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All posts by Mark Pourzenic

Operation Bushfire Assist 2020

Aviation Spotters Online videographer Mark Pourzenic,  was recently  given the privilege of being able to witness first hand, the Australian Defence Forces Humanitarian Aid mission, helping those affected by the bushfires in Victoria’s east through Operation Bushfire Assist.

The entrance to RAAF Base East Sale, in Gippsland, Victoria.

Operation Bushfire Assist –

Since September 2019, the Australian Defence Force has been working with state and territory  authorities in response to the deepening bushfire crisis here in Australia, which now has become the ADF’s main effort, and will continue for as long as needed.

With more than 6000 full time and reserve personnel providing direct support via air, sea and land from defence establishments across regions affected by the  fires. In an unprecedented move, the Governor-General, His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd), authorised the call out of 3000 reservists to assist with Humanitarian Aid during Operation BushFire Assist, a first in Australia’s military history.

Alenia C-27J Spartan tail showing the 35 Squadron ‘Wallaby’ emblem.

Overseeing OpBushFireAssist are three separate Joint Task Force teams-

JTF 646 Victoria- Utilising the Army’s 4th Brigade, along with support elements of the ADF.  RAAF Base East Sale in Victoria is the central hub for all responses in the southern area.

JTF 1110 New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory- Utilising the Army’s 5th Brigade, along with support elements of the ADF.  Holsworthy Barracks is the central hub for all responses across NSW and the ACT.

JTF 1111 South Australia and Tasmania- Utilising the Army’s 9th Brigade, along with support elements of the ADF.  Keswick Barracks is the central hub for all responses across South Australia and Tasmania.

The Chief of the Australian Defence Force  Angus Campbell, has appointed Major General Justin ‘Jake’ Ellwood, as the Emergency  ADF  National Support Coordinator, working in support of state and territory authorities.  Vision of the CDF and Commander JTF arriving at RAAF Base East Sale can be seen in the video link above.

Boeing  CH-47F Chinook from C Company, 5th Avn Rgt, Australian Army on the ground at RAAF Base East Sale.

Detailed Support as of mid January-

Victoria – Joint Task Force (JTF) 646-

Continued route clearance and assessment through coastal and alpine areas, with main focus of clearing areas of the Princes Highway.

Rotary-wing aircraft continuing to deliver fodder to areas of need.

HMAS Choules continuing its resupply to Mallacoota 

ADF teams on standby to assist with disposal of deceased livestock

Approximately 100 members of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) undergoing orientation and induction into the Joint Task Force Structure at Puckapunyal.

Air Support –

Up to four Australian Army Chinooks and a pair from the Republic of Singapore Air Force operating from RAAF Base East Sale providing support to firefighting operations and humanitarian  assistance to isolated and communities cut off due to the fires.

Air traffic controllers providing a flight information service at Bairnsdale Airport in support of local authorities due to the high volume of traffic at the airport.

Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft conducting regular reconnaissance flights over fire affected areas, with following aircraft types conducting support flights: a pair of C-17A Globemasters from RAAF Base Amberley, a pair of C-130J Hercules from RAAF Base Richmond and three C-27J Spartans from RAAF Base East Sale.

35 Squadron shoulder patch depicting an ancient Greek ‘Spartan’

Health and Pastoral Support –

During this crisis, the RAAF is operating a Role One Medical Facility at RAAF East Sale which sees it providing pastoral and support care to Joint Task Force operations, with mental health professionals onboard to assist with  any mental health issues.

UAS Support and Mobility Operations-

The army have deployed a Small Unmanned Aerial System ( WASP) to RAAF East Sale for reconnaissance operations, along with engineering personnel and equipment to supplement those already in high demand by local state councils, for road repairs, firebreaks and removing debris from public areas. This also includes damage assessments provided to Victorian authorities throughout regional areas.

A row of (CFD) Collapsible Fabric Drum’s, filled with diesel fuel and ready to be transported via 35 Squadron C-27J Spartan aircraft to Mallacootta in Victorias east.

New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory – Joint Task Force (JTF) 1110-

ADF teams continuing establishing support and supply to areas of Batemans Bay, Lake Conjola, Milton, Shoalhaven and Cobargo.

HMAS Adelaide operating in the vicinity of Eden and disembark engineering elements to support route clearance, including Adelaide’s embarked MH-60R Seahawk Helicopter conducting reconnaissance of isolated communities in and around Clyde River Valley, including operations with Royal New Zealand Air Force  NH-90 Helicopters.

Clearing of the Monaro highway south of Bombala, and further assesment of the Woodchip Mill at Eden.

Resupply of water to the townships of Gilmore with 60,000 litres dropped and Belowra and Nimmitabel receiving substantial amounts.

Catering support to the township of Bega, with 350 meals provided daily, along with fodder delivery.

Air Support –

A pair of Royal New Zealand Air Force NH-90 helicopters, an MH-60R Seahawk helicopter from HMAS Adelaide, Two EC-135 helicopters plus an MRH-90 Taipan from HMAS Albatross, Nowra utilised for fire mapping, surveilliance and search and rescue. Along with these Helo’s, up to four Australian Army MRH-90’s from Luscombe Airfield at Holsworthy have also been tasked, for duties in and around the Hunter, Greater Sydney, Illawara, ACT and southern regions.

Edinburgh based Boeing P-8A Poseidons also conducting reconnaissance flights fire affected areas of NSW.

Boeing P-8A Poseidon from Edinburgh based 11 Squadron which has been utilized during Operation Bushfire Assist.

Recovery, Health and Pastoral Support 

The ADF is providing personnel and equipment with initial recovery tasks as assessed by the NSW Government, based on advice given by ADF advisers.  Towns covered by these assessments are Tamworth, Wollondilly, Nowra, Mudgee, Maitland and Wingecarribee.  Army has also established a Role One medical Facility at Holsworthy Barracks, which sees it providing pastoral and support care to Joint Task Force operations, with mental health professionals onboard to assist with  any mental health issues.

Water supplies seen on the tarmac at RAAF Base East Sale ready to be deployed to stricken towns cut off by the Bushfires.

South Australia and Tasmania – Joint Task Force (JTF) 1111-

Kangaroo Island – Clearance of tracks by ADF teams for access by SA power maintenance teams to re-establish power to the southern half of island.

A pair of CH-47F Chinook helicopters to support ongoing operations on Kangaroo Island, including transfer of volunteer firefighters and fodder.

ADF personnel conducting livestock containment and burials, firebreak preparations and recovery of civilian vehicles.

Ongoing water purification at Kingscote that has surpassed more than 1,600,000 litres of water to date, that has seen  the New Zealand Defence Force water treatment facility, in conjunction with SA water,  providing up to 12,000 litres of fresh drinking water daily.

Army catering detachment providing fresh meals daily to all civilian and defence personnel.

ADF teams providing and assisting with koala rescue, repairs to farms and infrastructure, roadside maintenance, clearing fallen trees and transporting up to 20,000 litres of water for local farms and livestock in and around  the Adelaide Hills.

Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime aircraft  Edinburgh providing reconnaissance flights over fire affected areas operating from Edinburgh RAAF Base.

Soldiers and Chaplains on hand to support vulnerable or persons of risk in the community.

A room with a view, the spacious surrounds of an 35 Squadron C-27J Spartan, one of the workhorse’s of the ADF used during Operation BushFire Assist.

Defence  Base Support –

As part of Operation BushFire Assist, Defence has made available a number of bases along Australia’s east coast, with locations from Brisbane to Adelaide open for use by persons needing short term evacuation assistance.   Bases providing accommodation to evacuees are as follows – RAAF  Base East Sale,  RAAF  Base Williams,  Latchford Barracks,  RAAF Base Edinburgh,  RAAF Base Richmond,  RAAF Base Williamtown,  RAAF Base Wagga and  HMAS Harman.     

Along  with the above mentioned bases offering support, the following are also providing additional support where needed, these include –  

RAAF Base East Sale supporting defence aircraft providing emergency response.

RAAF Base Richmond providing airbase access and support for Large Air Tanker and spotter aircraft.

RAAF Base Wagga providing refuelling support.

HMAS  Albatross providing meals and accommodation for Rural Fire Service personnel.

Marrangaroo Training Area has been made available for RFS personnel.

A birds eye view of one of the many fires burning out of control in Victoria’s east.

International Assistance –

Japan has provided two C-130 Hercules aircraft and associated personnel. The pair of Japan Air Self Defense Force aircraft arrived mid January and are based at Richmond in New South Wales.

The New Zealand Defence Force along with the Singapore Armed Forces are and have been providing personnel and assets in assistance to operation BushFire Assist.

100 light engineers from Papua New Guinea Defence Force once brought up to speed will be integrated into Joint Task Force 646 (Victoria)

Offer by the Republic of Fiji  to provide a platoon of engineers will work alongside the ADF out of East Gippsland.

35 squadron Spartan, A34-005 on the ground at Mallacootta after dropping off critical supplies to the township.

Visit to RAAF Base East Sale –

Sunday January 12, 2020 saw myself, leave Melbourne at 7am  for my 2 hr and 45min drive  to the township of Sale, situated in Gippsland, located in the beautiful country of eastern Victoria.  My purpose was to visit Royal Australian Air Force Base East Sale, primarily used to train the next cadre of up and coming Air Force pilots and navigators.  But, since New years day 2020, it has been the home base of a massive supply network associated with Operation Bushfire Assist, and the purpose of my visit.

Former Roulette Macchi MB326H, now on display at the entrance to RAAF Base East Sale.

Meeting with my guide and host for the day, Flt.Lt Scott, I was quickly signed in and given my media pass which would see me visit all areas of the base associated with the Humanitarian Aid effort that was taking place around the clock at RAAF  East Sale.  Driving around this large base, we first found ourselves at the fuel site, one of the most important bits of cargo being transported to cut off communities due to widespread road closures.  A team from the Australian Army was in control of the site, and where in the process of readying many fuel bladders, or (CFD) Collapsible Fabric Drums, as they’re known ready for airlift by any number of helicopters, or transport aircraft.  Fuel and water are essential items needed by many cut off communities.

RAAF ground crew readying a C-27J Spartan with cargo before setting off on its next supply mission.

After our visit to the fuel dump, we quickly made our way over to the area where the  Chinooks of C Company were parked, and got some vital information regarding their movements for the day, so we could get set up to catch any action of the Chinooks operating.  As it was still early on in the morning, it was time to head over to RAAF East Sale Air Movements and get our names included on the daily manifest of C-27J Spartan flights to Mallacootta, which as part of my visit, was gratefully accepted.  With three Spartans on the East Sale ramp, an opportunity arose to film one of the Spartan’s being readied for a flight east to Mallacootta, and whilst on the ramp witnessing its start up and taxi, an announcement was made that a VIP flight would be landing shortly, and the chance to film its arrival was given the all clear.

The imposing lines of the CH-47F Chinook.

Onboard the Beechcraft KingAir350 operated by 32 Squadron, was the Chief of the Australian Defence Force  Angus Campbell, along with Joint Task Force Commander Major General Justin Ellwood, who’d flown in to see first hand the available assets on the ground, and to personally meet with evacuees, as well as meet with current ADF personnel directly associated with Operation BushFire Assist and whats needed to continue with the ongoing Humanitarian Aid mission being carried out.

Bass Strait to the right, fires to the left. The view from the cockpit of C-27J Spartan, A34-005 en-route to Mallacootta, in Victoria’s east.

With all the commotion going on, a Republic of Singapore Air Force CH-47SD Chinook took off on an Red Cross mission to help out an isolated town north of East Sale, whilst an NH-90 Helicopter from the Royal New Zealand Air Force dropped in for a hot-refuel, before heading over to the fuel compound to pick up a CFD to gift to another community in desperate need of fuel. It was truly amazing to witness the amount of flights in and out of the airfield in such a short period of time, and was told that this is happening around the clock, during  OpBushFireAssist.

The time had arrived for our flight, and the excitement grew as I met with the crew prior to our boarding, to discuss what access I was allowed in regards to filming and capturing images etc.  Our crew for the flight was plane Captain Kersnovski,  along with Pilot Officer Wuttke as his right hand man, whilst one of only two female loadmasters with 35 Squadron, Corporal Guterres was looking after the passengers and our cargo in the rear of the C-27J Spartan.  After boarding the aircraft and given our flight safety brief, we had a slight delay due to the demands of flying in air that is thick with smoke and debris from the bushfires, with the aircrafts APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) being a tad temperamental due to the harsh conditions experienced.  With a thumbs up from the ground crew, our flight was back on track and clearance given to taxi.  I myself was fortunate in being allowed the honour of having the jump seat for the flight and was privy to wearing a headset and listening in to the radio chatter associated with military flying.

Crew of Spartan ‘Wallaby 14’

Once the clearance for take off was given, the sheer brute force of the Spartan was unleashed, and before long we were at 6,500 feet indicated before auto pilot was set for the remainder of our climb, and easterly track to Mallacootta.   Following the coastline past Lakes Entrance, looking out the left side of the aircraft one could start to see the massive smoke plumes and haze in the distance, and with clear skies to the right over Bass Strait, one could feel the devastation waiting ahead. It wasn’t long before some of the smoke plumes came into full view, and although we ourselves were cruising at 16,500 feet indicated, the plumes of smoke weren’t much lower than our aircraft, which wasn’t  a welcome sight I can assure you.

Fires as far as the eye can see.

One thing that struck me deeply, and still sends shivers down my spine is the amount of blackened and burnt bushland that we over flew.  It was very sad to see so much of the natural bush burnt, and something that really isn’t shown on the local news.  One can only imagine the amount of loss to local flora and fauna, human life and property.    With the ADF’s involvement with Operation BushFire Assist, a lot of these affected communities are getting the help and supplies they’re desperately in need of.    

C-27J Spartan on the ground at Mallacootta.

Coming in to finals at Mallacootta Airfield, one could see the Royal Australian Navy supply ship that’s provided evacuation relief for residents and holiday makers stranded at Mallacootta, HMAS Choules  anchored off the coast, before we touched down to an airfield that had literally all of the surrounding trees around the airfields perimiter blackened by fire, a rather confronting sight as we touched down. Once down and stopped, to minimize wear and tear on the runway surface due to our operating weights, the loadmasters in the rear guided the pilots as we reversed our aircraft into a holding bay, before the all clear was given for passengers to disembark, and cargo to be off-loaded, all the whilst the engines kept running.

35 Squadron Loadmaster, Corporal Guterres with her C-27J Spartan.

One of the crucial supplies our flight off-loaded to the community of Mallacootta was a bladder full of diesel fuel that would be very welcomed to the township.  This was a relatively  new concept of transportation as developed by the Squadron as the Operation is progressing along, showing the capabilities of the RAAF in the field when needed.  Once our Spartan was reloaded, and passengers embarked, it was time to head back to RAAF East Sale.  After than no more than 25 minutes on the ground, we were once again airborne and headed back over the fire front. As I mentioned earlier of being privy to wearing the headset, the constant chatter of the aerial fire bombing aircraft over the airwaves was constant, showing that the fight is endless until the last ember is put out, one must regard the work of these firefighters as gods work.

Head on with CH-47F Chinook, A15-301

Once back safely on the ground at East Sale, one last opportunity beckoned, and that was to interview a CH-47F Chinook pilot from the Australian Army’s 5th Aviation Regiment, that had flown four of their Chinooks down to Victoria from Townsville, in far north Queensland, to help and assist with Operation BushFire Assist.

Chinook pilot Captain Mackenzie

It was an incredible day had at RAAF East Sale, having the chance to meet all the dedicated personnel of the Australian Defence Force in all their forms, all united for one cause, and that was to help their fellow Australians in need due to the Bushfire crisis. I for one feel  truly humbled by what I was personally able to experience during my time at the Base, and the commitment shown by all serving members of the ADF.   Thank you.

Aviation Spotters Online would like to thank Flt.Lt B.Scott for her time and assistance, along with all members present, and on duty at RAAF  Base East Sale during the course of ASO’s visit in helping making this article.


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Exercise High Sierra 2019 – 2OCU Return To The Hornets Nest.

“The last ever RAAF  ‘Classic’  Hornet Operational Conversion Course”

Aviation Spotters Online had the privilege of invitation to attend the return of the Royal Australian Air Force’s,  Number 2 Operational Conversion Unit back to RAAF Base Williamtown in Newcastle, Thursday December 5th 2019.  This  momentous  occasion was to witness the units returning ten F/A-18A/B Hornets, perform a flyover the base in the classic tiger bird formation for gathered friends and family, after the units final ever Operational Conversion Course.  Since the first course in 1986 , this was the final graduating class of  Hornet pilots which was the result of six months of intense training, with the culmination of  the conversion course dropping live ordnance conducted in Townsville under  Exercise High Sierra.

