Aviation Spotters Online

Aviation Spotters Online

All posts by Mark Pourzenic

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





Mottys-2OCU 2019 Tiger Special FA-18B Hornet A21-116-00118-ASO





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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.


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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.


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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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Indian Air Force participation 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.


Sukhoi Su-30MKI & Hornet Returning
Combination sortie with 2x IAF Sukhoi Su-30MKI’s and 2x RAAF Classic F/A-18 Hornets returning to Darwin, from a training flight


Welcome to Exercise Pitch Black

This year’s exercise included many first time participants such as the Indian Air Force, who brought 4 x Sukhoi Su-30MKI Flankers from No.102 Squadron ’Trisonics’, Chabua Air Force Station, 1 x Lockheed-Martin C-130J-30 Hercules from No.87 Squadron ‘Raiding Raptors’, Panagarh Air Force Station and 1 x Boeing C-17A Globemaster III from 81 Squadron ‘Sky Lords’, Hindon Air Force Station.  


IAF Ensign, roundel and crest (Nabha Sparsham Deeptam) – “Touch the Sky with Glory”

INDIAN AIR FORCE   –  A Brief History

The Indian Air Force (IAF) was officially established on October 8 1932. The IAF recorded its first flight on April 1st 1933, and possessed six Royal Air Force trained officers with nineteen Havai Sepoys (air soldiers), and included an aircraft inventory of four Westland Wapiti IIA army co-operation biplanes located at Drigh Road.
Around the mid 1930’s, what was ostensibly a fledgling formation of outdated aircraft, they found themselves in action supporting Indian army operations against insurgent Bhittani tribesman in Marinshah, North Waziristan.
June 1938 saw a third flight added to bring No.1 Squadron to full strength with their vintage Wapiti biplanes, and remained the sole Indian Air Force Squadron when World War II began, although it’s ranks had now risen to 662 men and 16 officers.
The Chatfield committees proposal that was outlayed in 1939 called for more Royal Air Force squadrons to be based in India, much to the dismay of the IAF that was looking forward to expanding at a quicker pace, instead a scheme was put in place for five coastal defence flights, on a voluntary basis for the protection of principal ports, which resulted in the Indian Air Force volunteer reserve being authorised.
Although there was a shortage of aircraft, five flights were established with No.1 at Madras, No.2 at Bombay, No.3 at Calcutta, No.4 at Karachi and No.5 at Cochin. Eventually a sixth flight was established at Vizagapatanam. Built from a core of RAF and IAF crew, these flights were flown with ex-RAF Wapiti and former No.1 Squadron aircraft after the latter had transitioned to the Hawker Hart.
By March of 1941, Nos 1 and 3 CDFs (Coastal Defence Flights) gave up their Wapitis as these were to be taken on by No.2 Squadron at Peshawar, for Armstrong Whitworth Atlanta transport aircraft, that were to be used to patrol the Sunderbans delta area south of Calcutta.
Meanwhile No.2 CDF had received relinquished DH.89 Dragon Rapides for coastal and convoy work, whilst No.5 CDF took on a single De Havilland DH.86 Express, for patrolling Cape Camorin and the Malabar coast.

