21 May 1953. The unit ceased flying Mustangs that October, retaining its Wirraways and Vampires. In April 1954, it began conducting fighter combat instructor courses, as well as refresher courses on jets. Dick Cresswell also delivered the first Australian-built CAC Sabre jet fighter to No. 2 OTU in November. 

A 2OCU CAC Sabre armed with unguided rockets sits on the flight line. (Image courtesy of Historic Australian Aircraft)
CA27 Mk.32 Sabre A94-365 'Marksmen Aerobatic Team'
CA27 Mk.32 Sabre A94-365 ‘Marksmen Aerobatic Team’

It was renamed the No. 2 (Fighter) Operational Conversion Unit in September 1958. From then the unit conducted training with the CAC Sabre, Dassault Mirage III, and Macchi MB-326, prior to taking delivery of the Hornet.

A 2OCU MB-326H Macchi out on a fast jet training mission. (Image courtesy Historic Australian Aircraft)
M.B326H Macchi A7-087 RAAF Base Laverton March 17 1985 Via J.A Goldfinch Photography
MB.326H Macchi A7-087 at RAAF Base Laverton in March 1985. (Image via J.A Goldfinch Photography)
Dassault Mirage IIIO 2OCU Formation Team circa 1970's
Dassault Mirage IIIO 2OCU Formation Team circa 1970’s (Image via Mark Pourzenic Collection)
A flight of Dassault Mirages overfly the Sydney Harbour Bridge. (Image courtesy of Historic Australian Aircraft)
An early photo of a flight of 2OCU Hornets. (Image courtesy Historic Australian Aircraft)

Stacked ready to tank

Currently the unit trains pilots to operate the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. Conducting refresher courses for pilots returning to the type and trains future Hornet instructors. Pilots new to the Hornet enter No 2 OCU after first qualifying to fly fast jets at No. 79 Squadron on the BAe Hawk 127. Then undertaking initial fighter combat instruction at No. 76 Squadron. Once qualified on the F/A-18, they are posted to one of No. 81 Wing’s operational Hornet units, No. 3 Squadron, No. 75 Squadron or No. 77 Squadron.

Today the 2OCU is under going another transformation. With the winding down of the classic Hornet fleet and its replacement by the 5th Generation Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II. The unit is having a change of training syllabus and also a new type brings about advancement in tactics thanks to the new hardware. 

The Air Force expects that Initial Operating Capability (IOC) for the F-35 to be achieved by 2020. By this date two F-35 squadrons, No. 3 Squadron and No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2OCU) are expected to be equiped with between thirty and thirty-three F-35s. RAAF Williamtown will eventually be home to 56 F-35s. 2OCU will continue to look after all aircrew and maintenance training for the RAAF F-35 capability. 

A35-001 RAAF F-35A ASO 5 (1 of 1)
F-35A A35-001 proudly displaying its 2OCU markings at Avalon Airshow 2017.

Mildura Weekend-Saturday 

With the Hornet arriving on Friday afternoon, there was a noticeable buzz around the town (No pun intended).

Saturday Morning Mildura was presented with a parade by the 2OCU members and 623 Squadron cadets from Mildura.



Members of 2OCU and 623 Squadron cadets march to the park.
Wing Commander (WGCDR) Scott Woodland address the crowd assembled at the park.


Mildura Weekend-Sunday

Sunday morning was the open day at Mildura Airport. A21-116 was positioned in the hangar near the airport terminal. A huge crowd of locals descended on the airport keen to see the Hornet up close. 


Crowds surrounded the aircraft on both sides with many keen to get a look inside the Hornet.


Both young………
and older generations all got access to the cockpit, with many many questions asked and answered.
No mistaking who’s jet it is………
A nice group shot of the entire 2OCU crew with A21-116.


As the crowds dispersed the time had come for Hornet A21-116 to begin preparations for its departure from Mildura. The jet was descended upon by RAAF personal who got the aircraft ready to come out of the hangar. Wing Commander (WGCDR) Scott Woodland, took the time to give ASO a shortened version of a ‘Classic’ Hornet preflight. See the video here:

Once the aircraft was ready it departed the hangar for refuelling. 


History of A21-116

The aircraft was ordered in 1981, and built as a Block 22, B model Hornet construction number ATF-16. The aircraft was one of eighteen twin seat B models ordered by the RAAF. Along with fifty seven single seat A models. The aircraft was delivered on 31st of August 1988. At the end of 2019 the aircraft will retire from flight along with Wing Commander (WGCDR) Scott Woodland. A fitting tribute to an aircraft and serviceman who have both served Australia and its people so well.  


Good buy old friend.

Monday Departure

On a very cool winters morning F/A-18B A21-116 was fired up and departed Mildura Airport. Wing Commander (WGCDR) Scott Woodland wanted to make his departure a good one. We think you’ll agree it was a spirited one. 

