Aviation Spotters Online

Aviation Spotters Online

All posts by Mark Jessop

Top End Top Up’s

RAAF KC-30 Tankers from 33SQN played a major role in Talisman Sabre 2015, the largest Exercise held in Australia and ASO was incredibly privileged to have the opportunity to go along on one of their air-to-air refueling missions to see the action up-close and personal.

The USS George Washington was also part of the exercise and on-board were the Strike Fighter Squadrons  VFA-102 Diamondbacks (100 series numbers), VFA-27 Royal Maces (200 series), VFA-115 Silver Eagles (300 series), VFA-195 Dambusters (400 series), all flying F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, and VFA-141 Shadowhawks (500 series), with EA-18G Growler’s.

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Our day started off with our Pre-flight safety briefs as well as what was planned for our 4 hour flight. The trip down to the active zone only took 30 minutes from RAAF Base Darwin and no sooner had we entered our first orbit when we had our first “little friends” arrive for a top up of fuel. The first flight up was a few F/A-18F Super Hornets from VFA-102 Diamondbacks. Depending on how much fuel was needed each refueling  took around 8 minutes with 2 jets getting refueled at once. From here on jets from each of the Squadrons were turning up every 20-25 minutes to be refueled. Witnessing a sight like this is something I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid, and I know many would do anything to get this ride.

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To say this was awesome really doesn’t come close to how good it was, It was my first time seeing a Growler and WOW it’s a beast. It just has a size that says “I’m here and don’t mess with me”. We were able to see all the different Squadrons based on the USS George Washington which was off the coast in support of Exercise Talisman Sabre.

Since it was only my second time up around Darwin I was also very surprised just how many bush/scrub fires are on the ground and this made the air very polluted but also made for some interesting ground scenes.

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Our ride for trip was on one of the RAAF’s impressive KC-30A Multi Role Tankers, A39-001. This type of aircraft is performing so well that the RAAF have just purchased another two to bring the fleet up to 7. Each one can hold 100 tonnes of fuel as well having up to 270 passengers. The aircraft is a heavily modified Airbus A330 airliner with 2 all-electric refueling pods underneath each wing, which unreel a hose-and-drogue to refuel probe-equipped aircraft and an  Aerial Refueling Boom System mounted on the tail of the aircraft, which comprises a ‘fly-by-wire’ flying boom. These systems are controlled by an Air Refueling Operator in the cockpit, who can view  the refueling aircraft on 2D and 3D screens.

KC-30 A37-001

ASO would like to thank the whole media team , 33SQN and the Fighter Squadrons of the USS George Washington for making this event happen during the 2 week long Exercise Talisman Sabre exercise.


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Video: Australian International Airshow Arrivals 2015

Known as the Roadside Airshow, the Three days leading up to the start of the Trade Days allow spotters and Aviation enthusiasts the opportunity to sit by the main runways at Avalon Airport,and be treated to the vast array of local and international civil and military aircraft arrivals.
Apart from some extreme weather and long bursts of blue sky’s and bird’s, the anticipation of an upcoming B-52 or F/A-18 will always excite the many spotters who converge upon Avalon Airport on the days leading up to the big show!


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Nikkor 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR test shoot


They say first impressions mean a lot and I would have to agree….


The first thing that you notice with this lens is the size of the case the lens comes in . I don’t know if it could be built any stronger which just gives you an idea of how much thinking has gone into this lens. On opening the case it is very clear you are about to use Nikkor’s biggest lens, at 46cm long without the lens hood and weighing 4.6kg, this thing’s a beast! I was also given the chance to use the lens hooked up to the Flagship Nikon DSLR body, the D4s.

Nikon D4s and 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR test shoot

The planned shoot to test this setup out was to be a local Airshow but this was unfortunately called off due to bad weather. But this actually proved a very good chance to really push the lens as well as really see what this setup could achieve. The NPS team recommended using a mono or tripod just due to the size and weight but I really wanted to push it.

Every aviation photographer knows just how hard it is to get a nice full frame tight-in photo. Well this is the first time I have had to move backwards almost  every time time I looked through the lens! To give you an idea , shooting from beside the control tower at Sydney Airport, a 787 on approach from the North, for the main runway, only just fits in the full frame just before it’s about to touch down. But this gives the user the chance to get detail that you had previously onlyever dreamed of before, and if that’s not enough, the lens comes with its own 1.2x converter built specifically for this lens that takes its focal length to a insane 1000mm!