The creation of a training structure in India became priority as RAF flying instructors were assigned to local flying clubs to train and instruct Indian Air Force volunteer reserve cadets on the Tiger Moth. Up to 364 students were to receive elementary flying training at clubs situated in British India, including others in various princely states by the end of 1941.
With the push to create and modernise the IAF well underway, No.1 Squadron was afforded conversion to the Westland Lysander at Peshawar, with the inclusion of a full compliment of 12 aircraft within the year via the Bombay war gifts fund. Not long after No.2 and 3 Squadrons converted from the Wapiti to the Audax respectively. With the volunteer reserve inducted into the main core of the Indian Air Force, they initially kept their coastal watch status until Japans entry into World War II in December of 1941.
No.4 flight which had on strength four Wapitis and two Audaxes were dispatched to Burma,to operate from Moulmein. Tragedy quickly struck with four aircraft destroyed due to Japanese bombing, and the flight was eventually replaced by No.3 flight which had re-equipped with ex-RAF Blenheim MkI aircraft, that would provide the sole air cover for shipping entering Rangoon harbour.
February 1942 saw No.1 Squadron arrive in Burma with its Lysander aircraft, that were quickly put to work flying tactical recce missions from Toungoo and Mingaladon. The IAF crews quickly learnt to improvise with 250lb bombs being hung under the wings of the Lysander’s and flew unescorted low level missions against Japanese air bases at Mae-Haungsaun, Cheingmai and Chiangrai in Thailand. This effort was eventually to no avail as the might of the Japanese advance led to the final evecuation of Burma, and No.1 Squadron returning to Risalpur in June of 1942 to convert to the Hawker Hurricane IIB, which was mirrored by associate squadrons at this time.
Between March and December 1942, ten aircrew schools where opened in India, with the first batch of Harvard trainers taken on by No. 1 Flying Training School at Ambala. The aim of the school was to provide basic and advanced instruction for IAF pilots over a 4 and a half month time period.
By the end of 1942, or a decade since the the creation of the Indian Air Force, and three years into World War II, their best efforts only managed to raise five squadrons.
With the coastal defence units disbanded, the IAF had stood up two squadrons (No.7&8) to be re-equipped with the Vultee Vengeance dive bomber which was given operational status in mid 1943. With some teething problems at the start which were quickly eradicated, No.8 Squadron flew the first Vengeance sortie against the Japanese at Double Moorings,Chittagong in December 1943, with No.7 Squadron starting operations in the Arakan shortly after, with both units flying with distinction.
By mid 1944, most Indian Air Force squadrons had either converted to, or already operating the Hurricane,whilst some moved onto their latest acquisition, the Supermarine Spitfire MkVIII. By the end of 1944, the IAF had nine squadrons operational, and with the Hawker Hurricane being the backbone of the combat element, all but most squadrons converted to the Spitfire during early 1945.
During the war years, the service had performed admirably with disruptions against enemy lines and communications, which in turn led to victory.
The service established traditions of courage and efficiency second to none, with no less than 22 Distinguished flying crosses awarded, on top of other decorations in recognition of their service and valor. The service was bestowed with the ‘Royal’ prefix to its title in March 1945 in honour of its wartime contribution.

Post War – A New Beginning

At the close of World War II, the Royal Indian Air Force had on strength 28,500 personnel with some 1,600 officers at its disposal. From late 1945, the RIAF was in the final process of converting all Hurricane equipped squadrons to the Spitfire, and 1946 witnessed the first dedicated transport squadron, No.12, that received C-47 Dakotas at Panagarh AFS. Also during this time of transitional change, manpower was again cut down to almost half to some 14,000 officers and men combined.

August 15, 1947 saw the division of India and the armed forces, with many units stood down, while assets and associated equipment, permanent bases and other establishments transferred to the newly created Royal Pakistan Air Force.

January 1950 witnessed India becoming a Republic within the British Commonwealth, with the ‘Royal” prefix being dropped from its title. The IAF at this time was in possession of six fighter squadrons, comprising of Vampires, Spitfires and Tempests, with one squadron of B-24 Liberators and a flight of C-47 Dakotas. With its British routes firmly ingrained, the Indian Air Force adhered to the training pattern established by the RAF, with most current instructors graduates of the Central Flying School in the UK, or naturally from the No.1 Flying Training School at Hyderabad with their resident Tiger Moths and NA T-6G Harvards, to No.2 FTS at Jodhpur with Harvards and Percival Prentices, to name but just a few of the training establishments already delivering a steady stream of future aviators.

During the period 1953-1957 the government of the day began to seek non traditional /alternative ways of sourcing combat aircraft, as opposed to local manufacture such as the Vampire.