The first Australian assembled McDonnell Douglas F/A-18B Hornet, A21-103, which first flew from the then Government Aircraft Factory (GAF), situated at Avalon in Victoria during May 1985, is seen here at RAAF Base Williamtown, December 5 2019.

No.2   Operational  Conversion  Unit –

No. 2 OCU  in the year 2019 finds itself in the final stages of operating the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A/B Hornet as it has been since its arrival back in 1985, and as of  mid December has seen the unit cease Hornet operations.  As  2OCU is primarily a fighter training unit of the Royal Australian Air Force, which conducts refresher courses for pilots returning to type, as well as training pilots to operate the Hornet, it also trains future instructors on the type. With the current 2OCU conversion onto the RAAF’s newest fighter to enter service, the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, the training syllabus has moved from its current format to that of simulation/instruction, coupled with integration within the USAF’s structure of training which is conducted at Luke AFB in Arizona.

F/A-18B Hornet A21-102

Background and History – 

The unit was first stood up at Port Pirie in South Australia during April of 1942, and was established as No. 2 (Fighter) Operational Training Unit ( No.2OTU), before relocating to RAAF Mildura, Victoria during May of the same year.  It’s role was to change as Australia was thrust into World War II, and provided training on many varied types of aircraft such as the Spitfire, P-40 Kittyhawk and CAC Boomerang,  to name but a few. 1947 witnessed its disbandment before being reinstated in March 1952 at RAAF Base Williamtown, due to need and demand to train pilots for service in the Korean War. September 1958 saw it renamed as No.2 (Fighter) Operational Conversion Unit, and has since that time trained pilots with the CAC Sabre, Dassault Mirage III, Macchi MB326 and now in its final year of 2019, the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet.

McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet A21-30

The Role of  2 OCU-

No. 2 OCU which falls under 81 Wing, part of Air Combat Group, is primarily responsible for conducting operational conversion courses on the RAAF’s soon to be retired McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet multi-role Fighter, which entered service in 1985, and 2019 sees its final year under the control of 2OCU before transition to the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter.

McDonnell Douglas F/A-18B Hornet, A21-108

The training of students that have completed fast jet conversion with 79 Squadron in Pearce, and lead in fighter instruction through 76 Squadron, are then selected to be converted onto the Hornet, after which time they’ll progress on through to the operational Squadrons, or onto other types such as the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler.  2OCU also plays host to experienced RAAF pilots either converting from another type, or a refresher before re-joining frontline units.  The instructors at  No.2OCU are some of the most experienced RAAF Hornet drivers, and have a major role in the development of new tactics in co-ordination with other fighter combat instructors from the front line squadrons operating the F/A-18 Hornet.

End of an era

The A/B model Hornets of 2OCU are easily identifiable by their yellow and black tail fin flash, with the base of the flash featuring a tigers head in yellow, that’s outlined in black, with a red mouth, white fangs with white eyes.

One of the last ever 2OCU pilots to graduate onto the RAAF’s  ‘Classic’  Hornet, Flying Officer Jez, seen here under the watchful eyes and microphones of local media, December 5 2019.

Conversion Course-

On average, Hornet conversion courses run for six months, during which time students  must gain their instrument rating, before being taught basic fighter manoeuvres, air to air gunnery, air combat, and air to ground tactics. With the culmination of their training complete, students are prepared for their final course syllabus with Exercise High Sierra, which is run from RAAF Base Townsville, and has been in operation since 1986. This exercise lasts several weeks and involves day/night flying, along with the use of live weaponry in realistic, high pressure precision strike scenarios. 

Head on with the Hornet

Along with its mainstay of conversion training, 2OCU is also in the business of conducting refresher courses for pilots returning to type, aswell as fighter combat instructor courses (FCI), which run for up to anywhere in the timescale of four to five months, and can be in the time frame of every two years or so. To qualify for the FCI course, students are chosen from the most experienced F/A-18 pilots, and are trained in the complex art of training others to instruct, including dealing with complex scenarios related to operational flying at an elite level.  On completion of the course, graduates are kept on with 2OCU as qualified Hornet instructors for a two year period, after which time they are posted off to the operational front line Hornet squadrons.

McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet, A21- 16 wearing commemorative 2OCU tail art.

Exercise High Sierra 2019 –

The unmistakable tail flash of the RAAF’s  Number 2 Operational Conversion Unit as seen on F/A-18B Hornet, A21-109.

Exercise High Sierra represents the last three weeks of  2OCU’s intense six month conversion onto the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet as operated by the Royal Australian Air Force’s last two frontline operational squadrons, No’s 75 & 77.


Exercise High Sierra utilises RAAF assets such as the Boeing E-7A Wedgetail, Beech King Air 350 and Airbus KC-30A Multi Role Tanker that operate in and around the restricted airspace of Townsville, and the Townsville Field Training Area (TFTA).

ExHS19 gives participants the chance to experience the highly complex air combat training opportunities put on by Air Combat Group, and to test and practice their deployment capabilities. 

Other key points associated with Ex High Sierra allow Air Force  to maintain its key capabilities such as airborne command, precision strike and air to air refuelling skill sets.

Along with students completing their conversion  onto the ‘Classic’ Hornet, Exercise High Sierra also sees the final phase of the E-7A Wedgetail operational conversion and upgrade courses being run, with Air Battle Managers, Electronic Support Measures Operators and Pilots all completing as E-7A qualified at the conclusion of ExHS19.

2 Squadron Boeing E-7A Wedgetail on static display at the 2013 Australian International Airshow.

Commanding Officer of No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit, Wing Commander Scott Woodland remarked Exercise High Sierra is vital training for the next generation of fighter pilots that will join the ranks of Air Force. 

Commanding Officer of No.2 operational Conversion Unit, Wing Commander S. ‘Woody’ Woodland.

“The pilots need to achieve an extremely high level of skills to fly a complex aircraft and then make decisions to use weapons in fractions of a second.” 
No.2 Operational Conversion Unit are always happy to return to Townsville, as the training provided for the pilots and challenges are exceptional, not to mention the support of the local community.

The last of the breed. Flying officer Jez has the distinction of being a graduate on the last ever OPCON onto the RAAF’s ‘Classic’ Hornet.

Although the ‘Classic’ Hornet will no longer fly with 2OCU, they’ll still continue to fly until their planned withdrawal date of December 2021, so still some time left to enjoy the sights and sounds of the F/A-18 ‘Classic’ Hornet.

Aviation Spotters Online would like to gratefully thank the team at 28 Squadron, RAAF Base Williamtown, 2OCU pilots and all who helped with access during this historic occasion. Personal thanks also to the RAAFPAO at Air Combat Group for their continued support and help.

Thank you

Mark Pourzenic


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Lockheed C-130J Hercules

Edinburgh Airshow 2019 Media Flight

Aviation Spotters Online was recently afforded the privilege to be present onboard a recent media flight that took place at Royal Australian Air Force Base Edinburgh, South Australia, situated some 25km north of the city of Adelaide, Thursday the 26th September 2019.

The media flight was organised by the Royal Australian Air Force and 28 Squadron to help promote the upcoming Edinburgh Airshow that will be held over the weekend of the 9th and 10th of November 2019.  This will be the first Airshow held at Edinburgh since 2007, and will feature many warbirds, aerobatic aircraft and current frontline types such as the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, and the crack aerobatic team The Roulettes, that have recently transitioned to their new mount, the  Pilatus PC-21.

Instructions  were given to arrive at the front gate of RAAF Edinburgh at 9am sharp. On arrival, our names where ticked off and visitor passes handed out before a short bus trip to the Air Movements hangar, where the gathered media were briefed about safety onboard our aircraft for the flight, that being an Richmond based 37 Squadron, Lockheed C-130J Hercules,  A97-449.

Current Royal Australian Air Force aircraft sharing the ramp at Edinburgh – Boeing P-8A Poseidon, Pilatus P/C-9A and the Lockheed C-130J-30 Hercules.

Following our brief, we were once again on the move, this time to the Air Movements lounge where our captain for the flight, Flight Lieutenant  John Ayers,  gave us a short brief on what to expect, and helped us all feel relaxed. Once finished, our loadmasters also spoke to all gathered about the finer points regarding our time onboard the C-130J Hercules.

As this was strictly a media flight, and we were all there to gather imagery and vision, limited spots were available to gain ramp access to record the formation of aircraft that would be trailing us during our flight over Adelaide’s surrounds and the CBD.

37 Squadron emblem as shown on Lockheed C-130J Hercules, A97-449.

Our subjects for this flight were a pair of Pilatus PC-9A training aircraft, A23-007 & A23-062,  belonging to the Edinburgh based Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU), that are due for retirement in the coming months, and newly acquired maritime patrol aircraft, Boeing P-8A Poseidon, A47-003 from 11 Squadron, also home based at Edinburgh. 

Being very fortunate and excited to be named as part of the first group to have ramp access, we were instructed by the loadmasters before we left the Air Movements lounge, to assemble at the rear of the Hercules so that we could all get our safety harnesses fitted, and be ready to go once airborne, as there were a few steps in making sure the harnesses were fitted correctly.

Once airborne, it wasn’t long before our group was instructed to get our safety straps attached to our harness prior to the ramp door opening.  With a touch of turbulence and the aircraft moving about, the adrenaline was pumping and excitement building. With the rear cargo door now raised, and the rush of cool air filling the cargo hold of the Hercules, our loadmasters motioned us to move forward and up the ramp, then lay down on our stomachs, and crawl forward to the edge, to be greeted by a solo Pilatus PC-9A as it flew no more than what seemed an arms distance away, whilst flying at 4,000 feet above the earth, a truly surreal moment.

Pilatus PC-9A as operated by the Edinburgh based Aircraft Research and Development Unit, is seen adorned with commemorative 75th ARDU tail art. A23-045 as well as the other PC-9A’s in the RAAF fleet, are soon to be retired from active service.

Within minutes, a second PC-9A appeared, and both aircraft joined up and  behind the Hercules port side,  as in the distance, the Boeing P-8A Poseidon came into view, before it started edging up closer behind our aircraft  giving us all a fantastic view of the RAAF’s newest acquisition to the fleet. With many media representatives onboard this flight, our time was limited, and with a tap by the loadmaster signalling that our time was up, and with the rear cargo door now closed,  we had to quickly take our safety harnesses off, and let the second group get fitted and assume their positions on the ramp. 

As our flight was now heading over Adelaide’s  CBD, the view out of the Hercules port windows was truly breathtaking, as we were flying fairly low over the suburbs and city, in a formation of aircraft not seen anywhere prior to this day.

Seen basking in the glorious spring sunshine is Boeing P-8A Poseidon from resident 11 Squadron, A47-009.

Opportunities to get inside the cockpit and capture imagery were offered, which gave a different perspective of  the formation as it flew above, and forward of our Hercules aircraft making it a truly memorable sight to behold. Once down from the cockpit, it was a matter of finding a window to catch the last of the formation as the fuel status of the PC-9A’s limited their time in the air, and before long, we were motioned to take our seats along the length of the aircraft, and prepare for landing back at Edinburgh, with wheels down around 12:30pm.

After deplaning, the offer was given to walk around the hardstand to grab some imagery of the static aircraft, before interviews with aircrew and officials commenced. 

Aviation Spotters Online would like to take this opportunity to thank the RAAF media team, 28 Squadron, the staff and Squadron personnel at RAAF Base Edinburgh, and to the crew from 37 Squadron that provided such a comfortable and safe flight.

Thank you 

Mark Pourzenic


For ticketing and information for the upcoming Edinburgh 2019 Airshow, follow the links  here  –  





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Exercise Talisman Sabre 2019 – USAF McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender Media Flight

Exercise Talisman Sabre  is a bilateral, biennial combined major training exercise between Australia and the United States. 

Talisman Sabre 2019 patch
Talisman Sabre 2019 patch

The aim of the exercise is to strengthen the resolve between the military services of Australia and the United States, through combined and Joint Task Force operations, resulting in improved combat readiness and interoperability.  Historically, Exercise Talisman Sabre  is conducted throughout the Northern and Eastern regions of Australia, and within Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone. This series of exercises is focused on planning and conducting,  ‘high end’ mid-intensity warfare.


Talisman Sabre 2019 (TS19) is taking place in and around the ADF Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA), plus surrounding state forests, situated close to the township of Rockhampton in Central Queensland. Other areas used for training purposes include Strange Bay and the Capricorn Coast, including surrounding townships, the ADF Townsville Field Training Area (TFTA), plus the Evans Head Air Weapons Range (EVDAWR).

Conducted from late June until early August, TS19 also involves additional participants from third party nations, such as New Zealand, or are involved only as observers upon invitation. As the breadth and scale of Exercise Talisman Sabre covers such a wide expanse of area along Australia’s east coast, TS19 consists of Field Training Exercises that include force preparation activities, amphibious landings, land force manoeuvres, urban, air and maritime operations including activities conducted by the Special Forces.  

U.S Navy Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet from VFA-27 ‘Royal Maces’ is seen taking on fuel during TS19

To reflect the bilateral nature of the exercise, leadership switches between Australia and the United States every two years, hence the difference in the spelling from Sabre -Saber. Talisman Sabre 2019 is the eighth iteration of the exercise since its inception back in 2005. 

MDD KC-10A Extender 84-0188, 305thAMW/514thAMW (Associate)

During this years exercise, Aviation Spotters Online was privileged to have been offered a media flight onboard an United States Air Force, McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender, tail number  84-0188  from the 305th Air Mobility Wing (305thAMW), that resides at McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey.  The crew of four ( Aircraft Commander, Pilot, Flight Engineer)  for this flight were from the 6th Air Refueling Squadron (6thARS), with the  Boom Operator  from the (9thARS), which operate under the umbrella of the 60th Air Mobility Wing (60thAMW),  whom are home based at Travis Air Force Base in California, and have been operating out of Brisbane Airport for the duration of Exercise Talisman Sabre.

Three KC-10’s that are taking part in Exercise Talisman Sabre 2019 at their Brisbane Airport Base.

McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender

The  McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender advanced tanker/cargo aircraft, is a descendant of the famed DC-10 series of intercontinental, wide body, three engine airliner, which first flew during 1971.  Developed from the Advanced Tanker Cargo Aircraft Program, the design of the KC-10 involved modifications from the DC-10-30CF (Convertible Freighter), and took to the air for the first time on July 12 1980, with the aircraft performing its first aerial refueling sortie in October of the same year.  With this design, the KC-10 shares an 88% commonality with its commercial counterpart, which gives it greater access within the commercial spares/support network.

The KC-10A runs three F103 General Electric CF6-50C2 Turbofans, each producing 23,814kg of thrust, which enable the aircraft a gross take-off weight of up to 267,619kg and a max speed of 996km/h (0.89 mach).

The name ‘Extender‘ stems from the KC-10’s ability to forward deploy without basing, whilst carrying out its mission of cargo transport and aerial refueling, thus giving further reach to U.S  Forces. The United States Air Force accepted the KC-10 into service in 1981 with the then, Strategic Air Command (SAC), at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, with the 60th, and final aircraft being delivered on the 29th November 1988. The year 1992 witnessed the KC-10’s leave SAC for the newly established Air Mobility Command (AMC), with the aircraft being primarily based at Travis Air Force Base in California, and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, formerly known as McGuire AFB, New Jersey.

Air Mobility Command crest.

The more notable changes externally between the DC & KC-10 was the removal of most windows and lower cargo hold doors, plus the addition of the McDonnell Douglas Advanced Aerial Refueling Boom (AARB), which also necessitated in additional fuel tanks added in the lower baggage compartments below the main deck, that increased the KC-10’s fuel capacity to 161,478kg or 161 tonnes, which is almost double to that of the USAF Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker. 

The view from inside the KC-10A Extender at Brisbane Airport.

The KC-10 has a unique centreline refueling boom with a control surface system located at the aft of the boom, which differs from previous types in service, including a drogue and hose system located on the starboard side of the rear fuselage, with the boom operator operating this  digital  fly-by-wire  system from his location at the rear of the aircraft.  Along with this probe and drogue system, the final twenty KC-10 aircraft produced where fitted with wing mounted pods, to further enhance its refueling capability. This unique system allows the Extender to refuel U.S Navy, Marine Corps, and most Allied aircraft in one mission, as was seen during Talisman Sabre 2019.

F/A-18E Super Hornet of VFA-27 ‘Royal Maces’ showing the ‘Hose and Drogue’ to good effect from the boomers position during a Talisman Sabre 2019 sortie.

