Aviation Spotters Online

Aviation Spotters Online

All posts by Leigh Atkinson

Avalon Airshow – Super Hornet Display Practice!

All the buzz and hype that is going along with the arrival of the new Royal Australian Air Force assets like the EA-18G Growlers and the visit from a pair of our new F-35 Lightnings will be quickly forgotten as the F/A-18F Super Hornet rips open the sky in its solo display over Avalon this coming week. The new and visiting assets to the Australian International Airshow are all very cool but nothing competes with the noise and the site of a high performance piece of kit in the hands of an expert flight crew pushing themselves and their aircraft through a loud, fast, afterburning, vapour trailing display.  

The solo display team of Flight Lieutenant Rob Cousland and Flight Lieutenant Tim Middlemiss of No 1 SQN were practicing for their Avalon debut display over RAAF Base Amberley when I was lucky enough to capture them. The Flight Lieutenants both have extensive flying careers with the RAAF that includes F-111 and Classic Hornets and love catching up with the public after their displays so get along and say hi to them.


RAAF No1 SQN F/A-18 Super Hornet practicing over RAAF Base Amberley


Flight Lieutenant Rob Cousland and Flight Lieutenant Tim Middlemiss


Super Hornet Practice Over Amberley in preparation for the Australian International Airshow








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RAAF Growlers arrive in Australia.

In a week that has had spotters in the northern parts of Australia kept busy with USAF F-22 movements and the arrival of the RAAF’s new PC-21 the Royal Australian Air Force‘s latest piece of high tech hardware has touched down at their new home, RAAF Base Amberley. The team at 6SQN will no doubt be happy to see their new aircraft starting to arrive as they look forward to continuing their transition from the Super Hornet to the Growler. 

EA-18G Growler A46-305 arriving at her new home RAAF Base Amberley. Image: Dave White Canvas Wings.

The four EA-18G Growlers, airborne electronic attack aircraft, arrived this afternoon on their delivery flight from the US, escorted by the KC-30 MRTT refueler from 33SQN also based at Amberley. Our good mate Dave White from Canvas Wings (also on facebook) was one of the local spotters lucky enough to be in the right spot at the right time. 

Dave has captured all four the the new aircraft on approach for the very first time into RAAF Base Amberley. The new arrivals ar A46-305, 306, 307 and 308.

EA-18G Growler landing at RAAF Base Amberley. Image: Dave White, Canvas Wings.

The Growlers will form part of the contingent of new and current aircraft on display at the Australian International Airshow at Avalon starting next Tuesday. They will accompany the RAAF’s new F-35 Lightning II and the Pilatus PC-21 aircraft as part of the RAAF’s show and shine static displays. 

A46-307 RAAF EA-18G Growler on final approach for the first time into RAAF Base Amberley. Image: Dave White, Canvas Wings.


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Spotters catch Raptors in Northern Australia

Cover shot above: Ian Hitchcock

With the USAF F-22 Raptors in town, northern Australian spotters are having a field day. The Raptors are from 90th Fighter Squadron (90 FS) assigned to the 3d Operations Group, 3d Wing, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. Known as the “The Dicemen” the fighters are here for exercises prior to participating at the Australian International Air Show at Avalon starting later this month where one of the Raptors will be participating in the flying displays. 

Interestingly the 90th FS is the USAF’s 4th oldest squadron and will be celebrating their 100th anniversary in August 2017. Congratulations to the Dicemen for later this year.  

Leroy Simpson and Ian Hitchcock have spotted the Raptors in the sky around Townsville. 

USAF F-22 Raptor heating up the North as it departs from Townsville Photo: Ian Hitchcock
Raptor AK 90 a (1 of 1)-1
F-22 Raptor Photo by: Leroy Simpson

Raptor AK 39 c (1 of 1)

F-22 Raptor in the skies over Townsville Photo by: Leroy Simpson

Going vertical … USAF F-22 Raptor giving it some. Photo: Ian Hitchcock


Often overlooked as people focus on the fighters is the support aircraft … like the force multipliers. Three KC-135R are in Darwin supporting the USAF presence here in Australia.