The French Dassault Ouragan fighter was selected, and with an order of 100, the Ouragan, or Toofanis as they were to be known, equipped 3 squadrons from 1953 onwards,until superseded by the Dassault Mystere IVA in 1957. Re-equipment wasn’t only confined to fighter aircraft, as the transport squadrons soon found themselves flying the Fairchild C-119G Packet,which 72 of the type entered IAF service from 1954 onwards. 1957 also witnessed the expansion as the 110 Mystere IVA’s on order were part of an aircraft procurement program including types such as the English Electric Canberra B(I)Mk.58 Bomber, and Hawker Hunter FMk.56 fighter, and included over time their respective updated marks and models.

1960’s   – The Build Up

The early sixties saw the Indian Air Force introduce more hardware to its ever increasing arsenal of types flown, with one of the more interesting types operated by the IAF, the Folland Gnat lightweight fighter. Being an aircraft of extreme agility, and considered cost effective, an agreement was signed for its local manufacture with the parent company before local built models where license built by HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited).

There’s no denying the tension that exists between India and Pakistan, and as history has shown, its one that is far from over. September 1st, 1965 witnessed an attack in the Chhamb sector by Pakistani forces. With Pakistani forces holding the upper hand and posing a threat to Indian ground forces, a response was forthcoming from the IAF, with advancing Vampire FBMk.52’s and Mystere IV’s in the mix, the biggest surprise was with an IAF Folland Gnat scoring a kill against a PAF Sabre, which only inflamed and escalated the tension to full scale warfare along the international border between West Pakistan and India.

The September conflict was the first for the IAF since India declared independence, and many lessons gained as a result. The mid 1960’s Indian Air Force was a potent force comprising reinstated new production HAL Gnat aircraft, purchase of the Sukhoi Su-7BM Fitter Ground attack platform, and the Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21FL Fishbed.

The IAF of 1966 comprised in excess of 70,000 personnel and not far off its goal of 45 active squadrons. 1968 saw another leap with 23 fighter squadrons (categorised), three tactical bomber squadrons, one maritime patrol squadron, eleven transport squadrons, and numerous helicopter squadrons.

A quick breakdown would show the Gnat equipping eight squadrons, six squadrons equipped with the Hawker Hunter, four operating the MiG-21Fl and two on the Mystere IVA, two photo-recce squadrons operating the Vampire T Mk.55 and a sole squadron operating the HF-24 Marut. Bombing elements comprised the Canberra, maritime with outgoing B-24 Liberators with incoming L-1049G Super Constellations, the airlift category consisted of two squadrons of Antonov An-12B’s, three with the C-119G Packet, three of the C-47 Dakota, along with Twin Otters, Caribou’s and the incoming HS.748.

Maturing the Force – The 1970’s

The 1970’s brought with it technological change, and the dawn of another armed conflict that was brewing along the Indo-Pakistani border. As early as 1971 , Governments from both sides protested about airspace incursions along the western border, with altercations coming to a head in late November/early December, when full scale warfare between India and Pakistan occurred.
With the ensuing two week time frame from when hostilities broke out, the IAF had flown approximately 4,000 sorties in the West from its major, and forward bases in Jammu, Kashmir, Punjab and Rajasthan, with a further 1,900 odd flown from the East. The strategy of the IAF during the conflict was to maintain defensive postures around the Northern, and Western fronts, with emphasis placed on a quick turn around in the East. Although Pakistan had initiated the conflict through its pre-emptive strikes against Indian assets, the Indian Air Force showed through initiative that it could quickly, and decisively dominate the skies over both fronts, from lesson’s learned from its training, and the use of employed superior fire power.
The losses incurred by the Indian Air Force were higher than the PAF due to the amount of interdiction sorties flown, and the resulting anti-aircraft fire against the Gnats took its toll.
The MiG-21 that consumed six IAF squadrons where the game changer, and their superiority was demonstrated to great effect. As part of the order of battle, the MiG-21Fl’s were operated in both the Western and Eastern sectors, proving their worth in every engagement. The MiG-21 was employed in many roles including combat air patrols over Vital Points (VP) and Vital Areas (VA), counter-air, escort and close air support tasks, was used as a highly effective platform for short range, precision attack, air defence and interception.
With both sides employing the latest technology throughout their respective air arms, the infamous battle of East meets West occurred during the December 1971 conflict, with the IAF MiG-21’s facing their adversary, the PAF’s Lockheed F-104 Starfighters.
During the 1971 conflict, No.29 and No.47 Squadron MiG-21FL’s had the honour of claiming four victories respectively after downing intercepted F-104’s during aerial engagements over the Rajsthan Desert, and the Gulf of Kutch.