During boom refueling operations, fuel is transferred to the receiver at a rate of 4,180 litres per minute, whilst the maximum rate via hose and drogue is 1,786 litres per minute that is drawn from its total fuel load of 161,508kg, including a  maximum of 108,211kg stored in the standard wing tanks, plus the 53,297kg within the seven fuel cells below the main decks. The KC-10A has the ability to deliver over 90,000kg of fuel to a receiver well over 3,500km’s from its home base and return, or similarly, can carry 75 passengers, plus a maximum cargo load of over 76,000kg, a distance of  7031km. It’s unrefueled ferry range is a staggering 18,503km’s, with the KC-10 being able to receive fuel from KC-135 and KC-10 in-flight to further increase its range and reach.

The view inside the forward crew accommodation area showing the double bunks, and the environmental curtain separating the cargo hold.
Galley area for crew refreshments
Port side seating arrangements, including oxygen and communications suite.

6th Air Refueling Squadron-

The 6th Air Refueling Squadron (6thARS) operates the McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender aircraft, providing mobility and air refueling missions, as part of the 60th Air Mobility Wing (60thAMW), at Travis Air Force Base in California. 

The Squadrons story begins in January of 1940, when it was activated as the 6th Bombardment Squadron at Langley Field,Virginia. It’s need arose as the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) at the time was arming up after the break out of war in Europe. The Squadron was quickly relocated to McDill Field in Florida with a mix of B-17 Flying Fortresses, and Douglas B-18 Bolos.  The unit was put into action following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, with their immediate role to protect the Gulf of Mexico in the anti-submarine role.   Towards the end of 1942, the threat of submarines in the area diminished and the need for the squadron followed suit, with the 6th Bombardment Squadron relocating to Gowen Field, Idaho, to become an Operational training Unit (OTU).

Aircrew of the 6th Aerial Refueling Squadron.

1943 saw the 6thBS exchange their B-17’s for Consolidated B-24 Liberators, and their role was to change yet again from an OTU, to a Replacement Training Unit  (RTU), basically having them train individual pilots and aircrews.  This scenario was short lived as by April 1st 1944, the squadron was inactivated as the Army Air Force were setting about combining fellow units and personnel into the newly formed Combat Crew Training School-Heavy, that fell under the 212th Army Air Force (AAF) Base Unit at Gowen Field.   The same day, the Squadron was reactivated  at Pratt Army Air Field, Kansas,  flying the B-17 Flying Fortress before transitioning to the Boeing B-29 Superfortress.

MDD KC-10A Extender 84-0188 seen at Brisbane Airport, July 24 2019.

Once the Squadron had trained up on the B-29 Superfortress, they deployed to North Field, Guam, where they became a component of the 314th Bombardment Wing of XXI Bomber Command. The Squadrons first combat mission was to attack Tokyo in February of 1945, with their missions in the beginning being that of high altitude attacks against strategic targets, progressing to low altitude night raids,using incendiaries in the final push towards the surrender of Japan, and saw the Squadron disband once again in Guam during March 1946. 

The intervening years between 1947 saw the squadron fall under the Air Force Reserve at Barksdale Field, Louisiana, before inactivation in 1949.  The 6th Air Refueling Squadron was activated during April 1951 at Walker Air Force Base, New Mexico, to begin training with the Boeing KB-29 tanker version of the Superfortress.

The expansive view through the boomers window situated at the rear of he KC-10A Extender

The Squadrons tenure with the 6thBG was relatively short, as the group was in the process of converting to the Convair B-36 Peacemaker which lacked any air refueling capability, requiring the Squadron inactive yet again.  During 1957, the 6th Bombardment Wing had transitioned to the Boeing B-52B Stratofortress, that necessitated the need for air refueling aircraft, activating the 6th Air Refueling Squadron once again  at Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas during the latter half of 1957.  This came  after SAC had realigned its  27th Strategic Fighter Wing (27thFW) over to the Tactical Air Command (TAC), relinquishing its fighter aircraft, as the need for fast jet fighter bomber escorts were deemed unnecessary with the introduction of the Boeing B-47 and B-52  jet engine bombers, whilst retaining the 27th’s Air Refueling Squadron that was absorbed into the 6thARS.

Current 6th Air Refueling Squadron patch ‘Vis Extensa’ – Strength Extended.

January 1958 had the Squadron return to Walker AFB, with the 6th Wing now flying the new Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker. Whilst at Walker AFB,  the 6th was responsible  for combat crew training on the KC-135 aircraft, and also maintained an around the clock alert status, as was seen during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when SAC was officially at DEFCON 2, and support of tactical operations in South East Asia.  By December 1965, when the first Boeing B-52B Stratofortresses where starting to be phased from operational use, this reduction in activities also resulted in the inactivation of the 6th Wing and 6thARS at Walker Air Force Base,  with the base being permanently closed in 1967.

An VFA-27 F/A-18E Super Hornet carrying external fuel tanks, as this aircraft acts as the Carrier Air Wings flying tanker during recovery operations, orbiting if any aircraft is in need of fuel to help it get back ‘on deck’.

September 18 1985  saw the 6th Air refueling Squadron consolidated with the 6th Bombardment Squadron, and activated at March Air Force Base, California during 1989 as a McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender unit assigned to the 22nd Air Refueling Wing (22ARW).  During this time the Squadron was enjoying flying Worldwide air refueling missions, including deployment to the Persian Gulf during the Gulf War of 1990/91.

1980’s era Extender Flight Crew Embroidered Patch

The 6th Air Refueling Squadron were part of a contingent of 43 KC-10 Extenders deployed to the Gulf that routinely conducted round the clock operations, supporting all aspects of the air war, putting into use their methods of simultaneous  boom and drogue refueling capability.  Along with their capacity to refuel, the KC-10’s were utilised  for their widebody design which allowed movement of critical cargo loads in support of other USAF assets such as the B-52, RC-135 Rivet Joint and U-2 during the air campaign. By the end of hostilities in the Gulf, U.S tankers combined, flew 14,000 sorties, which had them off load a staggering 725 million pounds ( 328,854,468.25 Kg), of fuel to roughly 50,000 receiving aircraft.

McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender 79-1950 from the 60thAMW, is seen arriving for Aviation Nation 2016 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

June 1992 had the United States Air Force re-organise its major commands, which involved the transfer of the 22ndWing to the newly formed Air Mobility Command, which combined elements from Airlift and Air Refueling under a single command.  During  1991 the Base Realignment and Closure Commission had March Air Force Base transferred over to Air Force Reserve Command. This resulted in the 22nd Wing move to McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas in January 1994.

Air Mobility Command embroidered patch.

The 6th Air Refueling Squadron(6thARS) remained at March Air Force Base until August 1995, when it moved to Travis Air Force Base in California, where it became part of the 60th Air Mobility Wing (60thAMW).

60th  Air Mobility Wing –

Located at Travis Air Force Base, California, the 60th Air Mobility Wing is the largest air mobility organisation within the United States Air Force in terms of personnel, that includes a versatile all jet fleet.  As the host unit of  Travis AFB, the Wing handles more cargo and passengers than any other military terminal within  the continental United States.

With its motto of being ‘America’s First Choice’  for providing global reach, the crews of the 60thAMW fulfill this mission by flying support missions anywhere in the world, with particular focus on the Pacific and Indian Ocean areas of operation, that may also include Alaska and Antarctica. As part of Air Mobility Command, the primary role of the  60thAMW is of strategic airlift and air refueling, coupled with providing rapid, reliable airlift to American forces anywhere on the planet, supporting national objectives and extending the reach of air power via mid-air aerial refueling.

McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender, 79-0434 with its drogue hose extended, in its original Strategic Air Command scheme of white, gray and blue. Of note-Strategic Air Command (SAC) sash across center fuselage.

The 60th Operations Group located at Travis AFB has four flying Squadrons under their care – the 21st Airlift Squadron that fly the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III, the 22nd Airlift Squadron that fly the Lockheed C-5M Super Galaxy, and the 6th and 9th Air Refueling Squadrons that operate the McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender.

60th Operations Group embroidered patch.

The 60thAMW can trace its lineage back to July 1948 at Kaufbeuren Air Base in occupied Germany with the establishment of the 60th Troop Carrier Wing (60thTCW). During 1949 the 60thTCW was relocated to RAF Fassberg in Germany and as a result, was involved in the Berlin Airlift at the time operating Douglas C-54 Skymasters  and C-47 Dakotas. 

After the Berlin Airlift, the 60thTCW relocated to Wiesbaden Air Base in West Germany under the command of the Twelfth Air Force, as part of United States Air Forces Europe. The 60thTCW was inactivated in September 1958, with it reactivating in December 1965, and relocating to its current home at Travis Air Force Base, California during January 1966, under the newly formed Military Airlift Command (MAC).

Equipped with the C-124 Globemaster II, the  C-130 Hercules, the C-141 Starlifter and C-133 Cargomaster plus the C-5 Galaxy, the 60th Military Airlift Wing (60thMAW) had itself a large fleet of cargo aircraft to assist with any contingency and soon found itself involved with the conflict in South East Asia.

60th Air Mobility Wing embroidered patch.

Over the years, the 60thMAW  has supported Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War with Operation NICKEL GRASS, Operation BABYLIFT during the fall of Saigon in 1975, also Operation DEEP FREEZE began in 1974 to resupply research teams in the Antarctic. Throughout the 1980’s, the 60thMAW was involved with the U.S led attempt to oppose corrupt dealings within Central America, with missions such as Operation JUST CAUSE that toppled Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega from power.

Along with countless humanitarian missions over the years, the 60thMAW have assisted countless communities with disaster relief flights, bringing with them aid and supplies, as was the case with Mexico City’s devastating earthquake in 1985, and the evacuation of Clark Air Base in the Phillippines during 1991 after the volcano Mount Pinatubo erupted.

McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender, 83-0078 seen here at Melbourne International Airport during the United States Air Force Demonstration Team ‘The Thunderbirds’ Australian visit during 1987. This same aircraft was noted at the 2011 Australian International Airshow in the gray scheme as adopted by AMC, supporting the USAF’s first deployment of its F-22A Raptor aircraft to an Australian airshow.

With the end of the Cold War and the restructuring of the United States Air Force, the 60thMAW  was redesignated the 60th Airlift Wing on November 1st 1991, under the newly formed Air Mobility Command (AMC), before one final change on October 1 1994 that saw the 60thAW redesignated to the 60th Air Mobility Wing.

KC-10 Extender Maintenance Personnel embroidered patch.

Media Flight –

During Talisman Sabre 2019, the U.S Department of Defense offered a select number of available positions to media, on one of four media flights, onboard their McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender aircraft, that where participating in this years  exercise.  After sending through a request, I was delighted to receive confirmation and  that my flight would take place on Wednesday July 24 2019, departing Brisbane Airport, Queensland. 

With instructions from the USAF Public Affairs Officer to be present at the designated location, that being Jet Aviation, who are situated at Brisbane Airport at 7:30am sharp. I duly booked my flights, and was airborne on the Tuesday evening prior, with Virgin Australia flight VA353, departing Melbourne Airport for Brisbane, a mere 2 hour, 10 minute journey away.

Looking through the rain stained glass as my aircraft approaches the gate for boarding to Brisbane. Virgin Australia Boeing 737-8FE, VH-VOL seen during a typical Melbourne winters evening.

Arriving at Jet Aviation early Wednesday morning, I made myself known to my fellow peers who I would be sharing this incredible experience with. It wasn’t too long after arriving that the USAF Public Affairs Officer (PAO) arrived, and began to give us a short safety brief on what to expect during our time in the air. With our crew for the flight also arriving, the excitement was starting to build as it wasn’t long before we were on the bus, and headed to our aircraft which were parked on the opposite side of the airport.

Once arriving at the aircraft, we where given a few minutes to grab some imagery, before making our way up the air stairs and making ourselves comfortable, whilst also meeting with the crew and so forth.  After 20 minutes, the boom operator gave us a quick safety brief in regards to exiting the aircraft in case of an emergency, and at this time, the crew where beginning their pre-flight checks for the engine start up procedure. I was offered the jump seat for the take-off roll, unfortunately there was a problem with the seat belts,  which meant it wasn’t possible to be seated there as per the strict requirements regarding being strapped in during take-off/landing and refueling.

MDD KC-10A 84-0188, our aircraft for the media flight.

With our crew of four, including an USAF observer, who by the way is a B-52 pilot with the 69th Bomb Squadron, our PAO, and 5 media, we where set to taxi to our holding position before take-off. With our aircraft full of fuel, one couldn’t help but notice that when taxiing along, it felt like every bump was magnified more than what I’ve felt in other aircraft.  Whilst at the threshold and awaiting take-off  clearance, the excitement was starting to build. With the crew leaving the cockpit door open for all to have a glimpse into their world for the entire flight, it was interesting to see just how relaxed and collected they where, which brought about a calmness to all onboard. 

The 6thARS crew hard at work during our flight.

With the sound of the three General Electric CF6-50 turbofans spooling up to get the KC-10 lined up on the runways centreline, one couldn’t help but feel like the show is about to start, and with that, the unmistakable howl of the KC-10’s engines reverberated throughout the aircraft as we started our take-off roll down Brisbane Airports main runway.

Once we reached our intended safe altitude, the seat belt sign was turned off, and we were free to move about the forward cabin area, including the cockpit. Once again, having the privilege to step into a working cockpit whilst airborne is an amazing experience, and certainly a memory that will stay long after the flight is over. As there were five of us media  onboard, we where split into three groups that would have the opportunity to sit alongside the boomer whilst aerial refueling was taking place.

No time to relax as this 6thARS crew is hard at work getting their ’10’ on station to fulfill the motto of the 60thAMW  –  ‘Americas First Choice’.

Once our aircraft reached its holding area, we began to fly in a racetrack pattern, which basically means that the receiving aircraft know of our position within this area, and will fly within the same pattern when coming up from behind to receive fuel. As the first group of receiving aircraft arrived, the go ahead was given by the PAO for the first nominated pair to head down to the rear of the aircraft, who fortunately where able to catch the Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptors from the 90th Fighter Squadron taking on fuel. (One thing to mention is that during refueling, all passengers and crew must be seated and seat belts worn, in case of an emergency where the aircraft need to separate quickly).  After 10 or so minutes, they returned with the second pair heading down the rear, who again caught the remaining pair of 90thFS F-22A Raptors, including a pair of U.S Navy F/A-18E Super Hornets.

Flight Engineers station onboard the KC-10A Extender. Watching him during the flight, he was constantly monitoring the fuel flow and adjusting accordingly.

With the second group down the rear a touch longer due to the Super Hornets taking longer to tank via the hose, my anticipation  was at its peak, as not knowing what to expect was exciting. Finally, I was given the okay to walk down the rear of the aircraft, firstly through the gap through the environmental curtain that separates the cargo hold with the forward crew area, and into the expanse of the cargo hold, where you walk along a gangway to the extreme left of the aircraft, with a safety rope attached to hang onto in case of turbulence.

KC-10A Extender Safety Card.

Making my way down the stairwell, which takes me below decks to the boomers compartment, I’m greeted by the boom operator who motions me to take the seat to his right, and hands me a pair of headphones so you can listen in on the radio transmissions between the pilots of both aircraft. Looking through the window, I’m directed to look up, as when the receiving aircraft is on the hose, which in our case, a U.S Navy Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet from VFA-27 ‘Royal Maces’, that belongs to Carrier Air Wing 5 (CVW5), operating off the aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan, they tend to fly behind the tanker, rather than below it, as opposed to tanking off the boom.

So here I am, video camera in hand, watching a Super Hornet only metres in front of me, over the Pacific Ocean, onboard a USAF KC-10 taking on fuel. To say it was surreal would be an understatement. As this amazing spectacle in front of me unfolds,I have the time to chat with the boomer quickly, and also capture a few images with my still camera. The boomer then announces over the intercom theres  less than a minute remaining until its time for the Super Hornet to disengage. As he drops off and banks away, within seconds, a second VFA-27 F/A-18E is seen approaching the rear of the KC-10 ready to ‘plug in’ to the hose.  Seeing first hand the incredible skill required to undertake such feats is truly awe inspiring, and again, feeling very humbled in being able to witness this first hand.

Up close and personal with an F/A-18E Super Hornet, BuNo-166903  NF-402 from VFA-27 ‘Royal Maces’ during Talisman Sabre 2019.