Aviation Spotters Online wishes to acknowledge the help and time granted to both Mark and Dave during their time at Mildura. Thanks go out to Mildura Airport Corporation, Royal Australian Air Force, Wing Commander (WGCDR) Scott Woodland and members of 2OCU, 623 Royal Australian Air Force Cadets and finally the Royal Australian Air Force media department. 

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Air Vanuatu returns to Melbourne Airport


Air Vanuatu has returned to Melbourne Airport  launching the carriers three time a week service between Port Villa and Melbourne. 

Marking the return of the airlines services to Melbourne was a ceremony conducted outside gate 20 of the International terminal.




Standing outside on the hardstand was the airlines Boeing 737-8SH, wearing registration YJ-AV8, on a cold and dark Melbourne morning. A stark contrast to the passengers who will arrive to a beautiful and warm 27 degrees later on that day. 

Launching the service was Melbourne Airport Chief of Aviation David Hall, who was thrilled to announce another airline to his airports ever growing  portfolio, adding more destinations served from Melbourne. “The service to Port Villa is a big win for Victorian travellers as well as holiday makers in Tasmania and Adelaide who use Melbourne as a hub to reach overseas destinations”, said Mr Hall.

Also present at the launch was Air Vanuatu Managing Director and CEO Derek Nice. “We (Air Vanuatu) are excited to commence our new direct service today from Melbourne Airport to Port Vila, Vanuatu. Our direct nonstop morning flight, which sees our guests arrive in Vanuatu by lunchtime is a great opportunity for Victorian’s to explore our idyllic island nation and immerse themselves in the Melanesian spirit from the moment they arrive”. 

Vanuatu Prime Minister, Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas along side Melbourne Airport Chief of Aviation David Hall.


The airline will fly to and from Melbourne on  Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays with departure from Melbourne at 7am. 

The first Air Vanuatu flight, operated by a McDonnell Douglas DC-9-31 which was owned and operated by Ansett, departed Sydney for Port Vila on 5 September 1981. In May 1982 a Boeing 737–200 of Polynesian Airlines replaced the DC-9. This in turn was replaced by an Ansett 737-200 in October 1985. Air Vanuatu commenced operations in its own right in 1987 first leasing a Boeing 727-200 from Australian flying from Port Villa to Sydney. Main cities such as  Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland and Brisbane are its principal destinations.

In 2004 the Government of Vanuatu decided to join the operations of Vanair, a well established domestic inter-island airline, with the international operations of Air Vanuatu. Noumea was added to its international schedule and the next generation Boeing 737-800 replaced the older 737-400 model then in service. Air Vanuatu is one of a few airlines using the Chinese made, regional turboprop Y-12 aircraft.

The airlines current fleet includes, three Viking Air DHC-6 Twin Otters, two Yunshuji T-12, two ATR 72, two Britten Norman BN-2 and a single Boeing 737-800. 

Boeing 737-8SH, YJ-AV8 awaits its return flight as NF7 to Port Vila.



Air Vanuatu has ordered two Airbus A220-100s and two A220-300s, making it the launch customer for the A220 in the South Pacific. The first delivery from the order is due in June 2020.

ASO again wishes to thank Melbourne Airport Corporation and Air Vanuatu for their assistance. 


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Visiting Japanese Airbases, Part 5 – JASDF Museum Hamamatsu

I make no apologies for writing and photographing as many aviation museums’ as I have here at Aviation Spotters Online. Nearly all are run and managed by passionate volunteers who wish to preserve and tell the story of aviation in relation to their country, area of operations, war zones or as is the case here an airforce’s history.

The JASDF Museum at Hamamatsu has been on my list of places to visit for many years. The museum is set on the side of the Hamamatsu Air Force base where it was established in 1999. Getting there is relatively simple, a bus from the Hamamatsu train station or hire a car from the afore mentioned station and drive about 25 minutes to the entrance.

Greeting you at the main entrance is a Blue Implulse marked F-86E Sabre serial number 02-7966. Hamamatsu was the home of the JASDF’s display team where the team formed flying the Sabre in 1960. Flying six F-86Es the team was part of the 21 Squadron, which was part of the 4th Air Wing.

Museum Details:

Shizuuoka Pref 432-8001

Opening Hours:

Tuesday ( 9:00 AM ~ 4:00PM )
Wednesday ( 9:00 AM ~ 4:00 PM )
business_hours.thursday ( 9:00 AM ~ 4:00 PM )
Friday ( 9:00 AM ~ 4:00 PM )
Saturday ( 9:00 AM ~ 4:00 PM )
Sunday ( 9:00 AM ~ 4:00 PM )
Open on National Holidays, but closed the next day ( 12:00 AM ~ 12:00 AM )

Getting there:

Buses on Line 51 depart from Bus Stop 14 of Hamamatsu Station bus terminal, or the museum is within walking distance from a bus stop at Izumi-yon-chome.

Overview of the main hall.

Outside are a couple of airframes, hopefully in time they will move inside when time and space occurs. As with all museums space is at a premium. This however doesn’t detract from a great display of the post war JASDF.  From early British and American designs too Japanese developed aircraft this small nation has progressed rapidly in its capabilities. 