MiG-21UM Fishbed VH-XXI 'U2146' Red Archers Aerobatic Team, Avalon 1995
MiG-21UM Fishbed  VH-XXI  ‘U2146’   wearing the scheme of the  Indian Air Force  ‘Red Archers Aerobatic Team’,  seen here in private hands at the 1995 Australian International Airshow.


1970’s   Progression

The mid 1970’s saw the Indian Air Force go about urgent re-equipment requirements to help it progress into the 1980’s and beyond. The modernisation programme would see obsolete equipment and weapons systems replaced with state of the art technology, that was readily available at the time.
With no less than twenty new aircraft types, not including sub types, had made their way into the IAF inventory over the coming years during its renewed expansion and update. This may have included various strike fighters, third generation supersonic interceptors, tri-sonic reconnaissance aircraft, strategic heavy lift transports, medium tactical transports, light transport aircraft, heavy lift and medium assault helicopters, basic trainers, surface to air missiles and a massed array of sophisticated weapons to help project the IAF, or the Bharatiya Vayu Sen, as a force to be reckoned with.
1979 saw one of the more notable changes with the replacement for the IAF’s ageing Canberra and Hunter force arrive, with the introduction of the SEPECAT Jaguar with No.14 and 5 Squadron in the Deep Penetration Strike role, with further squadrons following suit as HAL ( Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) prepared to begin producing Jaguar aircraft in India.
Meanwhile in 1976, another ‘third generation’ type the MiG-21bis, that is considered the definitive variant of this classic fighter, entered Indian Air Force service and assumed the mantle as the nations primary air defence fighter, with sufficient examples acquired in 1976/77 to equip three squadrons that where operating the now outdated Folland Gnat. The MiG-21 variant was used in large numbers by the IAF, with some 580 examples delivered by HAL, and some 250 ‘fly away’ examples that have remained an invaluable asset for over a quarter century serving the nation of India and its Air Force.
Another issue facing the IAF was the role of Tactical Air Strike, and this requirement was met by the selection of the Soviet Unions variable – sweep wing fighter, the Mig-23BN, that was to replace current squadrons operating the Su-7 and HF-24 Marut,that were operating in the offensive air support role, with the MiG-27M/ML also acquired to fulfill the roles of ageing types such as the Ajeet light fighter and again, the Su-7 Fitter, that were optimised for low-level, high speed performance.