After watching the second receiver  unplug and depart, myself and fellow peer decided it was time to give the next group a shot, and headed back up to the forward crew area, where we heard some very exciting news.  Our flight coincided with the  final day of air operations during Talisman Sabre 2019, and it turned out that our fellow KC-10 crew that departed after us earlier in the morning, had failed to offload a safe amount of fuel due to a lack of receivers, that would necessitate its safe arrival and landing back at Brisbane Airport. We were advised that before long, we would rendezvous with the other KC-10A, via mid-air, aerial refueling, to take on enough fuel which would allow it to perform the rest of its mission profile safely.

Although our crew was from the 6thARS/60thAMW, our KC-10A Extender for the flight, is a McGuire based bird that has been utilized by Air Mobility Command to carry out its mission of Global Reach. This banner hangs inside the forward crew compartment.

As the final group and boomer arrived back in the forward crew compartment, there was a certain buzz in the air, as all onboard understood the enormity of what was about to unfold before our eyes.  Looking through the cockpit, we could see the second KC-10A Extender in front of us, tanking a pair of Super Hornets as we slowly flew up behind, before it was time to commence the in-flight refueling procedure.  As with all tanking operations, the seat belt sign was lit up, and all passengers had to take their seated positions. I was luckily seated behind the cockpit, and whilst the view was slightly obstructed, watching the windscreen fill with the view of another KC-10 is something one must experience first hand, as being in such close proximity to another widebody aircraft is truly amazing.  One thing that will stay in my memory bank is the audible ‘thump’ of the refueling receptacle mating with our KC-10A high above the Pacific Ocean, and the relative calm of the crew flying in such tight quarters.  Once we had taken on almost 91,000kg of fuel in a matter of minutes, we could see the second KC-10 flying away from our position which seemed like nothing had happened at all.

F/A-18E Super Hornet BuNo-168369,  NF-207  from  VFA-27 ‘Royal Maces’   operating from  CVW-5 –  USS Ronald Reagan.

After we were topped up, we started our flightpath back to the Australian coast, and setting ourselves up for our return to Brisbane Airport.  After a few discussions, I was once again afforded the rare opportunity to be in the cockpit, to experience first hand, whilst in the observers seat to the left, and behind of the aircraft captain,  our approach and landing.  Extremely happy and honoured are two words I’ll use for this privileged moment I was able to experience, and with the forthcoming vision, you’ll understand why.  Having the opportunity to film our flight along the  eastern coast of Australia as we made our way up to Brisbane was an unbelievable experience.  I’d like to stop talking about my flight and allow you, the viewer, to watch what I tried to capture of this amazing life moment I was able to experience, and am more than happy to be able to share this experience with you.

As worn by the flight crew during our media flight. 6thARS Evaluator embroidered patch, a very special gift and will be a treasured patch in my collection.

Aviation Spotters Online would like to take this opportunity to gratefully thank, in no particular order – Royal Australian Air Force Public Affairs, the Australian Department of Defence Media team, the United States Air Force Public Affairs Office and Associated  Team  Members ( Maj. A” Glacier” Blue and 2nd Lt.S.Thrift ), the 6th Air Refueling Squadron, the 60th Air Mobility Wing, United States Air Force, Pacific Air Force,  Talisman Sabre, Jet Aviation and Brisbane Airport, for their assistance and invitation, to help with the opportunity in being able to create this article and associated vision.

Thank you 

Mark Pourzenic

Aviation Spotters Online.

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2019 Australian International Airshow RAAF Boeing C-17A Globemaster III

C-17 Townsville T150


The 2019 Australian International Airshow and Aerospace & Defence Exposition held at Avalon Airport  near Geelong in Victoria, is the 14th time the show has been held since its inception back in October 1992.  This biennial show is one of the Asia-Pacific regions most prestigious and the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.  This airshow, like the ones before has something for everyone, from aerospace industry professionals, the military, aviation enthusiasts, recreational pilots and the general public, there are attractions and displays to cater for the most discerning of interests.

36 Squadron C-17A Globemaster III, A41- 211  seen on approach to Avalon Airport for inclusion to the 2019 Australian International Airshow.

Royal Australian Air Force-

The Royal Australian Air Force, in conjunction with Airshows Downunder,  has been the driving  force behind each of the shows held at Avalon Airport that have been staged since 1992.  The Australian International Airshow over the years has seen almost every current type operated by the RAAF make an appearance, at one time or another, either as a static exhibit, or as part of the flying display.   Since it’s debut at the 2007 Australian International Airshow, the crowd pleasing Boeing C-17A Globemaster III always attracts large lines of people to walk through its cavernous hold, and this year was no exception.

Head on with A41-213 during the Wings over Illawara Airshow 2016.

Boeing C-17A Globemaster III –

The Royal Australian Air Force has been operating the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III since November 2006.  The RAAF ordered an initial batch of 4 aircraft in mid 2006 after options where considered during the 2000’s after it was revealed that the RAAF wasn’t able to meet its strategic airlift capability to transport large and heavy vehicles, along with other items of equipment that was being utilised by the Australian Army. This situation materialised during the 1999 East Timor deployment, and operations in the Middle East in 2001,  as the Australian Defence Force at the time, were using USAF Transports and chartered Russian built Heavy lift aircraft to help with movements of supplies and troops to and from Afghanistan, and the Middle East, due to the RAAF’s fleet of Lockheed  C-130 Hercules transport aircraft not able to carry oversized loads over long distances as was the requirement at the time.

Wings Over Illawarra 2016 Globemaster III-172
Wings Over Illawarra 2016, flypast by C-17A Globemaster III A41-213

With the governments decision to purchase the Globemaster, this improved the ADF’s ability to operate outside of Australia and its region.  The first four aircraft were delivered between November 2006 and January 2008, with another pair ordered in 2011 and 2014 respectively, with the eighth and final airframe arriving in November of 2015.  With then Defence Minister Brendon Nelson’s decision to acquire the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III, it was announced that 36 Squadron would be the sole operator of the type, and that their Lockheed C-130H Hercules aircraft would be transferred to 37 Squadron which is based at Richmond in New South Wales, and the C-17’s new home would be located at RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland.  Along with this move, it was necessary to upgrade the Air Movement facilities at all major RAAF Bases across the country to accommodate the increased capability offered by the Globemaster.

RAAF C-17A Globemaster III A41-206 escorted by a pair of 2OCU F/A-18B Hornets during the media day preview for the upcoming 2019 Australian International AIrshow.

The RAAF’s fleet of C-17’s were acquired via the United States Governments Foreign Military Sales program, which meant they were delivered to the USAF first, before transferring over to the RAAF, that enabled a very fast delivery time due to no changes or modifications, other than national markings being applied, that allowed delivery within nine months after initial commitment.

Boeing C-17A Globemaster III, A41-210 showing off its wing during the 2015 Australian International Airshow.

Operational Service-

With the C-17 Globemaster production line now closed, maintenance of  these aircraft to help them remain in service for atleast 30 years is undertaken by the RAAF and Boeing. As an operator of the C-17, Australia is included in the Globemaster III Sustainment Partnership, which sees Australian Air Force technicians responsible for routine servicing, whilst Boeing is responsible for all major maintenance tasks required on the aircraft. Along with maintenance, Boeing also provides technical support during deployments outside of Australia by RAAF C-17’s.

RAAF C-17A touches down
RAAF C-17A Globemaster III,  A41-212 touches down at RAAF Base Darwin during Exercise Pitch Black 2016.

Before the first Australian  C-17A was delivered, a select group of RAAF pilots and loadmasters received conversion training with USAF C-17 units at  Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma, Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina,  and McChord AFB situated in Washington. These locations were utilized  for technical staff training, and conducted during the latter half of 2006, which was led by Wing Commander Linda Corbould, who at the time was the Commanding Officer of 36 Squadron,  and who would eventually deliver the Royal Australian Air Force’s first Boeing C-17A Globemaster III, A41-206 to RAAF Base Amberley, on December 7 2006.

A41-209 Darwin
A41-209 landing at RAAF Darwin, with thrust reversers deployed.

During 2007 plans were afoot to acquire the associated  equipment needed to convert the C-17 for the all important Aeromedical Evecuation role, that is an integral component when a 36 Squadron C-17 is tasked for any deployment within Australia or Internationally, during times of war or natural disaster, as is the case when heavy lift transport is required and tasked accordingly.   September 5th 2008, will be remembered in RAAF C-17  circles as the date the first Aeromedical flight took place, which occurred exactly one day after the type was approved to operate in this most important of roles.

A41-210 of 36 Squadron on the tarmac at RAAF Base Point Cook during the Centenary of Military Aviation in Australia Airshow held in 2014.

December 2008 also marked another milestone for the RAAF, and 36 Squadron C-17 operations, when Wing Commander Corbould, led the first all female aircrew during a training flight over South East Queensland,  for the types second anniversary of service.  2010 also saw 36 Squadron take sole responsibility for the training of aircrew with their newly installed simulator coming online, with the first Australian trained pilot graduating in May.

A41-212 on static display during the open day held at RAAF Base Darwin during Exercise Pitch Black 2016.

With Amberley based 36 Squadron achieving final operating capability status towards the end of 2011, this set the squadron up to begin its own in-house training for all aircrew positions, without the need to rely on USAF qualified trainers.  Early 2013 witnessed the commissioning of another simulator facility  to provide training for loadmasters, air movements and medical staff, as well as develop and trial advanced cargo carrying techniques, with the emphasis focusing on associated procedures related to the roles that the C-17, and 36 Squadron would be employed under, primarily that of Humanitarian and Disaster relief, with the first Australian trained batch of loadmasters graduating from the newly commissioned facility during the middle of 2014.

A41-206 seen on static display during the 2013 Australian International Airshow, and proving that ‘Size Does Matter’.

Since it’s arrival into service, the C-17 Globemaster has had a significant impact on the RAAF’s  airlift capability, and the ADF as a whole.  With a maximum range in excess of 10,000 kilometres, not including its air-to-air refuelling capability, and with it’s ability to operate from short unsealed airstrips, makes the C-17 invaluable in times of need.  Each Globemaster can carry up to 77,000 kg of cargo and up to 102 persons or 36 stretches if needed.  An example of what can be carried inside the C-17 include the Australian Army M1 Abrams tank, three Eurocopter Tiger ARH Helicopters or five Bushmaster Mobility Vehicles. 

Head on with A41-212 at RAAF Base Darwin, ExPB16

Deployments –

As early as 2008, the RAAF’s fleet of C-17A Globemaster III’s have been tasked to support Australian military deployments throughout the world.  36 Squadron and their Globemasters have been tasked with numerous trips to many of the worlds hot spots, in support of the Australian Defence Force’s contribution to the global war on terror, with supply trips made to the Middle East and Afghanistan.  As an example of the Globemasters ability to support ongoing overseas deployments, during the course of 2012, RAAF C-17’s flew 60 sorties, which would equate to roughly 330 flying hours,  they moved 290 vehicles, up to 1,800 passengers, and a staggering, 3,600 tonnes of cargo, and  able to  perform 20 aeromedical evacuation flights.

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A41-207 seen off the coast during the Townsville 150th Anniversary airshow in 2016.

As well as supporting the Australian Defence Force (ADF) during times of conflict, 36 Squadron C-17’s are regularly called upon to support overseas deployments from resident squadrons when partaking in military exercises with coalition partners, or when invited to take part in the static, or flying display, at any number of airshows throughout Australia, and the world.

RAAF C-17 landing on sunset
RAAF C-17 landing on sunset

Humanitarian missions-

Along with the C-17’s military role, the Australian Government in times of natural disaster will turn to 36 Squadron, and their fleet of C-17A  Globemasters to be first on scene with supplies and equipment.  Since November 2007,  when an RAAF C-17 delivered 27 tonnes of aid to the people of Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea following flooding caused by Cyclone Guba,  C-17’s have been involved in numerous situations. 2009 saw them off to Samoa following an earthquake, then to Pakistan in 2010 after widespread flooding, to one of the squadrons busiest times in 2011, which saw them fly over 227 tonnes of supplies to flood affected regions of  Queensland, 100,000 sandbags to the south in Melbourne due to flooding, before heading north to Cairns with 200 tonnes of groceries as part of Operation Yasi Assist, following Cyclone Yasi ravaging parts of North Queensland.

A41-208 Darwin
RAAF C-17A, A41-208 on final approach into Darwin, Northern Territory.

During 2011 C-17’s headed east across the Tasman to assist the people of New Zealand, following the tragic earthquake that hit Christchurch.  Following this, three 36 Squadron Globemasters were called upon to head to Japan after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, which saw widespread destruction across parts of Japan.

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A41-206 performing a high speed pass during the 2018 Warbirds Downunder Airshow held at Temora in NSW.

Along with aid supplies, C-17’s have carried various pieces of equipment such as power generators and transformers, the likes of which were needed in 2013 during the deadly bushfire that swept through Tasmania, to a water purification plant that was flown to Samoa in 2011, for the isolated community of Tuvalu.

Inside the cavernous hold of an RAAF C-17A Globemaster III

2014 witnessed a pair of C-17’s travel to Eindhoven Air Base in the Netherlands following the tragic shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over the Ukraine. Working in partnership with the Royal Netherlands Air Force C-130 Hercules squadrons, they were tasked to carry international police, including their associated equipment, along with the bodies of the victims from this tragedy back to the Netherlands from the Ukraine.

Inside the cockpit of RAAF C-17A Globemaster III, A41-211 during the 2019 Australian International Airshow.

History was made in November 2015 after an RAAF C-17 was tasked with a supply drop for the Australian Antarctic Division, landing on Wilkins runway after departing Hobart. This flight was reported as the first RAAF mission to the Australian Antarctic Territory since 1978, after a 36 Squadron, C-130H Hercules landed at McMurdo Sound, after the Antarctic Flight was withdrawn way back in 1963. Whilst at Wilkins, the 36 Squadron crew practiced evacuating casualties from Wilkins. Further missions were conducted to other regions in the Antarctic with the use of air-to-air refuelling, as occurred during 2017 with supply drops to Davis Station.

RAAF-C-17A A41-213
RAAF 36 Squadron C-17A, A41-213

36 Squadron –

With its motto of  ‘Sure’,  Royal Australian Air Force 36 Squadron, which currently operates the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III, and is based at RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland, is  employed in the role of Strategic Transport.


Since forming at RAAF Base Laverton in Victoria, in March of 1942, under the control of Southern Area Command,  the Squadron was equipped with the Douglas DC-2, along with early de Havilland types such as the DH.84 Dragon. As World War II progressed, 36 Squadron would take charge of the venerable Douglas C-47 Dakota, which it flew until the introduction of the Lockheed C-130 Hercules in 1958.  The years 1946 through to 1953 saw 36 Squadron controlled by No.86 (Transport) Wing, which at the time was based at RAAF Schofields, and Richmond in New South Wales.   

Douglas C47 Dakota A65-26, a type as flown by 36 Squadron. Seen here at RAAF  Laverton during 1971.  Image courtesy CNAPG/Joe Vella Collection.

1953 witnessed the outbreak of hostilities in Korea, with the Squadron reforming at Iwakuni in Japan, as part of  No.91 (Composite) Wing. On its return to Australia in 1955, the Squadron was once again under the control of No.86 Wing. With the Squadron equipped with the Hercules at RAAF Richmond since 1958, 36 Squadron in 1964 became its own entity, independently operating as a unit under the command of headquarters at RAAF Base Richmond, following the disbandment of No.86 Wing. 

A41-210 in the turn during the 2015 Australian International Airshow.

Whilst Richmond was home for close to half a century, operating two models of the Hercules, the C-130A and C-130H, the Squadron over the years has seen active service during World War II, Korea, the Indonesia-Malaysian confrontation, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Lockheed C-130A Hercules A97-212 of 36 Squadron seen on the ramp at Richmond, circa 1976. Image courtesy CNAPG/Joe Vella Collection.

Whilst operating the C-130 Hercules, 36 Squadron notched up 200,000 accident free flying hours in 1984.  During 1990, whilst operating the C-130H, the Squadron  achieved 100,000 accident free flying hours, an achievement many strive for.  During 36 Squadrons time operating the world’s workhorse that is the Hercules, 36 Squadron was there to assist the people of Darwin, following Cyclone Tracy in 1974, moved thousands of passengers during the pilots dispute between Australian domestic airlines in 1989, supported the Royal Australian Navy during the first Gulf War, and transported Australian troops to help restore order in Somalia in 1993.  More recent actions included INTERFET operations in East Timor during the late 90’s, and evacuation of Australian holiday makers following the deadly Bali bombings in 2002.

36 Squadron Lockheed C-130H Hercules A97-002 seen during the 2006 Richmond ADF Airshow. Image courtesy Richard Pourzenic.