Curtiss C-46A Commando, s/n 91-1138

The JASDF was a significant operator of the Curtis C-46 Commando. The type was flown in several versions including electronic countermeasures training versions. On display is Commando 91-1138. This was ex USAF 42-101098, and it was delivered to the JASDF in December 1959. Withdrawn from use on 11 March 1978, and had been placed on display at Hamamatsu Air Base by 1984.

JASDF Museum 2018 1 (1 of 1)

JASDF Museum 2018 2 (1 of 1)

JASDF Museum 2018 3 (1 of 1)

Piasecki CH-21B Workhorse s/n 02-4756

The Piasecki H-21 “Workhorse/Shawnee” is an early American designed helicopter.  Fourth in a line of tandem rotor helicopters designed and built by Piasecki Helicopter (later Boeing Vertol). Commonly called the “flying banana”, it was a multi-mission helicopter, utilising wheels, skis, or floats.

Japan Air Self-Defense Force operated 10 H-21B helicopters in the search and rescue role. The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force operated 2 Model 44A helicopters for testing. Four of the surviving helicopters are preserved in Japan. 

JASDF Museum 2018 4 (1 of 1)

Walking inside the main hangar you can’t help but notice the variety of colours and aiframes on display.

North American T-6 Texan s/n 52-0010

Known as the pilot maker across the world, the JASDF operated the North American T-6 Texan. They were among the first military aircraft which Japan was allowed to operate post-war. Some 195 eventually seeing service with the JASDF between 1955 and 1970. A further 62 were flown by the Japanese Navy. 

JASDF Museum 2018 6 (1 of 1)


de Havilland Vampire T.55 s/n 63-5571

The JASDF acquired this aircraft in 1955 for evaluation. The Japanese decided not to purchase it after evaluation. It remains the only Vampire flown by Japan. And thus a very unique exhibit in the museum. 

JASDF Museum 2018 13 (1 of 1)

JASDF Museum 2018 12 (1 of 1)
Built and acquired in 1956, the JASDF’s sole de Havilland Vampire T.55 was used to evaluate the side-by-side training concept. The aircraft was struck of charge in September 1960.

Fuji T-1A

Japan was looking for a replacement for its war weary North American T-6 Texan fleet. First flying in 1957 with the British Orephus engine as its power plant this was soon replaced with the locally built and designed JO-1 Engine. Long delays in the engines development saw the Orephus soon back in the airframe. Some sixty six examples of both the T-1A, T-1B and T-1C were produced and taken into service with the JASDF. The type had a long and successful career with the 13th Flying Training Wing stationed at both Gifu and Ashiya. Replaced by the locally designed and built Kawasaki T-4 in 2006. On display is T-1A 15-5825,  delivered to the JASDF in 30/9/1961 it was withdrawn on the 29/3/1999 at Ashiya. 

JASDF Museum 2018 7 (1 of 1)

JASDF Museum 2018 17 (1 of 1)
Delivered to the JASDF in July 1961, 15-5825 was assigned to both the Air Proving Wing and the 13th Flying Training Wing in a service career that spanned 27 years

Beech 65 Queen Air

Used in the Communications and navigation trainer role the JASDF took on some 28 examples beginning in 1963. The type retired in 2000. The B-65 displayed at the JASDF Air Park bears the markings of the Southwestern Command Support Flight based at Naha, Okinawa Prefecture. It was from there that the aircraft was flown to Hamamatsu after its withdrawal from service.

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North American T-28 Trojan 

Initially assigned the civil registration JA3086 when imported from the manufacturer in 1954, this North American T-28B Trojan was passed to the then Japan Defense Agency for technical research purposes in 1956. Converted for the reconnaissance training role in 1962, the aircraft suffered a heavy landing at Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, on July 3, 1963, when serving with the 501st Sqn. For a time used as an instructional airframe at Kumagaya AB in Saitama Prefecture, the aircraft was in place
when the Air Park first opened its doors in April 1999.

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Imported in October 1954 and assembled by then Shin Mitsubishi (New Mitsubishi) Heavy Industries.

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North American T-33 Shooting Star

A type flown in large lumbers by the JASDF was the Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star. Entering service in 1956 and retiring in 1994 the type was flown by fourteen different Tactical Fighter Squadrons in the JASDF. Over 210 examples were eventually to be operated with many built by Kawasaki Heavy Industries. T-33 was developed from the Lockheed P-80/F-80 by lengthening the fuselage by and adding a second seat, instrumentation, and flight controls. On display is 71-5239.




Mitsubishi A6M Zero 

A type which was to be a mainstay in Japan’s war in the Pacific. The Zero is a long-range fighter aircraft formerly manufactured by Mitsubishi Aircraft Company, a part of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy from 1940 to 1945. It was one of the most capable carrier-based fighter in the world when it was introduced early in World War II, combining excellent manoeuvrability and very long range. Nearly 11,000 examples were produced. 