Nikon D4s and 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR test shoot

It really is quite strange when you first get your hands on a lens you have always wanted to have a go with, but this lens is just mind-blowingly good! Yes you couldn’t hold this lens up all day every day but, once you have your timing right, it is quite easy to use. It’s just massive compared to any other lens you may have tried . When I look at some of the photos I have taken before, even with a D800 cropped right in, they are nowhere near what this can do. I’m sure over long distance on a hot day it would make it harder but hey, if you are shooting at something 800m to 1km away then you are going to get a lot of different air between the subject and the camera anyway.




One of the great things about ASO is that, in working as a team, we all have things to learn from each other and it was a good chance to get the reaction and views of the other guys who had a chance to have a look and just see how far this lens goes. We did try a D800 with the 800mm and again the results were just stunning. So how did the lens perform without a monopod or tripod? All I can say is flawlessly. It’s a true testament to Nikkor’s  Vibration Reduction or VR System on just how many photos came out pin sharp even at 11fps when using the D4s.


This photo above of the HARS DC-3 was taken from the same distance as the rest of the crowd, off the runway, which was up to 400m. This is the full frame with no crop! Shot at 1/400 F14 iso 320.

747 Cargo Sydney

Again, full frame taken from the “mound” beside Sydney Control Tower, this Malaysian Airlines 747 shows just how close you are to the action. This would be no more than 400m from where I was standing but, as mentioned, an added bonus of this lens is that it comes with it’s own 1.2x convertor that takes the lens to a insane 1000mm! Photo: 1/3200 F8 ISO 640 with a D4s.

747 close

This is the same photo at 1:1.

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Again showing just how well this setup handles any conditions you can throw at it. British Airways B777. The aircraft is close to 700m from where I’m standing and was shot at 1/800 F5.6 ISO 640 + D4s.

So would I buy one if I could …..YES ! But it’s good to know just what it can do as, when I know that there is a shot I need and it needs this, then I will make the call .


A massive thank you to Nikon Australia and the NPS Team for the use of this lens over the weekend. Again, Nikon shows me I have so much to learn .


Mark Jessop

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The Ride of my Life!

How do you even start to understand something unless you have done it?

I had always heard from the lucky few who had the chance for a ride, that it was awesome, but one ride was enough. How could that be?

The Royal Australian Air Force have been using different models of the C-130 Hercules for over 50 years now, and they have been the workhorse of the RAAF. They are the go to aircraft for carrying out various roles in carrying outsized loads, and being a great aircraft. I wondered why people would say that “One ride” is enough. When I grew up I lived in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney and after many years seeing them fly low over my house I always dreamed about what it would be like to fly on a Herc.

Finally after dreaming about what kind of experience it would be like to have a flight on one as a kid, I got my chance to find out.


Various Squadrons flew the Alpha, Echo, Hotel, and Juliet models of the venerable C-130, but 37 Squadron (37SQN) based at RAAF Base Richmond have been working hard now for many years as the last squadron to operate C-130J-30 model.

Along with various other Australian Defence Force (ADF) units these aircraft were participating in a fly over around the country to support the welcoming home of ADF service members from the Middle East that deployed as part of “Operation Slipper”. 37 SQN used the chance for some long training flights over western NSW, down to Canberra, the nation’s capital and back to RAAF Base Richmond in preparation for that event that was going to be held on the 21st of March. It was also an opportunity to say thank you to all the people that were part of companies who were tasked with some major upgrades to the C-130J undertaken recently. One example of the upgrades is the added capability of being able to use SATCOM and therefore being able to communicate with HQ from anywhere in the world.

I arrived at Richmond eager and excited for what was in store. It was a nice warm day at Richmond but I knew it was going to be above 32c out west and at low level that means only one thing “it’s going to be one of those cracker flight’s” ……..YES!