After the decision to acquire the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III in 2006, 36 Squadrons fleet of 12 Lockheed C-130H Hercules where transferred to 37 Squadron located at RAAF Base Richmond, with 36 Squadron heading north to relocate at RAAF Base Amberley.

RAAF C-17A Globemaster III
Seen on the static display line during Exercise Pitch Black, Darwin 2018.

During the 2019 Australian International Airshow, held at Avalon Airport in Victoria, ASO’s videographer Mark Pourzenic was given the rare opportunity to chat with a 36 Squadron C-17 pilot, and ask a few questions about life in the Royal Australian Air Force, and what it’s like to fly the mighty C-17A Globemaster III.

Aviation Spotters Online would like to take this opportunity to thank the media team at Airshows Downunder for providing access and contacts, along with the RAAF Public Affairs team for granting permission for the interview.

C-17 Pilot during the 2019 Australian International Airshow.




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2019 Australian International Airshow USAF Boeing B-52H Stratofortress

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Boeing B-52H Stratofortress 60-0007 of the 23rdBS/5thBW, which is based at Minot AFB, North Dakota.


The 2019 Australian International Airshow and Aerospace & Defence Exposition held at Avalon Airport  near Geelong in Victoria, is the 14th time the show has been held since its inception back in October 1992.  This biennial show is one of the Asia-Pacific regions most prestigious and the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.  This airshow, like the ones before has something for everyone, from aerospace industry professionals, the military, aviation enthusiasts, recreational pilots and the general public, there are attractions and displays to cater for the most discerning of interests.


United States Air Force

The United States Air Force are no strangers to the Australian International Airshow  held at Avalon Airport, with their involvement stretching back to the first show that was staged in October of 1992.  The USAF has always provided a varied assortment of aircraft types from their fleet over the years to participate as either part of the flying display, or as a static exhibit. One aircraft in particular that gets the hearts racing of many an aviation enthusiast is the legendary Boeing B-52H Stratofortress.  This iconic aircraft has visited Avalon on many occasions since its first appearance as a static bird during the 1999 Australian International Airshow.

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B-52H ‘BUFF’ arrival onto Avalon’s main runway in preparation for the start of the 2019 Australian International Airshow.


Boeing B-52 Stratofortress –   A  Brief  History.

” The long rifle was the great weapon of its day… today this B-52 is the long rifle of the air age”  

– Air Force Chief of Staff  Nathan Twining, during  B-52B roll out ceremony  – March 18 1954.

USAF B-52H 60-0060 ‘Iron Butterfly’
USAF B-52H 60-0060 ‘Iron Butterfly’ from the “Barons” – the 23d Bomb Squadron, 5th Bomb Wing, Minot AFB, Nth Dakota


The mighty Boeing B-52 Stratofortress has been the mainstay,  long range, jet powered stategic bomber of the United States Air Force since it’s introduction into active service with the Strategic Air Command (SAC) in 1955.  After SAC was disbanded in 1992, all remaining aircraft were transferred to  Air Combat Command (ACC), with 2010 witnessing ACC absorbed into the newly created Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC).  Since January 2016 there were 58 B-52’s in active service with up to 18 airframes in reserve.  With a weapons payload of up to 32,000kg, and typical combat range exceeding 14,000km without the need for aerial refueling, the B-52 or BUFF, ( Big Ugly Fat F**ker), as it’s more affectionately known, is expected to serve until the early 2050’s.


Conceived on the 23rd November 1945 after the Air Materiel Command issued a directive with performance criteria for a new strategic bomber that was “capable of carrying out the strategic mission without dependence upon advanced and intermediate bases controlled by other countries”.  Requirements issued stated the aircraft be crewed with no fewer than five turret gunners, with a six man crew, cruise at  – 380km/h at 34,000 feet with a combat radius of 8,000km.  Armament was to consist of unspecified 20mm cannon and 4,500kg of bombs.  February 1946 saw the Air Force issue bid invitations for the design and building to these specifications, with Boeing, Consolidated Aircraft, and Glenn L. Martin Company submitting desired proposals.  In June 1946, Boeing offered its proposed bomber, the Model 462, a straight winged aircraft powered by six turboprops, that had a total gross weight of 160,000kg, and a combat radius of up to 5,000km, which was announced as the winning design. Although these figures looked impressive on paper, it wasn’t until a full scale mock-up of the proposed design for engineering and testing was built, that concerns were raised over it’s sheer size and its ability to meet Air force requirements. 

USAF B-52H 60-0055 ‘War Eagle’
USAF B-52H 60-0055 ‘War Eagle’ from the “Barons” – the 23d Bomb Squadron, 5th Bomb Wing, Minot AFB, Nth Dakota.


Over the next two years, the first proposal which was the Model 462, had now evolved into the Model 464 by which time was becoming a very different aircraft than what was originally planned.  With the Model 464-17 meeting most requirements bar range, and with the nuclear role added, doubts were cast as to whether this would provide any improvement over the current bomber, the Convair B-36, and by the time it entered full scale production, it would itself be, obsolete.  With the resulting decision to put the project on hold for a six month period, and during this time the overall requirements for the program where once again changed, Boeing continued with test and development of their current technologies, which also included exploring current innovations, such as Northrops YB-49 jet powered flying wing, and aerial refueling.  After Boeing had regained the bid to stave off cancellation of the contract, the revised requirements called for an aircraft with a top speed of  –  825km/h at 35,000 feet, with a range of  11,000km and  125,000kg gross weight which included  4,500kg of bombs and  75,225 litres of fuel.


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The BUFF has gained many improvements and updates since 1955, as is evident with this B-52H of 2019.

XB-52  Design-

May 1948 saw Boeing incorporate the Westinghouse J-40 jet engine into the design, which resulted in yet another revision, and again, doubts raised by the government about its overall range, as the jet engine had by this time not progressed enough to warrant a design based solely on jet propulsion, with the turboprop still being the favored choice.  October 1948 was a crucial month in the design of the XB-52 with Boeing engineers asked by the chief of bomber development Colonel Pete Warden, to come up with a design for a four engine turbojet bomber.  The new design was loosely based on the layout of the Boeing B-47 Stratojet that incorporated a 35 degree swept-wing, eight engines paired in four underwing pods, and with bicycle landing gear along with wingtip outriggers.  A point of interest with the landing gear design is its ability to pivot up to 20 degrees to allow crosswind landings whilst keeping the aircraft aligned on the runway centreline.  By April 1949 a full scale mock up was presented for inspection, with concerns about range still a concern due to the J-40 and J-57 jet engines then available, the then newly appointed head of Strategic Air Command General Curtis Le May, insisted performance not be compromised due to engine development delays.   General Le May also asked for the design be changed from the B-47 style tandem seating arrangement, to the conventional side by side seating, which increases crew efficiency and lowers crew fatigue.  Boeing was awarded the contract on February 13 1951 for thirteen B-52A models, and seventeen detachable reconnaissance pods.


USAF B-52H 60-0005 “Warbirds”
USAF B-52H 60-0005 “Warbirds” from the “Barons” – the 23d Bomb Squadron, 5th Bomb Wing, Minot AFB. Commander’s a/c – Colonel Bradley Cochran May 2018–Present, Commander, 5th Bomb Wing, Minot AFB, N.D. 

Production – 

The YB-52, the second of the two XB-52’s built, and the first operationally modified, took to the air on its first flight on April 15 1952 with legendary Boeing test pilot ‘Tex’ Johnston at the controls, which culminated with a successful 2 hour and 21 minute sortie, which preceded 670 days of wind tunnel, and 130 days of aerodynamic and aeroelastic testing that paid off with the U.S Air Force increasing the order to 282 B-52’s.  Of the original 13 B-52A’s ordered, only three were built, with the remaining ten returned to Boeing to be completed and enter service as B-52B models.  Following  on from the B-52B, the B-52 progressed along steadily with different variants up until the B-52G, and turbofan B-52H.  With production schedules at full rate, Boeing where producing at both their Seattle and Wichita facilities, with a staggering 5,000 companies involved with its manufacture, including 41% built by sub-contractors.  Seattle, due to its location had strict curfews in regards to aircraft noise, so once aircraft needed testing, they ferried to Larson Air Force Base (240km east) for  full testing.  Production rates at both plants  are as follows- 

Seattle –                    Wichita – 

*Prototype- 3                     *B-52D – 69

*B-52A – 3                       *B-52E – 58

*B-52B – 50                     *B-52F – 45

*B-52C  – 35                     *B-52G – 193

*B-52D – 101                    *B-52H – 102

*B-52E – 42

*B-52F – 44

Between 1954 and 1963, a culminative total of 742 airframes had been produced at both Seattle & Wichita plants.

USAF B-52H 60-0055 ‘War Eagle’
USAF B-52H 60-0055 ‘War Eagle’ from the “Barons” – the 23d Bomb Squadron, 5th Bomb Wing, Minot AFB, Nth Dakota.

Operational History –

As noted earlier, the B-52A model never entered operational service, as these aircraft were only used in testing.  The B-52B was the first to enter operational service, with aircraft 52-8711 having the honour of doing so with the 93rd Heavy Bombardment Wing (93rdBW) at Castle Air Force Base, California, June 29 1955, with the Wing becoming operational the following March. Castle AFB was home to the Convair B-36 and where replaced on a one to one basis as the B-52’s came online.  Training for B-52 crews at Castle consisted of five weeks ground school, with four weeks flying, averaging 35 to 50 hours in the air.

The first air dropped thermonuclear Mk-15 device was dropped by a B-52B (52-0013), in  May 1956 over  Bikini Atoll during testing that was code named ‘Cherokee’.   To demonstrate the B-52’s global reach, three B models made a non-stop record setting flight around the world during January 1957,  named ‘Operation Power Flite’, which saw them cover a distance of 39,165km in 45 hours  19 minutes at a speed of 536mph, with in flight refueling performed by Boeing KC-97 Stratofreighters. Other notable feats achieved by the B-52 include – 

* B-52D world speed record over 10,000km closed circuit with payload at a speed of 902km/h in September 1958.

*B-52D world speed record over 5,000km closed circuit with payload at a speed of 962 km/h in September 1958.

*B-52G world distance record flying unrefueled for 16,227km lasting 19 hours & 44 minutes, December 1960.

*B-52H that surpassed the previous world distance record of flying un-refueled, flew a staggering 20,177km from Kadena AFB in Japan, to Torrejón Air Base in Spain, during January of 1962.

*B-52H became first US military aircraft to fly using alternative fuel, December 2006.

USAF B-52H 60-0044
USAF B-52H 60-0044 from the “Barons” – the 23d Bomb Squadron, 5th Bomb Wing, Minot AFB.

Cold War –

Throughout  the Cold War, the term ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’  was a concept that both the Soviet Union and the United States knew all too well. The Strategic Air Command(SAC), intended to use the B-52 to counteract any threat thrown at them by the Soviet Union, with their main role being that of a nuclear deterrence.  With many airborne patrols flown at high altitude near the Soviet borders that would’ve provided rapid first strike or retaliation capability, some of these patrols where given code names such as ‘Head Start, Chrome Dome, Round Robin and Giant Lance’, to name but a few.

With technological advances moving at a rapid rate during the 1960’s, a new threat emerged with the introduction of the Surface to Air Missile (SAM), that could intercept high flying aircraft such as the B-52.  With this, the B-52’s mission from high altitude bombing was changed to that of  a low-level penetration bomber, using the terrain to mask its path and avoid radar detection, which reduced the threat of SAM attacks.  During this period, concerns over the B-52’s lifespan were raised, with several replacement projects underway such as the Convair B-58 Hustler, and the North American XB-70 Valkyrie. With no viable replacement to succeed the role of the B-52, SAC boss General Curtis E. LeMay was quoted as saying in February of 1965 during a congress hearing that “The B-52 is going to fall apart on us before we can get a replacement for it”.  History has shown this not to be the case, with aircraft such as the General Dynamics F-111 later  complementing the USAF’s fleet of B-52’s in roles such as high speed, low level penetration  missions, a role not generally suited to the B-52.

B-52H 60-0007 23rdBS/5thBW Avalon Airport 2019

Vietnam War –

With tensions escalating in Southeast Asia during the early 1960’s, the United States found itself at war once again.  March 1965 saw the commencement of Operation Rolling Thunder, with the first combat mission flown at the time, by converted B-52F’s, named Operation Arc Light. Theses F models were converted and fitted with external bomb racks that could carry up to 24 x 750Ib bombs, that where flown by the 9th and 44th Bombardment Squadrons during the start of the air campaign over Vietnam.  The year 1965 also witnessed a number of B-52D’s undergo the  ‘Big Belly’ modifications to increase their bomb carrying capacity for carpet bombing, which kept the external capacity at 24 bombs, but increased the internal capacity  from 27 to 84  of the 500Ib variety of bomb,  and for the larger 750Ib bomb,  from  27 to 42 respectively. This modification created enough capacity for 108 bombs weighing in at 27,215kg. 

From 1966 the B-52D ‘Big Belly’ bombers were now based out of Anderson AFB in Guam, necessitating in 10-12 hour bombing missions with aerial refueling performed by Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers, which ultimately led to B-52D’s also being based  out of  U-Tapao Air Base in Thailand from 1967 onwards, that didn’t require air to air refueling. Operation Linebacker II that was conducted between December 18 to 29, 1972, was the bombing campaign that brought the North Vietnamese back to the negotiating table that would ultimately help America pull out of the war in Vietnam.  During this period, waves of B-52’s flew 729 sorties over a 12 day period, and dropped up to 15,227 tonnes of ordnance over Hanoi, Haiphong and other critical targets in North Vietnam.

Another fact not widely spoken about are the rear tail gunners who remarkably shot down two  Vietnam Peoples Air Force (VPAF ) MiG-21  ‘Fishbeds’ during the war, with their .050 caliber machine guns.  These victories make the B-52 one of the largest aircraft to be credited with air to air kills.

USAF B-52H 60-0005 “Warbirds”
USAF B-52H 60-0005 “Warbirds” from the “Barons” – the 23d Bomb Squadron, 5th Bomb Wing, Minot AFB. Commander’s a/c – Colonel Bradley Cochran May 2018–Present, Commander, 5th Bomb Wing, Minot AFB, N.D.


From Vietnam to the Gulf War –

With the end of the Vietnam War, most of the early model B-52’s where retired, or on their way to be, starting with the B-52B  in 1966,  leaving  the pair B models operated by NASA to carry on until replaced by a B-52H, and the E models being retired by 1970, therefore leaving the F models to soldier on until 1973.  The B-52D models via the Pacer Plank update program during the 1970’s kept them flying up until 1983.

During this period the attention was thrown onto the G and H models that were on nuclear ‘alert’ duty, required under the United States nuclear triad, a combination of nuclear-armed land based missiles, submarine based missiles and manned bombers.  The mid 1980’s saw the introduction of the cancelled Carter government Rockwell B-1 Bomber, which was reinstated  during the Reagan era to supplant the B-52, which in the end replaced the older model B-52’s and the supersonic FB-111A.  The year 1991 also witnessed the deactivation of the Strategic Air Command and along with it, 24 hour SAC alert duty.

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Operation Desert Storm and beyond – 

January 16 1991 saw a flight of seven B-52G’s depart Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, on a round robin mission that saw them fly 35 hours and cover a distance of 23,000kms, after hitting targets in Iraq during the opening night of the war.  This in itself was a record breaking flight for a long distance combat mission, topping the RAF ‘Black Buck’ mission during the Falklands conflict operating their Vulcan B.2 Bombers  in 1982.  During Operation Desert Storm, B-52’s flew approximately 1,620 sorties and dropping up to 40% of the total ordnance expended during the conflict. Also during this period the tail gunners position was eliminated, and the gun turrets permanently deactivated.

Since the 1991 Gulf War the B-52G fleet were retired in the mid 1990’s leaving the B-52H as the sole variant left in frontline service, and have been kept busy since, including –

* September 1996 –  A pair of B-52H’s conducted a mission over Baghdad as part of  Operation Desert Strike, striking power and communication facilities, which saw the bombers fly a 34 hour, 29,740 km round trip that originated from Anderson AFB, Guam, making this the longest distance flown for a combat mission.

* March 1999 – B-52 bombers operating from bases in the UK during Operation Allied Force, which saw the bombing of Serbian targets throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. 

* September 2001 – Operation Enduring Freedom that saw the B-52 provide Close Air Support (CAS) over Afghanistan/Southwest Asia in the fight against the Taliban, with a third of the ordnance expended being dropped by the B-52H’s.

* March 2003 – B-52’s where once again over the skies of Iraq launching approximately 100 AGM-86C Cruise Missiles during  Operation Iraqi Freedom.