On display is a genuine combat veteran Zero. An A6M5 version serially 43-188. It was shot down on June 19th 1944. This being the first day of the Battle of the Philippine Sea better known as the “Marianas Turkey Shoot”. Pilot Shimazu Ozaki and another Zeke straffed a Navy SOC seaplane attempting a rescue of a downed American flyer. A USN F-6F of VF-10, flown by Lt. Henry C. Clem joined the battle, but was shot down by Ozaki. In turn, a F4U-2 Nightfighter on temporary day duty, flown by Lt.Cdr. R.E. Harmer of VF(N)-101 pursued Ozaki, and damaged his Zeke.

Escaping back towards Guam streaming smoke. Ozaki crash landed his Zeke just off the airstrip, and later died of his wounds. Rediscovered in 1962 the aircraft was exhumed nearly totally complete apart from the fabric covered rudder. It was retuned to Japan in 1964 and rebuilt and repainted into its wartime markings. 

Restored by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in a hangar at JASDF Hamamatsu Airbase, it is a true time capsule example of the famous Zero. 



Helicopters on display

The museum has a vast three examples of helicopters on display within the main hall. 

All three are painted in their Search and Rescue (SAR) markings.  

Sikorsky S-62

A single turbine engine, three-blade rotor amphibious helicopter. Originally developed as a commercial venture by the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation of Stratford, Connecticut, it was used by the JASDF in the Search and Rescue role. Produced under license in Japan by Mitsubishi. Nine Mitsubishi-built Sikorsky S-62J rescue helicopters were operated. Known by the unofficial name of Raicho (Ptarmigan), the type was in service from 1963 to 1983 before being replaced by the more capable, twin-engined Kawasaki-Vertol KV-107.


Three of the JASDF’s nine Mitsubishi-built Sikorsky S-62J rescue helicopters remain. Known by the unofficial name of Raicho (Ptarmigan), the type was in sevice from 1963 to 1983 before being replaced by the more capable, twin-engined Kawasaki-Vertol KV-107.


Boeing Vertol Model 107

The KV-107 started life as Boeing Vertol Model 107 which was a twin-rotor, twin-engine design that first flew in April 1958. Japan was interested in the Model 107 for service in its Self Defense Forces and Kawasaki Heavy Industries acquired a license to manufacture the aircraft in Japan.

The JMSDF acquired the KV-107-II-3 as a mine sweeper; the JGSDF selected the KV-107-II-4 as its assault and transportation helicopter; while the JASDF adopted the KV-107-II-5 as its primary rescue helicopter. In 1988, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force choose the UH-60L to replace its KV-107 and Sikorsky S-62 helicopters.

This KV-107IIA-5 was formerly assigned to the air rescue unit at the adjacent Hamamatsu AB.

Sikorsky S-55 

The KV-107 started life as Boeing Vertol Model 107 which was a twin-rotor, twin-engine design that first flew in April 1958. The KV-107 started life as Boeing Vertol Model 107 which was a twin-rotor, twin-engine design that first flew in April 1958.

Formerly operated from Hamamatsu AB, this H-19C has been on indoor display at the adjacent JASDF Air Park since March 2000.


Mitsubishi Mu-2

The Mitsubishi MU-2  made its maiden flight in September 1963 and was produced until 1986. It is one of postwar Japan’s most successful aircraft, with 704 manufactured in Japan and San Angelo, Texas, in the United States.

29 MU-2Es were purchased by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force as search-and-rescue aircraft and designated MU-2S. Additional equipment consisted of a “thimble” nose radome, increased fuel capacity, bulged observation windows, and a sliding door for dropping rafts. The type was replaced in 2008 by the British Aerospace U-125A.

Four C-model aircraft were built, in addition to 16 MU-2Ks, entered service with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) with the designation LR-1; they were used as liaison and photo reconnaissance aircraft. 

Delivered to the JASDF in 1971, the MU-2S on display at the Air Park was with the Air Rescue Wing’s Akita detachment prior to its retirement from active service.
Carrying the markings of the Akita detachment of the Air Rescue Wing, 29 of this MU-2 variant were operated in the SAR role with thimble nose radome, increased fuel capacity, bulged observation windows and a sliding door for dropping rafts


North American F-86 Sabre 

The first Sabres were delivered in December 1955 when a number of F-86F models arrived in Japan. The delivery of these F-86s coincided with the establishment of the Kokudan (Air Wing) at Hamamatsu airbase, eventually forming the 1st and 2nd Hikotai (Squadron) within it, both equipped with F-86F Sabres. The Sabre numbers were expanded to a sizeable air force with the backbone being formed by 180 US built and 300 Mitsubishi built F-86Fs.

A tactical reconnaissance unit was established December 1961 when the 501st Hikotai was activated at Matsushima, flying converted Sabres designated RF-86F. 