1980’s  and Beyond   –   Welcome to the future – Fly – by – Wire

With the onset of the 1980’s, it also brought about change in worldwide economy that progressed with advanced technological changes, that have continued to the present day. Huge leaps in technology, and major leaps in the world of military aviation saw such ‘next gen’ types as the General Dynamics F-16 fighting falcon being developed, and that was coincidentally purchased by the Pakistan Air Force during 1981/82. The response to this action was for the IAF to acquire ‘beyond visual range’ weapons for its fleet of Russian built MiG-23MF aircraft, including two squadrons to be formed on the type, and that for the most part, was an interim solution to the current situation being faced across its border.
The Government at the time looked into finding a solution to counter this problem, and after coming out blank with its counterparts in the East, 1982 arrived with a signed contract,  and had found itself a solution with Western technology in the form of the French built  Dassault Mirage 2000, a delta wing,  fly-by-wire fighter, with high agility and state of the art radar/weapons systems, with the first t of two Squadrons (Nos.1 and 7) equipping with the French lady during the course of 1985/6.
 With the Indian Air Force  enjoying its current status operating state of the art, fly-by-wire aircraft, an invitation by the Soviet Union was given for IAF pilots to eveluate the latest offering at the time, the Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum.  After its acceptance of the offer, the IAF was delighted and remarked that the aircraft was “truly outstanding”.
From the onset of the eveluation flight, to a formal understanding and signed agreement between both nations, two years where to pass before the IAF was able to be supplied with its next generation fighter, which introduced a change in the IAF’s procurement of aircraft and technologies that continues to the present day.    The number of aircraft  serving in the  IAF   since the 1990’s been decreasing due to losses, or retirement.    The  Indian Air Force has in recent years been upgrading its fleet of MiG-21, MiG-27 , Jaguar and Mirage 2000 aircraft, including the planned updates for the MiG-29.   Some medium lift helicopters comprising of Mil Mi-8, Mi-17 and Mil-Mi-17Vs are slated for future upgrades along with Antonov An-32 transports.

The Future –

The Indian Air Force  today is a modern, technological intensive force known for its commitment  to excellence and professionalism.

The mission of today’s Indian Air Force is defined by the Armed Forces Act of 1947,  the Constitution of India, and the Air Force Act of 1950.  It decrees that in aerial Battlespace:

“Defence of India and every part there of including preparation for
defence and all such acts as may be conducive in times of war to
its prosecution and after its termination to effective demobilisation”.


The Indian Air Force is Headquartered in New Delhi, with seven commands located throughout India.       

 Quarter of aster –  Western Air Command – New Delhi ,  Eastern Air Command – Shillong  ,   Central Air Command – Allahabad ,     South Western Air Command – Thiruvananthapuram ,      Southern Air Command  – Ghandi  Nagar,  Training Command – Bangalore  and    Maintenance Command – Nagpur.

In today’s world, the Air  Arm of the Indian Armed Forces,  with its complement  of  personnel and aircraft assets, rank it as one of the  the world’s fourth largest.   The current order of  battle that is the Indian Air Force, in the year 2018, comprises of anywhere between 9 to 16 stations, or Air Force bases, that are  located throughout India, with each commanded by an Air Commodore, with a typical Wing having up to two squadrons assigned to it.

Within an IAF  Wing, its usually comprised of a command and a squadron. Most times it may comprise of  between two or three IAF Squadrons, along with a helicopter Unit, that may also include a Forward Base Support Unit (FBSU).  Presently there are roughly 47 wings and 19 FBSUs currently operating within the Indian Air Force, that are typically commanded by a Group Captain.

 Squadrons  are field units or formations at static locations, with a Squadron comprising 18 aircraft, and are under the control of a Commanding  Officer who wears the rank of Wing Commander.

Some transport and helicopter units are under the control by a Commanding Officer holding the  rank of Group Captain, and a further breakdown would see Flights as sub – divisions of Squadrons that would be commanded by a Squadron Leader.  A flight would consist of two sections, that would be led be a Flight Lieutenant that would consist of three aircraft, that would flow onto service branches for day to day operations and so-forth.

Current  Stature

With the Indian Air Force’s current order of battle either receiving upgrades, or in the process of, the future looks promising for the IAF.  With the current Helicopter  fleet in good stead with the pride of the fleet being the giant Mil-Mi-26 heavy lift helicopter thats operated by No.126 Squadron that delivers with outstanding results, the  remaining fleet of medium lift types such as the Mil-Mi-17 and Mi-8 types are all proving their worth within the IAF structure and roles they’re assigned to.

The Chetak/Cheetah fleet has been the mainstay and backbone in the SAR (Search and Rescue), Casualty and Evacuation role within the IAF for many years, with this type being augmented by indigenous designs such as the HAL ( Hindustan Aeronautics Limited)  ALH Dhruv helicopter, which has proven very successful, and is also the prime machine for the Sarang Helicopter Display Team.   The rotary wings of the IAF are undergoing a major restructure with new procurements coming online such as the  CH-47F Chinook helicopter,  and  the  AH-64E Apache  Longbow attack helicopters, that will operate alongside the 125 (H) squadron Mil-Mi-25 gunships, and the Mi-35 Hinds of 104 (H) squadron, that were introduced in 1990.