* April 2016 –  A number of B-52’s were noted as operating from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, part of the coalition intervention against ISIL as part of  Operation Inherent Resolve, also during this timescale, B-52’s arrived in Afghanistan to take part in the War in Afghanistan.

* February 2018 – B-52’s participated in U.S led strikes against pro-government forces in eastern Syria.

As of  April 2019, the only active model of the B-52 is the B-52H, that is flown by three wings located at either Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, or Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. 

USAF B-52H 60-0055 ‘War Eagle’
USAF B-52H 60-0055 ‘War Eagle’ from the “Barons” – the 23d Bomb Squadron, 5th Bomb Wing, Minot AFB, Nth Dakota.

2nd Bomb Wing – Barksdale AFB,  Louisiana. 

* 11th Bomb Squadron – ’Jiggs Squadron’              Tail code – LA (Gold fin stripe)

* 20th Bomb Squadron – ‘Buccaneers’                     Tail code – LA ( Blue fin stripe)

* 96th Bomb Squadron – ‘ Red Devils’                     Tail code – LA ( Red fin stripe)

307th Bomb Wing, Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) – Barksdale AFB, Louisiana.

* 93rd Bomb Squadron – ‘Indian Outlaws’            Tail code – BD ( Blue/Gold Chex fin stripe)

* 343rd Bomb Squadron – Training unit associated with the 2nd Bomb Wing.

5th Bomb Wing- Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.

* 69th Bomb Squadron – ‘ Knighthawks’                Tail code – MT ( Yellow fin stripe)

* 23rd Bomb Squadron – ‘ Barons’                           Tail code – MT ( Red fin stripe)

The 2019 Australian International Airshow was this year presented with a 5th Bomb Wing  B-52H Stratofortress ( 60-0007,  c/n-464372), for the purpose as a static display, appropriate as the 23rd Bomb Squadron is currently on deployment to Anderson Air Force Base in Guam. 

B-52H 60-0007 wearing 5thBW nose art ‘Guardians of The Upper Realm’.

Not only where the gathered crowd treated to a static display of the B-52 on the ground,  crowds also had the opportunity to witness the sight and sound of a B-52 in the air  during the Friday night show, as another 23rdBS B-52 (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.

B-52H 60-0060 ‘Iron Butterfly’, overflying Avalon airport during the 2019 Australian International Airshow. Little did many know that within 8 hours, this 23rd Bomb Squadron BUFF would be on the ground.


USAF B-52H 60-0060 ‘Iron Butterfly’
USAF B-52H 60-0060 ‘Iron Butterfly’ from the “Barons” – the 23d Bomb Squadron, 5th Bomb Wing, Minot AFB, Nth Dakota


5th Bomb Wing   –   ‘The Warbirds’  

Air Force Global Strike Command

Eighth Air Force       

Minot Air Force Base  – North Dakota

Motto   –         ” K i a i   o   k a   l e w a ”      

Hawaiian    :    G u a r d i a n s    o f     t h e    U p p e r    R e a l m

The 5th Bomb Wing is a major Air Combat Command (ACC) unit that is assigned to Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) under the  Eighth Air Force, based at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. It along with the 2ndBW based at Barksdale, Louisiana, are the only two B-52 wings within  USAF.

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Close up of the nose art worn by B-52H 60-0007 ‘Guardians of The Upper Realm’.

The 5thBW is one of the oldest USAF units, and can trace its origins back to the United States Army Air Force,  when it was formed at Luke field, on Hawaiian territory during August 1919, as one of the original 15 combat air groups under the then 5th Group (Composite).  

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In 1935, the 5th Group was instrumental  in saving the city of Hilo, Hawaii, when the Mauna Loa volcano erupted.  With 10 Keystone B-3 and B-4 bombers that where assigned to the groups 23rd and 72nd bomb squadrons, they dropped a total of 20 x 600 pound (225kg) bombs around the base of the volcano to help divert the lava flow away from the town.

During the outbreak of World War II, the Wing was stationed at Hickam Field, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.   December 7th 1941 saw the 5th Bombardment Group suffer major losses of its B-17 Flying Fortress and B-18 Bolo bombers during the surprise attack by the Japanese at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, and has been credited as one of the first units back in the air following the attack.

Reproduction patch of the 5th Strategic Bombardment Wing, Heavy emblem, that was approved in 1924 – circa 1950’s.

The Wing was officially established on July 1 1949, as the 5th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, and activated at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. 1950 saw it redesignated as the 5th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, Heavy.    1955 and another revision as the 5th Bombardment Wing, Heavy until 1991, when it was simply known as the 5th Wing, before its final designation as the 5th Bomb Wing in 1992.

Current 5th  Bomb Wing emblem, that features a winged death’s head, an uncompromising symbol, for the ‘Guardians of The Upper Realm’.

The 5th Bomb Wing in its current form that is headquartered at Minot AFB, ND, has a fleet of 36 B-52H’s, more than half currently in service, with the 69th and 23rd Bomb Squadrons that are currently operational on type.

23rd Bomb Squadron – 

The 23rd Bomb Squadron ‘Barons’, is one of the oldest in the United States Air Force.  It was stood up on June 16 1917 at Kelly field in Texas as the 23rd Aero Squadron.  During World War 1 it was deployed to England under the American Expeditionary Force as an aircraft repair squadron.

Following the squadrons return from England, they spent the 1920’s and 30’s stationed in Hawaii.  During 1935 the units emblem was a creation of what the Squadron is historically famous for, with their involvement during the Mauna Loa volcano eruption, and their help in diverting the lava flow, thus saving the city of Hilo, Hawaii.

Early variation of the 23rd Bomb Squadron emblem, dating back to the 1935 mission to save the city of Hilo, after the eruption of Mauna Loa Volcano, Hawaii.

World War II saw the 23rd under the control of the 5th Bombardment Group and operating the Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress in the Southwest Pacific theatre of operations.  During 1943 the Squadron transitioned onto the Consolidated B-24 Liberator Bomber, and  with it, long range bombing missions became its forté. The squadron earned the Distinguished Unit Citation on two occasions during the war, the first for the longest over water bomb mission – 1,300 miles (2092km) to the Japanese Base at Woleai island, and the destruction of oil refineries in Borneo during September 1944.  The Squadron found itself based in the Philippines at the end of  hostilities.

23rd Bomb Squadron Morale patch as worn by the visiting  B-52 crew during the 2019 Australian International Airshow. –  ‘In Hoc Signo Vinces‘ –  Latin translation –“In this sign thou shalt conquer”, literally meaning “in this, conquer”.

During the start of the  Cold War,  the 23rd Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron relocated to Travis Air Force Base in California during 1949, where it would undertake its new role flying Global Strategic Reconnaissance Missions with their Boeing RB-29 Superfortress bombers during the time period of 1949-1951, with the RB-29’s superseded by the newly introduced Convair RB-36F Peacemakers, one of the largest mass-produced piston engined aircraft ever built, with six props turning and 4 jet engines, they where quite the sight and sound to behold, with 1953 seeing an upgraded version, the RB-36H entering the fray and continuing their current mission until the later half of 1955. 

USAF B-52H 61-0035 ‘Witches Brew’
USAF B-52H 61-0035 ‘Witches Brew’ – 23d Bomb Squadron, 5th Bomb Wing, Minot AFB, Nth Dakota


October 1st 1955 saw the redesignation from its past role of reconnaissance, to the 23rd Bombardment Squadron, and would begin training with the RB-36H Peacemaker in the role of the long range nuclear strike mission, which it continued to perform until February 1959 when the 23rd BS transitioned to the Boeing B-52G Stratofortress. With its entry into the jet age, this also brought along technological change with the latest and greatest missile of the era, the AGM-28 Hound Dog stand-off missile.  The 23rd continued operating from Travis AFB until July 1968.

Current 23rd Bomb Squadron embroidered patch worn by B-52 crew.

July 1968 also witnessed the 23rd Bomb squadron move from Travis AFB, to Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, where it abosrbed all the assets of the disbanded 720th bomb Squadron, which included personnel, equipment and B-52H bombers.  Since this time, the 23rd Bomb Squadron has continuously operated from Minot AFB and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

23rd Bomb Squadron ‘Bomber Barons’,  Anderson AFB Guam 2019 Deployment Leather patch.

During the 2019 Australian International Airshow, Aviation Spotters Online was afforded the rare privilege of having the opportunity to film a walk around with one of the 23rd Bomb Squadron crew members, who explained some of the key features of the aircraft, but also some Squadron history. Included in the vision is the arrival and departure of 60-0007 and the flyover during the Friday night show with  60-0060.

Since the first B-52H Stratofortress arrived at Avalon for the 1999 Australian International Airshow, there have been many visits and flyovers. Here’s a summary of  the B-52 participants over the years –

1999 Australian International Airshow

Boeing B-52H Stratofortress   60-0051   5thBW/23rdBS ‘Barons’  Minot AFB, ND.    ‘Appetite For Destruction II’  nose art. Seen here on static display at the 1999 Australian International Airshow. Image credit John Sise.


B-52H 60-0051 moments away from creating history as the first BUFF to touchdown at Avalon Airport, 1999. Image credit John Sise.

2001 Australian International Airshow

Boeing B-52H 60-0020 2ndBW/20thBS  ‘Buccaneers’  Barksdale AFB, Louisiana,  featuring  ‘The Mad Bolshevik’ nose art. During the early years of the Australian International Airshow, one could purchase a Photographers Pass which gave one amazing opportunities such as ‘meet and greets’ with local and visiting aircrew, as seen here. Image credit Richard Pourzenic.

2005 Australian International Airshow

During the 2005  Australian  International Airshow held at Avalon Airport, crowds were treated to a  flyover on the Friday by 2ndBW/20thBs B-52 60-0012 ‘Havoc 18’, followed by another 2ndBW/20thBS ‘Buccaneers’  BUFF,  60-0032 on the Sunday, ‘Havoc 20’.

B-25H Stratofortress 60-0012 2ndBW/20thBS ‘Buccaneers’ overflying the 2005 Australian International Airshow. Image credit Nigel Pittaway.


B-52H 60-0012 2ndBW/20thBS  call sign  ‘Havoc 18’.   Friday March 18 2005,  Image credit Nigel Pittaway.


Boeing B-52H Stratofortress 60-0032 2ndBW/20thBS ‘Buccaneers’, call sign ‘Havoc 20’,  overflying the Sunday crowd during the 2005 Australian International Airshow Image credit Nigel Pittaway.

2007 Australian International Airshow

Boeing B-52H Stratofortress  60-0030     2ndBW/20thBS ‘Buccaneers’ Barksdale AFB, Louisiana.  Call sign ‘Havoc 93’ performing flyover during the Friday night alight show.

Boeing B-52H Stratofortress 60-0030 2nd Bomb Wing / 20th Bomb Squadron ‘Buccaneers’ during the 2007 Australian International Airshow, Image credit Nigel Pittaway.
B-52H Stratofortress 60-0030, 2ndBW/20thBS ‘Buccaneers’ call sign ‘Havoc 93’, 2007 Australian International Airshow, Image credit Nigel Pittaway.


2011 Australian International Airshow

Boeing B-52H Stratofortress 61-0001 5th Bomb Wing / 23rd Bomb Squadron ‘Barons’ Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.   2011 Australian International Airshow.


MT tail code and red/black checker fin flash signifying this B-52H is a 5th bomb Wing bird from the 23rd Bomb Squadron ‘Bomber Barons’. Avalon 2011.


2013 Australian International Airshow

Boeing B-52H Stratofortress 61-0012   2nd Bomb Wing/96th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron  ‘Red Devils’ Barksdale AFB, Louisiana.


B-52H 61-0012 2ndBW/96thEBS ‘Loko’ Nose art 2013 Australian International Airshow.


2015 Australian International Airshow

Boeing B-52H Stratofortress     60-0002        2ndBW/20thBS ‘Buccaneers’, Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, that performed the weekend flyover.

B-52H 60-0002 2ndBW/20thBS overflying Avalon airport during the 2015 Australian International Airshow.


Boeing B-52H Stratofortress    61-0015       2ndBW/96thBS ‘Red Devils’, Barksdale AFB, LA seen here on arrival for static display.


B-52H 61-0015 2ndBW/96thBS ‘Red Devils’ LA tail code.


‘The Last Laugh’ nose art on this 2ndBW/96th  Bomb Squadron B-52H Stratofortress as seen at the 2015 Australian International Airshow.


Aviation Spotters Online would like to thank the United States Air Force, and the Airshows Downunder media team for their help and assistance for the opportunity to film the crew with their B-52.  Would also like to take the time to once more, give a big thank you to the USAF B-52 airman for giving up his time, and for his sterling effort during  filming of the featured vision.

Thank you

Mark Pourzenic 

Hickam Field Hawaii 1991- 5thBW/23rdBS B-52H 61-0016

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2019 Australian International Airshow – Australia’s Flying Tiger


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Top side view of 2OCU’s Tiger schemed Hornet.


The 2019 Australian International International Airshow and Aerospace & Defence Exposition held at Avalon Airport near Geelong in Victoria, is the 14th time the show has been held since its inception back in October 1992.  This biennial show is one of the Asia-Pacific regions most prestigious and the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere. This airshow, like the ones before has something for everyone, from aerospace industry professionals, the military, aviation enthusiasts, recreational pilots and the general public, there’s attractions and displays to cater for the most discerning of interests.

Royal  Australian  Air  Force – 

The Royal Australian Air Force is no stranger to holding air displays and airshows, and has been a major supporter, and participant of the Australian International Airshow since 1992.  As has been the tradition since the early 2000’s with the  now declining  ADF Airshows  held annually across bases throughout Australia, the RAAF has raised  their participation among the likes of  showcase days held at the Temora Aviation Museum, plus the Historical Aircraft  Restoration Society  ‘Wings over Illawara’ themed shows, on top of  the Australian International Airshow  held at Avalon, which are seen as  major recruiting tools  for  anyone wanting to pursue a career in the Australian Defence Force.  Along with impressing the general public and in particular young hopefulls wanting a career in defence, specifically military aviation, the Royal Australian Air Force puts in a large effort of presenting its aircraft that may have special markings or schemes applied, as is the case with its current fast jet fleet, and one in particular, the specially painted ‘Tiger’ Hornet from No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit based at RAAF Base Williamtown, New South Wales.

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McDonnell Douglas F/A-18B Hornet, A21-116 from 2OCU seen at Avalon Airport, February 23 2019.


No.2 Operational Conversion Unit – 

No. 2 OCU  in the year 2019 finds itself in the final stages of operating the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A/B Hornet as it has been since its arrival back in 1985.   As  2OCU is primarily a fighter training unit of the Royal Australian Air Force, which conducts refresher courses for pilots returning to type, as well as training pilots to operate the Hornet, it also trains future instructors on the type. With the current 2OCU conversion onto the RAAF’s newest fighter to enter service, the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, the training syllabus has moved from its current format to that of simulation/instruction, coupled with integration within the USAF’s structure of training which is conducted at Luke AFB in Arizona.


Background and History – 

The unit was first stood up at Port Pirie in South Australia during April of 1942, and was established as No. 2 (Fighter) Operational Training Unit ( No.2OTU), before relocating to RAAF Mildura, Victoria during May of the same year.  It’s role was to change as Australia was thrust into World War II, and provided training on many varied types of aircraft such as the Spitfire, P-40 Kittyhawk and CAC Boomerang,  to name but a few. 1947 witnessed its disbandment before being reinstated in March 1952 at RAAF Base Williamtown, due to need and demand to train pilots for service in the Korean War. September 1958 saw it renamed as No.2 (Fighter) Operational Conversion Unit, and has since that time trained pilots with the CAC Sabre, Dassault Mirage III, Macchi MB326 and now in its final year of 2019, the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet.

Past and Present 2OCU patches. Patch on the left is from the mid 1980’s, whilst the one on the right is the current patch worn, circa 2019.



The Role of  2 OCU-

Support the preparation for and the conduct of effective airspace control, counter air strike and combat air support operations through the provision of trained personnel”.

No. 2 OCU which falls under 81 Wing, part of Air Combat Group, is primarily responsible for conducting operational conversion courses on the RAAF’s soon to be retired McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet multi-role Fighter, which entered service in 1985, and 2019 sees its final year under the control of 2OCU before transition to the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter.

The training of students that have completed fast jet conversion with 79 Squadron in Pearce, and lead in fighter instruction through 76 Squadron, are then selected to be converted onto the Hornet, after which time they’ll progress on through to the operational Squadrons, or onto other types such as the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler.  2OCU also plays host to experienced RAAF pilots either converting from another type, or a refresher before re-joining frontline units.  The instructors at  No.2OCU are some of the most experienced RAAF Hornet drivers, and have a major role in the development of new tactics in co-ordination with other fighter combat instructors from the front line squadrons operating the F/A-18 Hornet.