F-86D all weather interceptors also flew with the JASDF. Eventually some 122 US F-86Ds, which operated between 1958–1961 They were assigned to four all-weather interceptor Hikōtai, and the Air Proving Ground at Gifu.


84-8104 was originally built for and served with the United States Air Force as 52-4042.
The second ex Blue Impulse jet on display at the museum is 02-7960.
Another angle of the Sabre at the front of the museum. 02-7966 was a part of the Blue Impulse Aerobatic team.

Beechcraft T-34 Mentor 

Japan operated 173  T-34 Mentors with them being built locally by Fuji Heavy Industries. Derived from the Beechcraft Model 35 Bonanza, it first flew in 1948. On display is 51-0382. 


Fuji T-3 

The Fuji T-3 is a primary military trainer aircraft that was used by the JASDF. Manufactured by Fuji Heavy Industries. Its first flight was in 1978. In total 50 aircraft were produced. The type was replaced by the Fuji T-7 in 2002.  91-5517 is on display. 

The T-3 at the JASDF Air Park is suspended from the ceiling. Listed on the engine cowling are the names of the personnel who carried out the aircraft’s final overhaul.

Mitsubishi T-2 

The Mitsubishi T-2 is a supersonic jet trainer. Introduced in 1975, it was the twin seat development of the Mitsubishi F-1 military aircraft. It was also the first Japanese aircraft to break the sound barrier. All T-2s were retired by 2006.

Entering service in 1975, with the first unit, the 21st Hikōtai becoming fully operational on 1 October 1976, with a second squadron, the 22nd Hikōtai following on 5 April 1978, allowing the North American F-86 Sabre to be phased out of the advanced training role.

The “Blue Impulse” aerobatic display team of the JASDF re-equipped with the T-2 in the winter of 1981–82. T-2s were also used by a dedicated Aggressor squadron. T-2s were also used as conversion trainers for squadrons operating the Mitsubishi F-1, a development of the T-2.The type was retired from service by 2006. 


Given the nickname “Triple Sticks” from the last three digits of its serial number, T-2 59-5111 at the JASDF Air Park, retains the markings of its time with the Blue Impulse aerobatic display team.

Mitsubishi F-1 

The Mitsubishi F-1 is Japan’s first domestically developed and built supersonic jet. It was nicknamed “Supersonic Rei-Sen” (Rei-Sen being the Japanese term for Mitsubishi’s A6M “Zero” fighter). Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Fuji Heavy Industries jointly developed the F-1. Entering service in April 1978 the type Continued until its retirement in March 2006. Seventy Seven airframes went on to serve the JASDF. Its primary role is anti-ship attack with a secondary ground attack role. It can carry AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles for self-defense.



Lockheed F-104J Starfighter

Some 210 F-104J air-superiority fighters and 20 dual-control trainer F-104DJs. Called Eiko (“Glory”), they served from October 1962 to 1986, losing only 3 airplanes in this time including a mid-air collision accident. Seven air-superiority squadrons used them: 201, 202, 203, 204, 205, 206, 207. Japanese F-104s were constantly engaging intrusive Soviet airplanes during the types long service. Twenty two of the Japanese F-104s were eventually converted to drones for aerial target practice. 31 F-104J and five F-104DJ aircraft were sold to Taiwan. The museum has two examples on display, 76-8693 and 76-8998.  


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Originally delivered to the 204th Sqn in July 1967, the Starfighter displayed outside at the JASDF Air Park has been painted in the markings carried by the 14 aircraft converted to UF-104J/JA pilotless target drone standard. These were flown from Iwo Jima between 1994 and 1997.


In the second hall are display relating to the history of the JASDF and its current fleet. Some creative and interactive parts are sure to have you spending some time in this hall. Two aircraft are also on display within the hall. A mockup of the F-2 and a F-1 which has been de-skined to show the inner workings of an airframe. 

Based on the Lockheed Martin F-16, The Japanese F-2 has a lengthened fuselage and has several other unique features. The service has taken delivery of 98 airframes including the prototypes.
Mitsubishi F-1 90-8225 is shown with many panels removed to see the inner workings of the type.

I highly recommend this museum, it is a great place to learn about the JASDF from its humble beginnings to its current incarnation. 


Dave Soderstrom

Photographer, Aviation Spotters Online 

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Flying with the Royal Malaysian Air Force in the Airbus A400M Atlas


In this the first of our Australian International Air Show articles we focus on an aircraft type that has previously visited the Australian International Air Show. The Airbus Defence and Space Military aircraft, the A400M Atlas. It was again part of the line up to be displayed among the other international aircraft on the flight line at this years event. The Royal Malaysian Air Force and Airbus Industries not only flew the Atlas to Avalon, but it was demonstrated to invited guests during the event.

Airbus are keen to see more Air Forces in the Asia-Pacific region replace legacy types like the Lockheed C-130, and Transal C-160 with the A400M.

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Positioning the A400M after a demonstration flight.

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The type was launched in 2003 to response to the future airlifter needs of several European nations. France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Belgium, and Luxembourg had a need to replace older transport aircraft, such as the Transall C-160 and the Lockheed C-130 Hercules. 