The Indian Air Force at this current time has given the go ahead to ramp up production manufacturing the locally designed HAL Tejas fighters, of which some 324 of the type are on order,  with basic trainers such as the Pilatus PC-7 MkII HAL HJT-36 Sitara  pending, and the  Airbus A330 MRTT aircraft to replace the current Ilyushin  IL-78MD  tankers ,  which are all being considered for the future within the IAF.

With the Royal Australian Air Force announcing the participants who will be attending Exercise Pitch Black 2018 early in the year, and with many excited to hear of  what aircraft would be attending, it was interesting, and exciting to see the latest acquisitions of the IAF making their way downunder.    As the IAF operates a varied fleet of  medium to light transport aircraft types such as the Antonov An-32 Sutlej, the  HAL built Dornier Do 228,  and the Boeing 737 and Embraer ECJ-135 Legacy aircraft for VIP duties, the IAF sent the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III and the Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules that would support the four  Sukhoi Su-30MKI that would also be taking part in this years exercise.

No. 81  Squadron  ‘Skylords’

 This unit of the  Indian Air Force is assigned to Western Air Command, with the Squadron  being stood up on September 1 2013 at Hindon Air Force Station.  Their motto states ‘ Capable, Powerful, Omnipresent’.    The Squadrons main role is to participate in operations that involve  the movement and airdrop of troops, equipment, supplies and support of special operations forces when required.    The Squadron operates the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III, which was approved by the IAF in 2011 for the purchase of ten aircraft, with the first of the type touching down in India on June 18 2013.   The C-17 has enhanced  the IAF’s capabilities through  its operational potential in terms of its  payload and performance, and use during times of disaster and strategic airlift missions.   Its role in Exercise Pitch Black 2018 was as a support ferrying personnel and equipment.


Boeing C-17A Globemaster III from 81 Squadron ‘Sky Lords’
Boeing C-17A Globemaster III from 81 Squadron ‘Sky Lords’


No. 87 Squadron   Raiding Raptors’

The Indian Air Force has been operating the Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules with 77 Squadron ‘Veiled Vipers’ from Hindon AFS  since 2011.  In 2016,  No. 87 Squadron was formed  as the IAF had suffered some losses, and a new deal was signed for the purchase of six Super Hercules (C-130J-30), that are customised for special operations,  and are not suited  for routine transport roles.  The first of six Hercules touched down in July 2017 and are permanently located at Panagarh Air Force Station,  which has been renamed Arjan Singh AFS.   

During Exercise Pitch Black 2018,  No. 87 Squadron Hercules,  which  are  an AMSOP  (Advanced Mobility Special Ops Platform) that operate as part of the IAF’s  Special  Air Operations Unit,  took part in joint tasks with RAAF C-130J Hercules from 37 Squadron and C-17A Globemaster’s form 36 Squadron with insertion and extraction of Special Forces and supply drops in and around the Bradshaw Field training area.


IAF Lockheed-Martin C-130J-30 Hercules from No.87 Squadron ‘Raiding Raptors’
IAF Lockheed-Martin C-130J-30 Hercules from No.87 Squadron ‘Raiding Raptors’



Indian Air Force Super Hercules patch
Indian Air Force Super Hercules embroidered patch.