The A/B model Hornets of 2OCU are easily identifiable by their yellow and black tail fin flash, with the base of the flash featuring a tigers head in yellow, that’s outlined in black, with a red mouth, white fangs with white eyes.



The units crest features a winged kangaroo carrying a joey in its pouch, symbolising  “Mother Australia’ flying with her young”.   The No.2  Operational Conversion Unit motto is  –  Juventus Non Sine Pinnis  “The Young Shall Have Wings”.

No.2 OCU Unit Crest Patch



Conversion Course-

On average, Hornet conversion courses run for six months, during which time students  must gain their instrument rating, before being taught basic fighter manoeuvres, air to air gunnery, air combat, and air to ground tactics. With the culmination of their training complete, students are prepared for their final course syllabus with Exercise High Sierra, which is run from RAAF Base Townsville, and has been in operation since 1986. This exercise lasts several weeks and involves day/night flying, along with the use of live weaponry in realistic, high pressure precision strike scenarios.  Along with its mainstay of conversion training, 2OCU is also in the business of conducting refresher courses for pilots returning to type, aswell as fighter combat instructor courses (FCI), which run for up to anywhere in the timescale of four to five months, and can be in the time frame of every two years or so. To qualify for the FCI course, students are chosen from the most experienced F/A-18 pilots, and are trained in the complex art of training others to instruct, including dealing with complex scenarios related to operational flying at an elite level.  On completion of the course, graduates are kept on with 2OCU as qualified Hornet instructors for a two year period, after which time they are posted off to the operational front line Hornet squadrons.

F/A-18A Hornet A21-25 2OCU
F/A-18A Hornet A21-25 2OCU, Exercise High Sierra 2015


Current Status  circa 2019 –

Since August 19 1985, with 4  x  F/A-18B Hornets and 3 students, which where the first to be converted, 2OCU has remained the sole operator of the twin stick Hornet, or Tubs as they’re known. Although a small number are, or have been operated by  No’s  3, 75 and 77 Squadrons, 2OCU can claim them as their own.  During the first year of RAAF Hornet operations, 2OCU was responsible for displaying the Hornet to the general Australian population via Airshows and demonstration flights. During a turbulent time with the introduction of the Hornet into the 2OCU ranks in the mid to late 1980’s,  past airframes such as the Macchi and Mirage where transferred to other units, and sadly during this period, one F/A-18B Hornet from the OCU was lost at Great Palm Island in Queensland, during a night sortie in November of 1987, with the sad loss of the pilot. July 1990 witnessed  2OCU temporarily transferred to RAAF Base Richmond NSW, whilst Williamtown’s runway was resurfaced.  This same time period also saw the RAAF’s fleet of Boeing 707’s converted to the air- to -air tanker role which gave the Hornet fleet a capability that was included into future conversion courses. The mid 90’s saw a complement of up to 18 Hornet airframes, with 13 of them being twin stick duals, and 12 instructors on hand, running two conversion courses per year, which kept the unit very busy. 

Fast forward to 2005, the unit showed 12-14 instructors on strength with three conversion courses, including one fighter combat instructor course over the two year time frame. To put this into perspective, each course turns out six new Hornet pilots on average, and the unit would graduate 15 new pilots over each cycle. The duration of the conversion course has remained unchanged since the Hornets introduction in 1985, only the content has changed reflecting the technological change, such as the replacement of the Macchi to the BAE Hawk, along with experience gained with combat flying over Iraq.  2OCU has seen many changes over its time period and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future, as shown with its 32nd FCI course in 2013, and with Australia’s first female fighter pilots graduating in 2017, the future looks brighter than ever.

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Tiger bird showing its arsenal during Avalon 2019.


McDonnell Douglas F/A-18B Hornet  A21-116 –

If you haven’t noticed by now that this article revolves around  2OCU’s fabulous Tiger Hornet that was on show at the recent 2019 Australian International Airshow held at Avalon airport in Victoria, then let me introduce F/A-18B Hornet, A21-116.

McDonnell Douglas F/A-18B Hornet, Constructors Number ATF-16, McDonnell Douglas  Number -614, was ordered in November 1981, and built as a Block 22 B model Hornet. After completion of build via the Government Aircraft Factories (GAF) / Aerospace Technologies of Australia (ASTA) at Avalon Airport in Victoria, was delivered to the RAAF on August 31, 1988. A21-116  has been noted wearing the colours of Tindal based 75 Squadron, and more recently with Number 2 Operational Conversion Unit, based at RAAF  Williamtown in New South Wales. 

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A21-116 captured in its element.

A21-116 was rolled out at RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland on January 8 2019, after completion of this magnificent Tiger themed scheme to help celebrate No. 2OCU’s final year of F/A-18 Hornet operations.

During the 2019 Australian International Airshow held at Avalon Airport, Aviation Spotters Online Videographer Mark Pourzenic fulfilled a desire that has eluded him for many years. He was able to finally interview an RAAF Hornet pilot, but not any pilot.  What makes this so special is that the interview takes place with the current Commanding Officer of Number 2 Operational Conversion Unit, Wing Commander  S. ‘Woody’  Woodland, and with the preceding video, you’ll see the pride that he has in introducing A21-116 to the Australian public. 


Aviation Spotters Online would like to take this opportunity to thank the Media Team from the Australian International Airshow, along with RAAF Public Affairs for their help and assistance with access, including time made available with Wg Cdr  Woodland, and permission to allow us to capture history, of the current story that is the Royal Australian Air Force, along with the Australian International Airshow for future generations to enjoy.

Thank you

Mark Pourzenic

Aviation Spotters Online





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2019 Australian International Airshow United States Air Force General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper


The 2019 Australian International Airshow and Aerospace & Defence Exposition held at Avalon Airport  near Geelong in Victoria, is the 14th time the show has been held since its inception back in October 1992.  This biennial show is one of the Asia-Pacific regions most prestigious and the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.  This airshow, like the ones before has something for everyone, from aerospace industry professionals, the military, aviation enthusiasts, recreational pilots and the general public, there are attractions and displays to cater for the most discerning of interests.

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Side profile view of the MQ-9 Reapers hard points and sensor unit at the 2019 Ausralian International Airshow.


The United States Air Force

The United States Air Force are no strangers to the Australian International Airshow with their participation stretching back to 1992, with many of its current aircraft either on static display or as part of the flying programme.  The year 2019 sees the USAF exhibit aircraft types flown physically and remotely, and with the use of autonomous drones on the rise among the worlds air forces,  its no surprise the Royal Australian Air Force recently announcing the purchase of the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton, which saw a similar USAF example being remotely flown into Avalon during one of the trade days, the Northrop Grumman RQ-4B Global Hawk.   The USAF were keen to show off the potential of this new technology that has been procured by the RAAF, with the RQ-4B Global Hawk having flown 13 hours from Guam piloted by operators based in Grand Forks, North Dakota.  The  Global Hawk landing during the Thursday trade day airshow was a world first, and was part of an overall USAF effort to demonstrate  some of  its potential when in service with the Royal Australian Air Force.   

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USAF RQ-4B Global Hawk being positioned after its epic 13 hour flight from Anderson AFB in Guam during the 2019 Australian International Airshow.

Along with the RQ-4B Global Hawk, the USAF also had the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper on show, with one example on static display.   This is another  similar type that has been purchased by the Royal Australian Air Force under Project Air 7003,  with between 12 – 16 examples of the armed  medium – altitude, long – endurance (MALE) unmanned aircraft required to fullfil the Australian Defence Force’s unmanned reconnaisance role since the retirement of the Heron UAV.  Along with the MQ-4C Triton, the MQ-9 fleet will be operated by 92 Wing, which is part of the RAAF’s Surveillance and Strategic Group (SRG) based at RAAF Edinburgh, with the first of type to enter service in the early 2020’s.

An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line Nov. 16, 2016, at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. The MQ-9 provides persistent attack and reconnaissance capabilities for combatant commanders and coalition forces involved in 24/7/365 combat operations abroad. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class James Thompson)


General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper  

Background –   The MQ-9 Reaper system was initiated as a direct proposal by the U. S Air Force in response to the directive issued by the Department of Defense  to support initiatives of overseas contingency operations.   The Reaper is the larger version of the earlier MQ-1 Predator, and  designed to execute time sensitive targets with precision, or to disable or destroy those targets.   The  ‘M’ is the DOD (Department of Defense) designation for multi -role, and the ‘Q’ is for remotely piloted aircraft system, whilst the ‘9’ represents the ninth in the series of remotely piloted aircraft systems.

An MQ-9 Reaper flies a training mission, Feb. 14, 2018, at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. Airmen were able to seamlessly transition between platforms, which prevented a loss of MQ-9 capabilities for combatant commanders. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman James Thompson)
An MQ-9 Reaper flies a training mission, Feb. 14, 2018, at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. Airmen were able to seamlessly transition between platforms, which prevented a loss of MQ-9 capabilities for combatant commanders. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman James Thompson)

Mission –  The MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long endurance remotely piloted aircraft, primarily employed in the role of gathering intelligence against high asset targets, and their destruction when called upon.  The Reaper presents with a high amount of loiter time, which coupled with its wide range of sensors and multi mode communications suite, provides the MQ-9 with a capability unique to many unmanned aerial vehicles with strike, coordination, reconnaissance and the use of precision weapons against time sensitive targets in any theater.

Other roles the Reaper performs are intelligence, surveillance, close air support, combat search and rescue, precision strike, buddy laser, convoy raid overwatch, route clearance, target development and terminal air guidance. With these capabilities on hand, the Reaper is finely tuned in conducting irregular warfare operations supporting any objectives set out by any combatant commander.


Features –   As a remotely piloted aircraft system,  the MQ-9 Reaper requires certain assets to be in place for it to become a fully functional operational system, such as several sensor/weapon equipped aircraft, use of a ground control station, the Predator Primary Satellite Link, along with an operational maintenance and operations crew with spares, ready to undertake 24 hour missions.  A basic Reaper crew mainly consists of a rated pilot who controls the aircraft and is in command of the mission, with an enlisted aircrew member who’s primary role is of sensor and weapons operation, including mission co-ordinator when required.  

An MQ-9 Reaper, loaded with four GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs is ready for a training mission March 31, 2017, at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. The MQ-9, matched with a skilled aircrew, provides persistent attack and reconnaissance capabilities 24/7/365. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christian Clausen)


The baseline MQ-9 Reaper system carries the Multi-Spectral Targeting System (MTS-B), that includes a robust suite of visual targeting sensors, which integrates an infrared sensor, color/monochrome daylight TV camera, image-intensified TV camera, laser designator and laser illuminator.  The technological advanced imaging sensors onboard the Reaper allow full motion video to be streamed seperately or fused into the one stream.  Adding to this feature, it also incorporates a laser range finder and designator, for the employment of precision laser guided munitions, such as the Guided Bomb Unit-12 Paveway II. (GBU-12).   The Reaper is equipped with a synthetic aperture radar which enables it to employ current targeting systems in the USAF inventory such as the GBU-38 (JDAM) Joint Direct Attack Munitions weapon.  As if this wasn’t enough, the MQ-9 also employs four laser guided, Air to Ground missiles, such as the 114 Hellfire, capable of accurate, low collateral damage, that possess anti armor and anti personnel capabilities.

The MQ-9 Reaper which measures in at 36 feet in length, has a wingspan of 66 feet, and standing 12.5 feet tall, is surprisingly easy to transport with disassembly allowing it to fit into a single shipping container, or onboard an aircraft such as the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, giving it worldwide reach when called upon.  The Reaper aircraft can operate from standard U.S airfields with clear line of sight to ground data antenna, that provides line of sight communications for take off  and landing.   Once forward deployed, the MQ-9’s concept of operations will include a forward deployed ground station with crew to monitor and control take off and landing, whilst  crew based in the continental United States will command and control the mission via beyond line of sight links.

An MQ-9 Reaper assigned to the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing sits on the flightline as the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly overhead at the 2017 Aviation Nation Air and space Expo, Nov. 11, 2017, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The two day event showcased some of the Air Force’s premier aircraft and personnel dedicated to air superiority and served as the closing ceremony for the 70th birthday anniversary. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Haley Stevens)


432d Wing/432d Air Expeditionary Wing,

Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.





The 432d Wing and 432d Expeditionary Wing located at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, is home to more than 130 MQ-1B Predator, MQ-9 Reaper and RQ-170 Sentinel remotely piloted aircraft in the USAF inventory.    The 432d Wing is unique as its the first USAF Remotely Piloted Aircraft Wing to be stood up, and is also responsible for the training of pilots, sensor operators, and other crew members, on top of conducting persistent  attack and reconnaissance combat operations worldwide.   With 2,500 active duty, government civilians, and contract personnel in three different groups, including wing staff, the 432d Wing at Creech AFB have their hands full with their required mission under the assigned control of Air Combat Command.


Further reading and reference-


–  https://www.dvidshub.net/unit/432WG


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Some of the 432d Wing Unit history.


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CH tail code letting all know this Reaper is from Creech AFB in Nevada, along with the heritage invasion stripes, honoring the Wings involvement during World War II and beyond.


Aviation Spotters Online Videographer  Mark Pourzenic, along with Photographer Dave Soderstrom, where invited along by a member of the United States Air Force, 432d Wing Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs Unit, to interview and film the crew that flew over to participate in this years 2019 Australian International Airshow.   We were more than happy to oblige and felt very privileged to have this opportunity given to us.   So without further delay….



Aviation Spotters Online would like to thank the United States Air Force Public Affairs Unit, along with the Airshows Downunder Media Team for their  generosity and help in providing the remarkable opportunities provided to bring this content to fruition.



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Armée De L’ Air Dassault Rafale B Exercise Pitch Black 2018


The Royal Australian Air Force has recently concluded one of the Southern Hemisphere’s largest biennial bi-lateral premier air training programs, Exercise Pitch Black 2018.
Held in Australia’s Northern Territory between 27 July and 17 August, that included air assets operating from RAAF Darwin and Tindal, plus other locations such as the Bradshaw Field Training Area and Delamere Air Weapons Range, to other austere areas such as Batchelor Airfield located in the Top End, being utilized. This year’s Exercise was one of the largest on record with 140 aircraft from 16 different countries, 4000 personnel of which 2500 were Australian, that also included up to 1500 from allies and participating Air Forces.
Exercise Pitch Black is a multi-national large force employment exercise that is pivotal to ensuring Air Forces remain ready to respond whenever called upon. With the use of one of the largest training airspace areas in the world, the exercise included realistic and simulated threats to test and improve force integration.




Armèe de l’air  Française  Deployment

The Armèe de l’air   (French Air Force),   is no stranger to Exercise Pitch Black,  with its involvement stretching as far back as 2008. Their involvement in this years Exercise started on the other side of the world, well to be more precise,  Al Dhafra Air Base (BA 104), United Arab Emirates.




The  Armée de l’air  for Exercise Pitch Black 2018, sent three Dassault Rafale B aircraft from  EC 4 (4eEscadre de Chasse, 4th fighter wing).   One Rafale B wore the markings of  EC 1/4  (Escadron de Chasse 1/4 Gascogne), with the remaining pair  in the markings of ETR 3/4  ( Escadron de Transformation Rafale 3/4 Aquitaine) which  are stationed at Saint Dizier/ Robinson Air Base (BA 113), located in the Haute-Marne department of the Champagne-Ardenne region in northwestern France.




Along with this detachment, support was also provided by an Boeing C-135FR Stratotanker from  IBC  2/91 ‘Brittany’,  and included 4 pilots from  Escadron de Chasse 2/30 Normandie-Niemen (Fighter Squadron 2/30 Normandie-Niemen) of EC30  loccated at Mont-de-Marsan,  which is situated in the Landes department of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in southwestern France, plus  eight pilots and navigators from EC 04 (4th Fighter Wing) at Saint Dizier, with support  from up to 40 personnel from various departments and specialities including mechanics, avionics specialists,  gunsmiths, commandos and associated trades and skill sets from within the operational units.  *Note*   (Although aircraft where from EC04, all three Rafales during the deployment were crewed from both EC1/4 and EC2/30  pilots/Navigators.)



For this deployment to be achieved, the Armée de l’air conducted a four day 14,000km  ferry mission that began on July 20 and concluded with their arrival into RAAF Darwin via Singapore on the 24th of July 2018, which the Armée de l’air has named Mission Pegase 2018.    (Pegase translates to Pegasus, the winged horse, which is a symbol of wisdom). The success of this deployment was  assured with the arrival of an RAAF Amberley based 33 Squadron Airbus KC-30A MRTT  that helped proceedings along, with the RAAF KC-30A dragging the Rafale’s on their journey to Australia,  as well as providing transport for French air force personnel connected with the exercise.  This is a procedure that both air arms have refined being no strangers to refueling techniques, as both have conducted joint air refueling exercises during Operation OKRA in the Middle East area of operations.