All the major assemblies built at the company’s other facilities across Europe, are brought to the Seville facility by Airbus Beluga transporters, for the final assembly. The type first flew on 17 December 2008, it was originally planned to fly during the first quarter of 2008. This was postponed due to the well documented programme delays, schedule adjustments and financial pressures.

While development and cost overruns are common place with aircraft development the program was close to being terminated. In 2009, Airbus stated that the programme was expected to lose at least €2.4 billion and could not break even without sales outside NATO countries. Then in January 2010, Airbus again repeated that the A400M may be scrapped, costing Airbus €5.7 billion unless €5.3 billion was added by partner governments.

Orders and Deliveries

It was November 2010, when the governments of Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey finalised the contract and agreed to lend Airbus Military €1.5 billion. The programme was then at least three years behind schedule. The RAF reduced its order from 25 to 22 aircraft and German Luftwaffe from 60 to 53, decreasing the total order from 180 to 170.

The A400M entered military service a decade later on the 30th of  September 2013. It was the French Air Force who took delivery of the first production aircraft and has orders for fifty. Turkey took delivery of their first A400M in 2014, of ten for that service. The Royal Air Force has ordered twenty two and took delivery of their first aircraft in 2014 also.

The German Luftwaffe took the first of their fifty three on order in 2014. In March 2015 the Royal Malaysian Air Force took delivery of its first A400M, of four on order. 2016 saw the Spanish Air Force take delivery of the first of twenty seven on order for their air arm. This year (2019) Belgium was handed over the first of seven their Air Force will except. Luxembourg will also take delivery of a single example in 2019.

To date some 174 aircraft have been ordered with Airbus keen to sell the aircraft to other operators including the Royal New Zealand Air Force who are considering the type to replace their 1965 delivered Lockheed C-130H Hercules.

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Arriving at Avalon Airport ahead of the airshow was, RMAF M54-04 was previously deployed along with RMAF F/A-18 Hornets to Pitch Black 2018.
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Wearing civilian registration, F-RBAF. Armée de l’Air (French Air Force) A4M014 departs Avalon.
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Armée de l’Air (French Air Force) A4M014
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Royal Air Force A400M C.1, ZM401 operated by XXIV Squadron, was present at the 2017 event.

Aviation Spotters Online was invited by Airbus and the RMAF (Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia (TUDM) to experience and look at the Atlas in detail during the Australian International Airshow 2019.

Engine and Propeller Combination

It was parked near some of it’s air lifting counterparts on the hard standing at the airshow which included, the Lockheed C-130H and J models, Boeing C-17A, Kawasaki C-2A. The A400M casts a large shadow where based on size alone looks like a perfect fit among the mix. The huge eight bladed Ratier-Figeac FH385 and FH386 variable pitch tractor propellers with feathering and reversing capability are 5.3 meters in diameter. Coupled to the four Europrop TP400-D6 turboprop, 8,200 kW which produce some 11,000 horsepower each, gives the A400M a cruise speed of 781 km/h at 31,000 feet.

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The eight bladed Ratier-Figeac FH385 and FH386 variable pitch tractor propellers, churn away as we climb out over Geelong

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Cargo Hold

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The RMAF crew prepare the cabin for the media flight.

With a maximum payload of up to 37 tonnes (81 600 lb) and a volume of 340 m3(12,000 ft3), the A400M can carry numerous pieces of outsize cargo. It is not limited to vehicles and helicopters that are too large or too heavy for previous generation tactical airlifters, for example, a NH90 or a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, or a heavy infantry fighting vehicle. It can also carry a single large truck, rescue boat, excavators or mobile cranes needed to assist in disaster relief.

Personnel and troops

Airbus has designed the A400m to accommodate 116 fully equipped troops or paratroops, seated in four longitudinal rows. Broken down this equates to:

  • 54 sidewall seats permanently installed in the cargo hold can be easily folded against the sidewalls.
  • Two-centreline seat rows (62 seats) are fully removable to clear space for cargo.


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An Atlas cockpit is based on the layout and design of the civilian A380 passenger liner. The full glass cockpit which features four large glass displays are combined with systems designed to reduce the workload in the flight deck. A HUD or Heads Up Display is a prominent feature in forward vision from both the right hand and left hand seats. Other systems like a T-TAD (Tactical Terrain Awareness Display), ECAM (Electrical Centralised Aircraft Monitoring) and Fly by Wire controls all aim to reduce pilot workload during its varying mission suites.

Air to Air Refuelling

The Atlas was designed to be a dual-role transport and tanker aircraft. A standard A400M has much of the equipment and software provisions for 2-point air-to-air refuelling operations already installed.  Any A400M can be rapidly reconfigured to become a tactical 2-point tanker able to refuel probe-equipped receiver aircraft. Having a fuel capacity of some 63,500 litres (50,800 kg) which can be even further increased with additional cargo hold tanks.