No.  102   Squadron    ‘Trisonics’

Equipped with the Sukhoi Su-30MKI and located at Chabua Air Force Station.  No. 102 Squadron was formed in August 1981, with its first operational sortie flown on August 25 1981 from Bareilly AFS, when the Commanding Officer of the ‘Trisonics’, A J Singh and with the then Chief of Air Staff,  Air Chief Marshal Idris Latif took to the air in a Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-25U Foxbat.    The MiG-25 Foxbat was inducted into the Indian Air Force to fulfill the need of  strategic reconnaissance in 1981.   The IAF operated the MiG-25RB for reconnaissance and the two seat MiG-25U for conversion training, and were known as the ‘Garuda‘ in IAF service.  They were employed for top secret missions over hostile territories taking high definition photographs, radar imagery and electronic emissions.  The MiG-25RB’s were pure reconnaissance aircraft equipped without any interception capability, and relied solely on their speed, which was around Mach 3.2, and altitude to stay safe. The IAF’s ‘Garudas‘ flew between 10 – 15  sorties per month, and only 42 pilots were to ever qualify to fly the type, with three recorded losses during its tenure with the Indian Air Force.  The aircraft’s original calendar life was 15 years, and in 1995 a mid life update was  enacted to further the life for another ten years, and again in 2001, a final push was made until the MiG-25 was retired on May 1 2006.



Trisonics Patch
trisonics patch
Exercise Pitch Black 2018 deployment patch. Design by Saurav Jain



Sukhoi Su-30MKI Returning
IAF Sukhoi Su-30MKI Returning from training in the 1st week of Ex Pitch Black 2018


Sukhoi  Su-30MKI  ‘Flanker – H’

The Su-30MKI is a twin jet multirole air superiority fighter developed by Sukhoi, and licence built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the Indian Air Force.  Development of the MKI variant begun in 2000 after a deal was signed with Russia, for the manufacture of 140 aircraft, with the first Russian made Su-30MKI inducted into IAF service on September 27 2002.   The first indigenously  assembled (HAL) Su-30MKI was inducted with the IAF in 2004.  A total order of 272 Su-30MKI aircraft are expected, with the present number in service at approximately  249 units. 

 The Sukhoi Su-30MKI force is well spread throughout  the Indian Air Force   with many Air Force Stations utilised –

 –  Bareilly   AFS :  15 Wing,  No. 8 Squadron ‘Eight Pursoots’ & No. 24 Squadron ‘Hunting Hawks’,                                                                                                                                                                       

 –  Bhatinda AFS : 34 Wing, No. 17 Squadron ‘Golden Arrows’ ,     

–  Chabua AFS :   14 Wing, No. 102 Squadron ‘Trisonics’,  

–  Halwara AFS : 34 Wing, No.220 Squadron ‘Desert Tigers’ & No.221 Squadron ‘Valiants’,  

–  Jodhpur AFS:  32 Wing, No.31 Squadron ‘Lions’,  

– Lohegaon AFS :  2 Wing, No.20 Squadron “Lightning’ & No. 30 Squadron “Rhinos’,  

– Bhuj AFS : 27 Wing, No.15 Squadron ‘ Flying Lancers’,

– Tezpur AFS:  11 Wing, No.2 Squadron ‘ Winged Arrows’, 

– Maharajpur AFS:  40 Wing, TACDE (Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment).

No. 102 Squadron ‘ Trisonics’ was given the honor of being the first Su-30MKI unit to participate in Exercise Pitch Black 2018, along with No.81 & No. 87 Squadrons.  The deployment has shown that the IAF has the ability to deploy within the Asia-Pacific region when called upon.  This years contingent assembled at Kalaikunda AFS in West Bengal before leaving with their first leg taking them via Indonesia before transiting to Darwin. 

Su-30MKI off the deck
Trisonic – lifting off Runway 11

No. 102 Squadrons role during the exercise varied from air to air missions, strike and air superiority, air to ground and as part of large force packages that were designed to improve interoperability between participating nations involved within the exercise.  During the exercise another first was achieved with the Su-30MKI’s having previously gained clearance, to begin air to air refueling with the RAAF’s fleet of KC-30A MRTT aircraft, which also provided the capability on its return leg back to Malaysia at the conclusion of  Exercise Pitch Black 2018.