For the proceedings of the day the people who were lucky enough to be on these flights were briefed by RAAF Air Mobility Group and 37SQN members.  The plan involved three pairs of C-130J’s taking off 15-20 min apart and making their own way to a meeting point that was over an hour from take-off. Then dropping down to a tactical flight level of between 75-150m above the ground. Then all six Hercules would head to the nation’s capital, Canberra, for a fly over and to make a phone call on the new upgraded SATCOM to the “Big Boss”. Then flying low and hard all the way back to Richmond.


Each Hercules had 20 lucky people plus 6-10 RAAF members on board. My ride for the day was C-130J serial A94-466, and once all the brief’s had been completed, it was time to walk out on the apron and head to the waiting Hercules, climb aboard and go. Our flight was second to leave and after we rotated off the runway we quickly headed up over the Blue Mountains.

So many times growing up in the Blue Mountains I would be looking up at the Herc’s doing this very thing, but today it was my turn to look back down from the other side. We flew at a good height so we all could stand up and get some photos. Using my Nikon D800 and my Nikon 24-85mm 2.8f lens I tried to get any angle that proved I was in the Herc but due to heat haze it proved too hard to get anything. In less than 25min we were flying over my house which is a 3 hour drive from Richmond. At height it can be very hard to really know just how fast you are going but all that was about to change real fast.


Around the township of Dubbo it was time to hit the deck, time to get low and go fast. This move was a game changer and all of a sudden, what was just like any other flight went to a level none of the first timers expected. As our flight had all the media on board we had the chance to see and get photos and video of a practice air drop with everyone strapped in and the ramp down. I strapped myself into the last seat before the ramp. Very quickly it was ‘game on’ but due to being on the same side as the load master my view was restricted, but what a view. The Hercules behind us got close but due to the level of turbulence we didn’t keep the ramp down for long.


With everyone strapped in to the seats the flight was starting to take its toll on many of the passengers, just to even try to walk around the aircraft was becoming very hard for the few who considered it. I could see out one of the small windows sky, ground, sky and then ground again. The aircraft was just bucking from side to side and this is what a training mission was all about. Despite the rough ride, every now and then I could see another Hercules so I changed lenses quickly to my Nikon 80-200mm 2.8f, and thought I’d try and get some photo’s while we were cracking alongside one another.


I tried to look through the view finder but who was I kidding? One hit to the head makes you think about another idea. I locked my leg and arm into the webbing on the seat close to a window and set the camera up the best I could. I can’t really tell you just how hard it is to try and focus through a camera when the aircraft you are on is trying to slam you into the floor every 5-10 seconds. The Flight was taking its toll on most of the passengers by now, and it wasn’t long before I got the tap on the shoulder…. but I did last over 2 hours I’m proud to say. I can tell you its strange seeing many passengers not well and watching the few for whom this is their job just doing it so easily, one even closed his eyes for part of the flight!


The best seat in the aircraft is the jump seat and you get the best view in the house, plenty of air con and less chance of air sickness which meant it was a popular spot. With the flight getting closer to Sydney the rest of the media started getting ready for the ramp to lower as the plan was to do an air drop close to Richmond at their training drop zone. I saw this as my chance to get up front and what a move it was, it was so hard to really work out where we were but I was given a head set to listen in on the work load of the pilots.


I am still finding it hard to write the words on just how much really goes on up front and to think this has been going on the whole flight. Once I got my head around the action I started taking photos with the 24-85mm making sure the setup was good enough not to use the flash as this was the last place I wanted a flash going off and distracting the pilots. I could hear in the headset that the flight was looking out for a big storm around the drop zone, we flew around the outskirts west of Sydney waiting for the storm to pass so we could do the air drop but some days it’s not meant to be so I just had to ride it out in the jump seat up front till we landed and shut down the engines.

Getting off the flight it finally hit me that while I had accomplished my dream flight it was valuable training for the crews and they do this all the time so when the time comes for it they perform to their best ability.

While you are reading this article I’m sure a Hercules from 37SQN is flying a mission right now, especially in Vanuatu or in the Middle East as 37 SQN have been deployed to help deliver valuable supplies. The cargo these crews deliver saves lives! I can’t say enough how proud I am of the men and women that fly and support these mission’s. For anyone that think’s the transport role in flying is just flying here and there dropping off cargo…..your wrong!

This was the best things I have ever done, and I still can’t work out why anyone would say one ride is enough I can tell you right now I would have got straight back on the Hercules if 37 SQN had let me.



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