The aircraft uses Cobham designed 908E refuelling pods which are mounted on the external hard points out board of the engines. A further 808E Hose Drum Unit can be installed in the aircraft’s fuselage.

The RMAF has already certified air to air refuelling with its three fighters, the Flanker, Hornet and Hawks. The RMAF has ordered two sets of the refuelling pods for its four A400M, all of which are wired for air to air refuelling.

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The A400M loadmaster sits underneath the main cockpit. The station has monitors to access the cameras feeding information from around the aircraft to the crew member.

RMAF Service

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RMAF roundel proudly worn on the A400m.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force’s 22 Sqn, is the services sole operating squadron of the Airbus A400M. Based at  Subang Air Force Base which was Kuala Lumpur’s main airport from 1965 to 1998. This was before the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang was opened. The motto of the squadron is “Gagah Berani or The Strong and The Bold, which officially stood up in 2015.

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  On 8 December 2005, four Airbus Military A400M aircraft were ordered to enhance the air force’s airlift capability. By March 2017 all Malaysian A400Ms had been delivered to the squadron.

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Climbing out of Avalon.
The power from the four Europrop TP400-D6 turboprops is huge.
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Flying over Northern Victoria
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Taking in the vies from the cockpit.
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The RMAF did an amazing job presenting the aircraft to the public.

Humanitarian efforts with the A400M

In October 2018 an earthquake and tsunami in Palu Indonesia, saw the Royal Malaysian Air Force and Airbus Foundation working together to support humanitarian efforts. The deployment of a single A400M was to aid the distribution of emergency supplies to the city. It arrived at Jakarta’s Halim Air Base on 4 October, to support the devastated city.

Specialised cargo which would be a first of kind transport for the RMAF, included fuel trucks and excavators. Other supplies like   food, drinks, clothes, and medical supplies were brought in on subsequent flights also.

Major Hasan, who is a RMAF A400M Captain and also the Commander of Operations, took time out to speak with the assembled media about the aircraft, in the Air Force’s service.

The Major noted that the A400M has a quicker pre-flight preparation due to the aircraft’s on-board flight computer. It also enables a quicker turn around when the aircraft is on the ground.

It is a truly amazing aircraft with fantastic capabilities, we hope to see the type in Asia Pacific region in other air arms markings soon.

Aviation Spotters Online wishes to thank the crew of  The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF Malay Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia (TUDM) and Airbus Defence and Space for the invitation to experience the Airbus A400M Atlas during the Australian International AirShow 2019.

Dave & Mark.

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Avalon Airshow 2019 , The Australian International Airshow and Aerospace & Defence Exposition-Civil displays

There is now only 10 days left until the Australian International Airshow 2019 at Avalon opens to the public. Check your calendar now to make sure your there when this great show takes off on Friday March 1st, 2019.

The 2019 Australian International Airshow will also showcase a significant number of aircraft and types flown on the civilian registers.  Each year the airshow brings in International displays who wow the crowd with their aerobatic, aircraft performance and a look at where aviation has come from.  The Airshow for 2019 will be no different. Some of the displays and type that will be seen are as follows:

The Program

1st March – 3rd March Australian International Airshow (public access starts at 2pm on Friday) 

**Hot Tip** Whilst the flying displays don’t start until 2pm on the Friday, if your a Gold Pass holder on the Friday you can get in to the airshow from 9am Friday. This is a great opportunity to get around the large number of aircraft on static display before the crowds build.

Take a look at the bottom of this story for links to the program details.

Paul Bennet Airshows and the Skyteam will be showcasing their amazing piloting skills from Glenn Graham, Glenn Collins and Ben Lappin alongside their performances from their aircraft which include:

Wolf Pitts Pro

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Wolf Pitts Pro
Wolf Pitts Pro

Wolf Pits S1-11X

Wolf Pits S1-11X

Pits S-1E

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Pits S-1E
Mottys-Aeros-Sky Aces-WOI-2018-17045-001-ASO
Pits S-1E

The Temora Aviation Museum at Temora in New South Wales will be bringing and displaying the following:

CAC CA-13 Boomerang

IMG_2440 (2)
CAC CA-13 Boomerang
CAC Boomerang.Point Cook (1)
CAC CA-13 Boomerang

Cessna A37 Dragonfly

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Cessna A37 Dragonfly
IMG_3562 (2)
Cessna A37 Dragonfly


Lockheed Hudson

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Lockheed Hudson
Lockheed Hudson

Supermarine Spitfire XVI

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Supermarine Spitfire XVI

Jeff Trappett former RAAF Squadron leader based at Latrobe in Victoria will display his Douglas C-47 Dakota painted as a USAF AC-47 Gunship.