                 Official logo Mission PEGASE 2018


Dassault  Rafale B  Participation

The aim of the Armée de l’air’s  first time inclusion with their Rafale B aircraft in Exercise Pitch Black 2018,  was to plan, execute and debrief complex missions in a multinational framework, that was conducted within a realistic non – permissive tactical environment.  The aims of the Armée de l’air  during Exercise Pitch Black 2018 consisted of – Preparing, briefing, executing and developing valid combat tactics that would be used in real world threats against air and land assets.    Develop and refine  skills  as an ‘Entry Force’, which is the capability to establish first entry into a hostile country that possesses air- to-air  and  air-to-ground threats, developing expertise in an electromagnetic environment that may involve radar/GPS/radio jamming assets as flown in a combined package.    Rafale aircraft also participated in Offensive Combat Air Missions (OCA),  as well as the protection of high value airborne assets such as the E-7A Wedgetail and slower, lower flying transport types, such as the CASA CN-235 and C-130J Hercules.   Priority objectives also  included  two CAMAO (Combined Air Operations) missions to be carried out daily with day and night operations,  plus the conclusion of planned air strikes with the use of the air-to-ground cannon, with the final aim of establishing international relations through the exchange of experience between the participating air arms taking part in Exercise Pitch Black 2018.


Rafale B 347 4-FN Escadron 01.004


Along with the Rafale deployment, the Armée de l’air also had a single CASA CN-235 of the Transport Squadron 52 ‘Tontouta’, belonging to the Armed Forces of New Caledonia (FANC).  The role of the CASA CN-235 during Exercise Pitch Black 2018 was to integrate with the participants such as Forward Air Control (FAC) and fighter aircraft, and was   utilised as a reconnaissance platform/asset for some of the more remote locations utilised during the exercise, with most missions predominantly flown at night.  During the second and third week of  Exercise Pitch Black,  penetration into an enemy zone with the protection of coalition aircraft as top cover during air drops also provided realistic training for the crews flying the CASA CN-235.


French Air Force CASA CN-235
CASA CN-235   066  from ET 52 Transport Squadron 52 ‘Tontouta’


4e Escadre de Chasse  ( 4th Fighter Wing)  –  Background.

The Armée de l’air can trace its roots back to the first world war, with many squadrons and wings  still operating today, such as the 4th Fighter Wing ( 4e Escadre de Chasse). With their current fleet of Dassault Rafale B aircraft recently flying half way around the world to participate in Exercise Pitch Black 2018, and showing the world that  EC.004  has the capability to forward deploy and operate efficiently in a multi-tiered force structure that is present when participating in scenarios such as Exercise Pitch Black.   With that in mind, lets have a quick look back at the origins of the Wing.   Formed from the fighter squadrons  11/3 ‘Dauphine’, 11/5 ‘La Fayette’ and 1/4 ‘Navarre,’ who all trace their lineage  back to the first world war.

Operating the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt in the final days of  the second world war in campaigns such as the liberation of France and the German campaign, it amassed a staggering 10,000 sorties with 4,500 tonnes of ordnance deposited on the enemy. With the end of the war still fresh, the wing is prepared for its involvement in the Indochina war, but not before 11/3 becomes GC 1/4 ‘Dauphine’, and  11/5  is renumbered 11/4  ‘La Fayette’ during July 1947.    Flying the Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX, the 4th Fighter Wing operates in both Tonkin and Cochinchina, as well as Annam with over 8,000 hours flying time logged.  With the end of the Indochina conflict, EC4  relocates to  Friedrichshafen in Germany before transitioning onto the Vampire Mk.V fighter in October 1949.   During the Wings time at Friedrichshafen, it is joined by 3/4 ‘Flanders’ and 4/4 ‘Ardennes’, whose existence will be short lived.  April 1954 saw the wing move to Bremgarten and receive the MD 450 Ouragan, until it became operational on the Republic F84F Thunderstreak in 1957.    Fast forward to 1961 and the 4th with their resident Squadrons ‘Dauphine’ and  ‘La Fayette’ are back on familiar territory, moving to Luxeuil Saint Sauveur, which is situated in the Franche-Comte region with its heritage dating back to the first war.


French A&S Musuem 2011 8 (1 of 1)
Republic P-47D Thunderbolt, former mount of GC I / 4 Navarre until 1950. On display in the markings of GC 2/5 La Fayette. Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace (Air & Space Museum), Le Bourget, Paris, France.


French A&S Musuem 2011 27 (1 of 1)
Republic F-84F Thunderstreak in the Museum of Astronautics and Aviation , Le Bourget, Paris, France.(originally 52-8875) is an F-84F-46-GK, which indicates that it was built by General Motors, under license from Republic. The code “3-VA”  in actual fact should be “4-VA”. ( 4e Escadre de Chasse)


November 1966 witnessed the transformation of the 4e Escadre de Chasse with the phasing out of the F84F Thunderstreak that had accumulated more than 100,000 flight hours, to make way for the Dassault Mirage IIIE.   In 1972, EC.004 became the first air unit of the Tactical Nuclear Forces, with its mission as an all weather bombardment unit, with its secondary role that of conventional strike and  daytime interception.   October 4 1986 saw the Dassault Mirage IIIE, with over 150,000 flight hours and twenty years of operational service, move aside for the Dassault Mirage 2000N that was being introduced into front line service.   March 30 1988 witnessed 1/4 ‘Dauphine’ officially take possession of the Armee de l’air’s first Mirage 2000N into service, and as of July 1 of the same year, the first operational alert with the aircraft equipped with the medium-range-air-to-ground missile (ASMP).   With the Mirage IIIE no longer operated by EC.004,  EC 2/4 ‘La Fayette’ was next to transition to the Mirage 2000N in the nuclear role, and from August 1989, EC 3/4 ‘Limousin’ was integrated into the 4th EC.    With the end of the cold war, Europe was undergoing change, and on September 1 1991, that  change  began to flow through the Armée de l’air with the 4e Escadre de Chasse leaving the FATac ( de la force aérienne tactique) to be attached to the FAS-Strategic Air Forces (les Forces aériennes stratégiques).


Dassault Mirage IIIE   ‘4-BB’ of EC4 based at BA116 Luxeuil – Saint Sauveur. Photographed at Air Base 103 Cambrai. Image used with permission  via Ian Powell.
Dassault Mirage 2000N 349 of  EC 2/4 ‘La Fayette’ seen here at Kleine Brogel circa 2007.    Image used with permission via Ian Powell.


It would be very easy to say that the Rafale B aircraft of l’Armée de l’Air, which came to Pitch Black 2018, were drawn from 4e Escadre de Chasse  and flown by a mixture of pilots from EC4 and EC30. However, that does not give the full picture, nor the history of the units or aircraft in French service.

First thing to know is the French Air Force operates with squadrons within wings, usually but not always from one base.

So when we refer to EC4, that is the wing, Escadre de Chasse 4, the current squadrons within this wing are:


Image ID:26616 545px-Blason_province_fr_Gascogne.svg_.png
             EC 1/4 ‘Gascogne’
              EC 2/4 ‘La Fayette’
       ETR 3/4 ‘Aquitaine’                

EC 2/4 has only recently formed at the home base of Saint Dizier-Robinson (BA 113), while ETR 3/4 is a joint air force and naval squadron handling training and operates Rafale B, C and M examples.

For many years EC 4’s mission was nuclear strike, first using the Mirage IIIE and then the Mirage 2000N. It operated 2 squadrons of 2000Ns from (BA 116) Luxeuil- Saint Sauveur with a third squadron at (BA 126) Istres-Le Tubé. During those years the squadrons were:

EC 1/4 ‘Dauphine’

EC 2/4 ‘La Fayette’

EC 3/4 ‘Limousin’

EC 4 operated alongside the Mirage IV aircraft of Escadron de Bombardment  1/91 between 1991 and 1996 when the Mirage IVs stood down from the strike role and instead became responsible for strategic reconnaissance, reducing to just one squadron as Escadron de Reconnaissance Stratégique 1/91. The Mirage IVs themselves were retired in 2005 and the squadron stood down. EC 4 also reduced in strength over the years initially going from 3 to 2 squadrons and finally retiring the 2000Ns in 2018, their role having been taken over by Rafale. The wing EC 4 had disbanded and the 2 squadrons had continued to operate as autonomous units.


Dassault Mirage IVP   ‘CF’   from  ERS 1/91 ‘Gascogne’, Seen on approach at the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford 2004.     Image used with permission via Ian Powell.


SEPECAT Jaguar A  A24  ‘7-HH’  of  EC 1/7 ‘Provence’.      Image used with permission via Ian Powell.


Rafales first arrived at Saint Dizier to replace the Jaguars of EC7 which had been retired. EC 1/7 ‘Provence’ getting their first aircraft in 2006 and being fully equipped by 2007. In June 2016 they were relocated to Al Dhafra Air Base ( BA 104) in the United Arab Emirates. Unusually the second Rafale squadron to form was EC 1/91 although there was no EC 91! This unit was descended from EB 1/91 and ERS 1/91 and operated from 2008 until  August 2015 when it became part of the new EC 4 at Saint Dizier and took on the designation EC 1/4 ‘Gascogne’. It also has a nuclear strike role, the same as it last had in 1996.


Dassault Rafale B 318 of EC 1/7 ‘Provence’,  seen at Kleine -Brogel circa 2007.  Image used with permission via Ian Powell


The third Rafale squadron to form at Saint Dizier was ETR 2/92, which also linked back to a Mirage IV squadron EB 2/92 and started training crews in 2010. This squadron too joined the newly reformed EC 4 and became ETR 3/4 (Escadron de Transformation Rafale 3/4 Aquitaine). Two of the deployed aircraft carried the badges from this squadron.


Dassault Rafale B 347 and 348 from ETR 3/4, seen taxiing back to their OLA after another successful mission during Exercise Pitch Black 2018.    Of note- old and new badges of ETR 3/4.


The EC 4 exercise aircrew came from Escadron de Chasse 1/4′ Gascogne’. The EC 30 aircrew came from EC 2/30 ‘Normandie-Niemen’. EC 2/30 had been a Mirage F1C squadron at Reims-Champagne before re-equipping with the attack modified variant of  the Mirage F1CT at Colmar-Meyenheim until it disbanded in 2009. Formed as the fourth Rafale squadron on September 1 2011, and declared operational June 2012 (the year which would mark the 70th Anniversary of the squadron). The squadron is currently based at Mont-de-Marsan (BA 118).


 Escadron  de Chasse 2/30  ‘Normandie-Niemen’  (Fighter Squadron 2/30 Normandie-Niemen) – Background. 

20181011_110808875_iOSUp until 2009 when EC 2/30 was disbanded, they operated the Dassault Mirage F1CT stationed at Colmar-Meyenheim Air Base (BA 132).  EC 2/30 is a descendant of the famous Fighter  Group Normandie (Groupe de  Chasse Normandie) that was formed on September 1st 1942.  The unit in 1942 was then known as  GC  ‘Normandie’  in Syria,  and was formed fighting on the Russian front and equipped with the Russian built Yakoklev Yak fighter aircraft.  With victories throughout the Soviet offensive and against East Prussia, 1944 saw Régiment de Chasse Normandie receive the Niémen designation for it to become the Régiment de Chasse Normandie-Niémen.

With the conclusion of World War Two,  ‘Normandie-Niemen’ was posted to North Africa and was involved in numerous campaigns undertaken there and throughout Indo-China during  the  post war years.  The early 1950’s witnessed  ‘Normandie-Niemen’ split into two, and placed under the newly formed  6e Escadre de Chasse (EC6) with Escadron 1/6 ‘Oranie’ and 2/6 ‘Normandie Niemen’, under control of the 6th Wing until it was disbanded in the early 1960’s.   After being disbanded from EC6,  ‘Normandie-Niemen’ was attached to 30e Escadre de Chasse  (EC30) permanently to become the current EC2/30 Escadron, and itself  moving back to France in 1962  before  it’s occupation at Reims-Champagne Air Base in 1966.  EC 2/30 was also the first to be equipped with the Dassault Mirage F1C in December 1973 until disbanding in 2009.


Dassault  Rafale  –  A   brief   History.

The French designed and built ‘omnirole’ fighter, the Rafale, literally  meaning  ‘gust of wind‘ or  ‘burst of fire‘,  is a twin engine, canard delta-wing,  multi role fighter aircraft, designed and built by Dassault Aviation.   Built to carry a large array of weapons and designed for such roles such as air supremacy, interdiction, aerial reconnaissance, ground support, anti-ship strike and nuclear deterrence, the Rafale has shown itself as a stand alone aircraft amongst the many 4th and 5th generation aircraft that are currently in service today.

The Rafale was born out of a requirement shared by an arrangement entered into during the 1970’s between Germany, France, England and Spain, to produce an agile all purpose mulit-role fighter, with the end result being the Eurofighter Typhoon.  Along the process of achieving this shared goal, France found itself on the outer and due to differing requirements, opted out of the program and decided to go it alone, and create and develop its own fighter.  1986 saw the first flight of the demonstrator that was part of an eight year test program, and is unique in that its mostly entirely designed and built by France, and includes all of its major defence contractors such as Dassault, Thales and Safran.


French A&S Musuem 2011 11 (1 of 1)
Dassault Prototype Rafale A   F-ZWRE, that is located at Charles De Gaulle-Roissy airport, at the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace Paris (Air and Space Museum)in the south eastern part of Le Bourget airport.


The Rafale was originally slated to enter service during the mid 1990’s, but suffered delays due to budget cuts and differing priorities in a post Cold War Europe.  The Rafale has three main variants, the Rafale C, which is a single seat land based version, the Rafale B, a twin seat land based version and the Rafale M, a single seat that is suited for carrier operations.

Since being introduced in 2001, the Rafale has seen combat in conflicts over Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali and Syria, as well as being purchased by foreign air arms such as Egypt, Qatar, and the recent announcement by India.

The Armée de l’air and the Marine Nationale plan to have up to 171 Rafale’s of all variants in its inventory by the year 2025.


Rafale B 346 of ETR 3/4 Aquitaine on static display during the Exercise Pitch Black 2018 RAAF Base Darwin Open Day.


Rafale B 348 of ETR 3/4 on approach to RAAF Base Darwin.


SAAB JAS 39C Gripen of the Royal Thai Air Force in formation with EC4 Rafale B during the Mindil Beach flypast.


With the Armée de l’air having enjoyed a successful trip downunder, and their trip only part way through as part of Pegase 2018, with many more stops through Malaysia and India planned,  the aim of the Armée de l’air  strengthening France’s presence in the strategic Indo-Pacific region with key allies, as seen during  this deployment showed that their level of participation was high, not only with the Royal Australian Air Force as a participant in Exercise Pitch Black 2018, but also their commitment to  public affairs  opportunities, such as flying formation with SAAB Gripens  from the Royal Thai Air Force  during planned flypasts over Darwin’s beautiful Mindil Beach, along with having aircraft and aircrew on hand during the Open Day held at RAAF Base Darwin.  The Rafale B aircraft from 4e Escadre de Chasse where a hit with many aviation enthusiasts and the public, as this was their first time to visit Australia, and hopefully not their last.



Aviation Spotters Online was fortunate to have been given access during two of the exercises morning and afternoon  launches, with videographer Mark Pourzenic ideally situated along the taxiway and by the runway, with many opportunities to capture vision of all participating aircraft,and paying close attention to the  Rafale B aircraft of the Armée  de l’air as they departed and returned from both morning and afternoon launches.


Rafale 348 ‘Launching’ from RAAF Darwin’s runway for another EXPB18 sortie.


Rafale B ‘348’ on approach to RAAF Darwin.


‘346’ on static display during the RAAF Base Darwin Open Day 2018.


Aviation Spotters Online would like to take this opportunity to thank the Royal Australian Air Force’s Public Affairs media team, who granted access, so that we were able to capture some of the many special moments that occurred during Exercise Pitch Black 2018.   ASO’s Videographer Mark Pourzenic would also like to extend his gratitude and thanks to Mr. Ian Powell, for his expertise and specialized knowledge regarding the Armée de l’air.   Without Mr. Powell’s guidance and many years of archiving the ever growing change within the Armée de l’air, this article may not have been completed  without his expertise.

Further resources regarding the Armée de l’air can be found here –









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