KC-135R 63-8018 ARS, 155th ARW, Nebraska ANG, KC-135R 63-8032 72nd ARS, 434th ARW, Grissom AFRC, Indiana and KC-135R 62-3752 117th ARS, 190th ARW, Kansas ANG (Kansas Coyotes)

Some of these support aircraft have also been caught by ASO’s top end team member Sid Mitchell.  


USAF KC-135 supporting the Raptors out of Darwin NT

REACH 325, USAF KC-135
USAF KC-135 flexing some American muscle in the top end.

POLAR 21 which is a USAF C-17 98-0051 517th Airlift Squadron, 3rd Wing, Elmendorf Alaska

C17 AK 80051 a (1 of 1)-1
USAF C-17 980051 Photo: Leroy Simpson

If you’re in the north we would highly recommend keeping your camera handy … especially over the next few weeks. 

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As most reading this will be aware, this past week has seen a tragic loss of 2 lives in an incident in Perth. Firstly our deepest and heartfelt sympathy to all of the families and friends impacted by the loss of Peter Lynch and Endah Cakrawati from the team at ASO and our families. Our thoughts are with you all, particularly our good friends at Evans Head.

Whilst none of the ASO team knew Peter personally some of us had been lucky enough to capture him a number of times doing what he clearly loved … As aviation photographers we felt it necessary to not let this moment pass without some reflection on the positive impact Peter’s passion had on us and others.

It is with great respect and sadness that we offer the following as a tribute in this time of loss. 


The following shots by Phil Munsel at Raglan, QLD, for the Old Station Fly-in in 2014. 

Raglan2014PMunsel (1535)

Raglan2014PMunsel (1603)


Raglan2014PMunsel (1597)

Raglan2014PMunsel (1612)

The following shots I took out at Watts Bridge QLD in May 2016.



The following were again at Watts’ Bridge … this time for the Brisbane Valley Airshow in August of 2016.




The following shots of the interior of the Mallard were taken at the Evans Head – Great Eastern Fly-In in January 2017 and are courtesy of Belinda Curtain at GreenSpace Imaging who was given the opportunity to shoot the inside of the aircraft by Peter.




And finally my shots from Great Eastern Fly-in last month. I will only include these two frames below. When I took the shot, just as Peter was starting the engines I didn’t notice the 3 children behind the aircraft. It wasn’t until later I spotted them and had to crop the last frame down to show off the genuine joy on their faces. This is typical of the emotions that Peter had spread by bringing and flying this aircraft. 




Clear Skies.


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Heads -Up Great Eastern Fly-In

Next weekend the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome will be hosting the Great Eastern Fly-In. If you’re in Northern NSW it’s a great opportunity to catch some awesome aircraft displaying over the 2 days of the 7th and 8th of January. 

Here are a couple of shots from last years program to whet your appetite. 




The full program can be found here.

If your not sure what you’ll see you can take a glance at my article from last year  HERE

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Super Hornet going solo for Townsville

RAAF’s latest display team put the Super Hornet through its paces.

For the next two years Flight Lieutenant Rob Cousland and Flight Lieutenant Tim Middlemiss will operate the Royal Australian Air Force’s F/A-18F Super Hornet as part of the public face of the RAAF. These two eighteen year career fast jet air crew bring a wealth of experience and professionalism to the role of Fast Jet Solo Display.


Their first public display as a team will be at this weekend’s T150 Defence Force Air Show in Townsville, QLD. This air show is part of the year long celebrations of the establishment of Townsville as a municipality.

On behalf of ASO I recently got a sneak preview of their display as they put the finishing touches to it over RAAF Base Amberley. Following the practice session I was also lucky enough to chat with the aircrew who are part of the RAAF’s No. 1 Squadron based at Amberley.