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Douglas C-47 Dakota
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Douglas C-47 Dakota


Extra 330C Paul Andronicou

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Extra 330C
Mottys-Aeros-Paul Andronicou-WOI-2018-07687-001-ASO
Extra 330C

Nanchang CJ-6A/Yak-52 – Russian Roolettes

Mottys Russian Roolettes 0001 Gunnedah 2015
Nanchang CJ-6A/Yak-52
Mottys Russian Roolettes 1001 Gunnedah 2015
Nanchang CJ-6A/Yak-52
Mottys-Aeros-Russian Roolettes-WOI-2018-14700-001-ASO
Nanchang CJ-6A/Yak-52

SIAI-MARCHETTI S-211 Jetworks Display Team

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Curtiss P-40N Kittyhawk – Alan Arthur

Curtiss P-40N Kittyhawk
Curtiss P-40N Kittyhawk

Lockheed 12A Electra Doug Hamilton

Lockheed 12A Electra
Lockheed 12A Electra

Sopwith Snipe, Sopwith Pup and RE.8

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Sopwith Snipe, Sopwith Pup

Other types on display around the airport will include:

  • A CA-25 Winjeel
  • AAT Tercel Gyroplane
  • Aeronca Champ
  • Aeropilot Legend LSA
  • Aerospatiale AS365 Dauphin
  • AESL Airtourer Super 150
  • Airborne M4 Sport Microlight
  • Airtourer
  • Airtourer AT100
  • Albatros
  • Alpi Pioneer 200
  • Alpi Pioneer 300
  • Alpi Pioneer 300 Hawk
  • Arion Lightning
  • Auster J1B
  • Auster J1N
  • Auster J5G
  • Auster MKV TW371
  • Autogyro de Cavalon
  • Autogyro de MTO Sport
  • Avid Flyer
  • Beech T-34 Mentor
  • Beechcraft 19A
  • Beechcraft A36 Bonanza
  • Bell 47 Helicopter
  • Birddog
  • Bristell LSA
  • Bristell S
  • Bristell S-LSA
  • Brumby
  • Bush Caddy
  • Bushby Mustang II
  • Cessna 120
  • Cessna 140
  • Cessna 172
  • Cessna 172N
  • Cessna 180A
  • Cessna 182
  • Cessna 182Q
  • Cessna 185
  • Cessna 185F
  • Cessna 190
  • Cessna 195
  • Cessna 195A
  • Chipmunk
  • Cirrus SR20
  • Cirrus SR20A-G2
  • Cirrus SR22
  • Corby Kestrel
  • Corby Starlet CJ-1
  • DH.94 Moth Minor
  • Diamond HK-36 TC100 Motorglider
  • DTA J-Ro Tandem
  • Edge 540
  • ELA 07S
  • ELA 09 Drover
  • ELA10 Eclipse
  • Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin
  • Europa XS
  • Flight Design CTLS
  • Fly Synthesis Texan 550
  • Foxbat Vixeen
  • Fresh Breeze Xcitor
  • Gazelle
  • Glasair III Super Turbo
  • Grob G109B
  • Grumman Tiger AA58
  • Hang Glider
  • Hornet
  • ICP Savannah S
  • Jabiru J200
  • Jabiru J230-B
  • Jabiru SP
  • Jabiru ULT
  • Kiowa helicopter
  • LA 4-200 Buccaneer
  • Lancair 360
  • Lancair IV
  • M912 Sport Copter
  • Magni M-16 Tandem
  • Magni M-24 Orion VIP
  • Mooney M20J
  • Mooney M20R
  • Morgon Aeroworks Cougar MK1
  • Mustang Titan
  • Nanchang
  • Paraglider
  • Percival Jet Provost
  • Percival Proctor
  • Piper Arrow IV
  • Piper Cherokee 6 PA32
  • Piper Colt
  • Piper PA 15 Vagabond
  • Pipistrel Alpha Trainer
  • Pits S1T
  • Powered Parachute
  • Powered Paraglider
  • Rutan Varieze
  • RV-10
  • RV-4
  • RV6
  • RV-6A
  • RV-7
  • RV7A
  • RV9A
  • Safari Helicopter
  • Schweizer 269C-1
  • Searey – Southern Sun
  • Searey LSX
  • Skyranger Swift
  • Sling 2
  • Sling 4
  • Sonex
  • Sonex Taildragger
  • Sportcopter Vortex
  • Stearman
  • Steen Skybolt
  • Super Cub
  • Super Petrel LS
  • TAG Aviation Titanium Explorer
  • Tecnam P2008
  • Tecnam P92
  • Tecnam P92 Echo Super
  • Tecnam P92 TD
  • Thruster T300
  • TL Ultralight Co TL-3000
  • Trike
  • Vans RV-10
  • Vans RV-7
  • Weightshift Microlight
  • Wittman Tailwind W10
  • Zenair STOL CH 750
  • Zenith 601

More Information and links to resources and tickets.

As Australia’s premier Airshow its an event not to be missed. For more information here are a few handy links:

The Public display programs can be found HERE

Tickets for the airshow are able to be purchased now. Please follow this link 

And if your want more on the Australian International Airshow take a look at some of ASO’s articles from previous years HERE

See you at the show!

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