As pilot, FLTLT Cousland has flown and instructed on Super Hornets for 6 years and has also spent a good part of his 18 year Air Force career flying Classic A/B model Hornets including a 2 year stint with the US Navy. With experience in previous formation displays in the Super Hornet FLTLT Cousland explained “For me the pinnacle of display flying is to fly the solo display, so its a pretty awesome honour to be given.”

FLTLT Middlemiss has also spent almost 18 years with the RAAF including time in F-111s and also in the role of Forward Air Control. His role in the team as Air Combat Officer (ACO) sees his responsibilities very different to that of the pilot.  During normal operations the ACO, sitting in the rear seat of the Super Hornet, is responsible for operation of various aircraft, radar and weapons systems. Whilst the ACO supports the pilot during a public display by monitoring critical aircraft systems this team of experienced operators have evolved the role of the ACO to include assisting the pilot to navigate through the display with additional verbal queues.



FLTLT Cousland explained “The way we have developed our workflow I have empowered Tim alot in the cockpit and Im getting him acting as a second set of eyes and he is watching everything I do so the moment we have an excursion from a certain set of parameters he will immidiately corect me if I havent recognised it. He serves a number of purposes so I have him acting as a rally car co-driver … so he is saying to me an airspeed, an altitude and an event distance and Tim will prompt me at the appropriate times. He will also back me up on critical airspeeds and altitudes and speak up if there is a deviation. Additionally he can scan other parameters like engine parameters at critical phases of the flight which gives us that synergistic effect in the cockpit.”



The T150 Defence Force Airshow

The T150 Airshow will bring some of the Australian Defence Force’s best heavy metal to the sky over Townsville’s Strand on Saturday afternoon. Along side the Super Hornet, the RAAF will be displaying a wide variety of their airborne hardware including the mighty C-17 and the KC-30 Aerial Refueler. The Army will be displaying their Chinooks and Tiger helicopters. The modern hardware will be supported by an impressive list of historical aircraft from some of Australia’s flying collections. There may even be a display by a USAF F-16! To see a full list of aircraft check out the RAAF site HERE

The airshow on Saturday is followed by an open day at RAAF Base Townsville where you can get up close and personal with all the hardware and maybe even shake hands with Flight Lieutenants Cousland and Middlemiss and tell them how much you enjoyed their first public display.




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Brisbane Valley Airshow … a first of many!

First Impression

I drove out from Brisbane through some scenic, country scenes. Mostly picturesque farming land mingled with stands of eucalypts and framed against the jagged hills that form the Brisbane Valley. Heading for Toogoolawah, the drive from Brisbane’s north side is only around an hour and half and similar from the south side of Brisbane via Esk. I arrived at Watts Bridge Memorial Airfield on the Friday afternoon during the final airshow practice session. Final preparations where being made for the airshow to open to the public for the weekend.

The late afternoon light gave a great glow and I was pleased to see a variety of aircraft coming and going.

Grumman Mallard winding it up!
Let L-200 Morava
One of a number of Nanchang and Yaks at the airshow.
‘The Flying Undertaker’ one of two P-51 Mustangs flying at the show.

Into the Night

With camping sites available its a great opportunity to make a weekend of it and stay right at the airfield. There were plenty of caravans and campers already set up when I arrived enjoying the practice session and the arrivals as a prelude to the next few days. The camp area is less than 100 metres from the edge of the strip so there is a great atmosphere in and around the camp.

I made the most of the late sun and then slipped back to Toogoolawah for a pub meal like only a country pub can do. Returning to the airfield after dark I got out of my car and looked up … the sky was blazing with stars. What an opportunity .. great aircraft and the Milky way.

Watts Bridge by night

Capturing shots of the aircraft and stars was made more challenging by the floodlights on the field but I positioned my tripod using the aircraft to block any direct light. Using ISO 2000 and around a 15 sec exposure seemed to do the trick. I must admit, I’m new to astro-photography so it was a good opportunity to have a play. I spent a while shooting these planes and stars and then stood with my laptop on the bonnet of the Cruiser. I processed and published a last pre-show article with more star shots (you can see that here) that would go out Saturday morning. It was 2am ..time to crawl into bed.

Waking up at the Airfield

For anyone who likes aviation … waking up to the sound of aircraft engines on a Saturday morning with two days of airshow ahead of you …is pretty cool.

There were plenty of aircraft at the show offering adventure flights including the Mustangs, the Yak 3 and even the L-39 Albatross Jet. So the morning air was filled with the sounds of fly-in traffic, adventure flights and last minute display aircraft arrivals.

Take your pick … which of these would you like to fly in?

Flag Drop

To begin the show each day the Australian flag was gracefully delivered into the show by skydivers from the nearby Ramblers skydiving.

Brisbane Valley Airshow - flag drop
Aussie Flag

… and the show begins!

The crowd was building, the weather was sensational and so begun the inaugural Brisbane Valley Airshow!


One of the early highlights was the unexpected formation of L-200 and the L39 jet. Both of Czechoslovakian origin, however both very different aircraft.

Unexpected formation

The days displays went from strength to strength with a neat list of some very classy warbirds and civil aircraft and even a fire bomber.

The Harvard takes to the sky
Another of De Havilland’s finest
L-39C Albatross bringing some jet power to the show.
McDermott Aviation’s Bell 214B showing the crowd her fire suppression techniques.
A crowd favorite … the mighty Grumman Avenger

Saturday Afternoon Highlights

Whilst the show program was very similar for the Saturday and Sunday, there were a couple of key highlights on each day that differed from the other day. On the Saturday afternoon it was an absolute delight to watch and hear two P-51 Mustangs with their 27 litre V-12 engines roaring at the same time. Throw into this mix the very unique Yak 3 ‘Steadfast’ with its custom R-2000 radial and you have a very special formation of WWII based air frames.

Australian built, Caboolture based CA-18 ‘Snifter’ takes to the sky late on Saturday afternoon.
P-51D Mustang ‘The Flying Undertaker’ launches in preparation for a unique formation.
R-2000 radial engined Yak-3 takes off to join the formation.
Fantastic Formation … with Russian, American and Australian inputs.

I spent the afternoon shooting from different points on the airfield trying to get the best angles on each display. I found myself in a rather good spot for the Steadfast solo that followed. Steadfast puts on an awesome display that makes you want to go and signup for an adventure flight in her … right NOW!

Steadfast Yak-3U
Smoke on!
Steadfast … at speed!

Quiet Sunday afternoon in the country.

With over 14,000 people attending over the two days of the airshow, the organisers should be well pleased at their first attempt to run a show at Watts Bridge. A great mix of display types and plenty of opportunity for South East QLD to get its aviation fix. The Sunday saw many of the displays from the Saturday program as well as a couple of VIP guests.

Flying in on the Sunday morning was Lachlan Smart. Lachlan had just set a world record as the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe solo in a single engined aircraft. Lachlan had completed his circumnavigation just over 24 hours before flying into the airshow. As with all the other stars of the show Lachlan is a QLD local residing on the Sunshine Coast.

Lachlan Smart is greeted as he arrives as a guest of honour at the Brisbane Valley Airshow the day after setting a world record as the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe solo in a single engined aircraft.


Harvard taxiing
… and the Yak flew over the moon.



Heavy Metal

Just to top it off, the last display on Sunday afternoon flew in from RAAF Base Amberley. The RAAF’s C-17 Globmaster was a nice way to finish off on Sunday afternoon. The Globemasters large agile frame looked great with the hills in the background in the late arvo light.

RAAF C-17 Globemaster cruises up the valley before putting on a show for the waiting crowds.


RAAF C-17 Globemaster at Brisbane Valley Airshow 2016
Globemaster cruising the valley.
‘Love the light’ .. The RAAF C-17 supporting the inaugural Brisbane Valley Airshow 2016

Last impressions

After watching the C-17 cruise off into the distance I took the time to let the crowds dissipate a little before heading back to Brisbane. I spent the time packing up my camp and catching a few last shots as the sun got lower.

As I cruised back down the Brisbane Valley Highway through Esk and over Wivenhoe Dam I reflected on the airshow. Given this is the first show of its kind at this location, I was left with the feeling that this show will become a mainstay of the airshow circuit and growing event over the years. Well supported by the aviation industry and the public alike. Set in such an attractive valley setting this show looks like it is here to stay.

Seeing Double ... a pair of de Havilland Tiger Moths basking in the late afternoon sun.
Seeing Double … a pair of de Havilland Tiger Moths basking in the afternoon sun.


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Hornets Nest – Classic Hornets in the NT

Royal Australian Air Force’s F/A-18A Hornets were recently taking part in Exercise Pitch Black in the Northern Territory, Australia. I had the chance to document a couple of the RAAF’s 77 SQN Hornets as they prepared to rejoin the battle.

With multiple missions running day and night over the three week exercise, the crews working the Hornets have been kept on their feet, but I was allowed just enough time to capture a few rather moody detail images of these aircraft that form the back bone of the RAAF’s fighter jet fleet.

With around 70 of the F/A-18A/B Hornets in service with the RAAF it is difficult to believe that these aircraft will only be with us for a few more years, with their retirement expected around 2018.

Shortly after these shots were taken A21-49 (with the special green 77SQN scheme) and A21-31 were blasting out of RAAF Base Darwin with the afterburners lit. No doubt a few minutes later going supersonic over a 15000 square mile exercise area as blue air along with F-16s from the United States Air Force and the Royal Thai Air Force as well as Republic of Singapore Air Force F-15s and the RAAF’s Super Hornets. All supported by a mix of RAAF and international refuelers and AEW&C aircraft.

RAAF A21-49 at RAAF Base Darwin
Preparation …
RAAF A21-49 at RAAF Base Darwin
Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation Pod (ACMI Pod)


RAAF Hornet at RAAF Base Darwin
Riveted. (Yes we know they are screws Sid)


A21-49 at RAAF Base Darwin


Slender angle.
A21-31 being readied to rejoin the battle.
RAAF A21-49
The Hornets lines are distinctive.
RAAF F/A-18A Hornet 77SQN A21-48
RAAF F/A-18A Hornet 77SQN A21-48
F/A18A at RAAF Base Darwin
Classic Lines on A21-31


Moments after I took the above shots, the opportunity came to ‘feel the noise’ from the edge of the runway as these two Hornets joined around 40 0ther aircraft for the morning sortie against the red air. I do love some close proximity full noise take offs!

RAAF A21-31 taking off from RAAF Base Darwin
A21-31 … preparations completed … gear transitioning as she screams into the Northern Territory sky.


RAAF A21-49 taking off from RAAF Base Darwin
Fires lit as A21-49 launches for the morning sortie.


You can see more of the runway action in our other Pitch Black articles …

Mass Launch Airside

Or catch up on Mark’s excellent article on how to capture fast jets and stars in the same frame …

Per Ardua Ad Astra


And if you haven’t subscribed to email notifications about new articles form us, try this …




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The Stars are Shining at Brisbane Valley Airshow

If you’re around Brisbane this weekend take a short drive to Watts Bridge Memorial Airfield and get your dose of aviation goodness. The stars of the Brisbane Valley Airshow are on the tarmac and waiting to shine for you!!

Russian Yaks, P-51 Mustang, T-28 Trojans and even the RAAF will be popping in with the mighty C-17 Globemaster!

On top of all the action the weather is looking spectacular!

The beautiful Mallard sits under a bed of stars waiting to please the crowds over this weekend.
The ‘Flying Undertaker’ P-51 Mustang waiting for the fans to arrive.


For the full program over two days you can look here and while you’re there you can grab your tickets … don’t miss this!!!




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