Su-30MKI on the BRA
Su-30MKI on the BRA (Bomber Replenishment Apron)


Along with their successful participation during the Exercise, the IAF and in particular, the Sukhoi Su-30MKI’s were a huge hit with the locals and spotters alike.  Their performance when taking off and sheer size made them one of the star attractions during their time in Australia.   The public had the chance to see these magnificent machines up close and personal during the Royal Australian Air Force’s Open day that was held on August 4 2018 at RAAF Base Darwin, and the planned flypast at the Mindil Beach night markets on Thursday August 2 2018, with thousands flocking to witness the aerial display by participating Air Forces involved with Exercise Pitch Black 2018.


Sukhoi Su-30MKI Returning
‘Trisonics’ passing over

And one important occasion of note occured while the Indian Air Force were taking part in their Exercise Pitch Black, and we wished all those on deployment a Happy Independance Day 2018. As on this day each year, India celebrates it’s independence in becoming the great nation that it is today signified by the events that occurred on August 15, 1947. Proud thoughts of the unfurling of the national flag by the Prime Minister at the Red Fort in Delhi, numerous parades and kite flying must have been on their minds while in Australia, as being one of the ways the nation signifies this important day in India’s history.

Sukhoi Su-30MKI pass Mindil Beach with Super Hornets
IAF Sukhoi’s pass Mindil Beach in formation with RAAF Super Hornets


Sukhoi Su-30MKI pass Mindil Beach with Super Hornets
Another view performing over Mindil Beach, Darwin, Australia, 2018


Su-30MKI on the BRA
Su-30MKI – RAAF Base Darwin 2018


Aviation Spotters Online was fortunate to have been given access during one of the Exercises morning launches, with videographer Mark Pourzenic ideally situated along the taxiway and by the runway, with many opportunities to grab vision of all participating aircraft, and was able to capture all four Su-30MKI’s as they departed and returned from the morning wave.



Sukhoi Su-30MKI lift off
Departing RAAF Darwin for another training mission


Su-30MKI on the BRA
Media having the chance to inspect the Su-30MKI during day 1 of Ex Pitch Black 2018


Departing Darwin north
Departing Darwin to the north

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 we were able to capture some of the many special moments that occurred daily during Exercise Pitch Black 2018.

Thanks from Mark and the ASO team.

For more information of the Indian Air Force click on the following links:






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Within the cargo hold of a 747

During 2006, I was fortunate enough to have been employed as a driver for a transport company that dealt with many customers who relied upon air freight in and out of the country.
Almost daily I would sit in long queue’s awaiting my turn to make it to the clerks office at many of the freight forwarding companies that where situated at Melbourne Airport at the time, such as Menzies, Patrick’s, DHL and Australian Air Express to name but a few.
Being an avid aviation enthusiast this didn’t worry me at all as I was content with keeping an eye on the coming’s and going’s at the airport, and would at times bring my video camera along to catch anything special that was passing through.
Naturally word had got around at work that I was a keen aviation nut,and through some contacts at work, they had organised for myself, through Menzies Air Services, a guided tour through a Cathay Pacific Cargo Boeing 747 Freighter.

Boeing 747-267F B-HVZ on finals. Image credit Richard Pourzenic

I was one happy man and couldn’t wait for the day to arrive. I was given prior permission to bring my video camera along and film the occasion. This meant going back to hand held as lugging a tripod around wasn’t going to happen inside the confined space of a 747 full of freight.
The day had arrived and was told to be at Menzies Air Services around 3pm for a quick run down on the do’s and dont’s about being airside, and once in and around the aircraft.
Sadly with the passing of time, I have forgotten the name of our gracious host whom you’ll see in the video, as he was very informative and very welcoming. Hopefully someone out there will be able to shed light on this matter.
As you’ll see in the video, there is a lot of planning that goes into how an aircraft is loaded, such as keeping its centre of gravity, and how it will react when taking off or landing, as well as whilst in flight. Another point of interest was how the pallets where loaded with freight, and the way they were stacked, and done in a way that it conformed to the shape of the 747.

Touchdown of B-HVZ at Melbourne Airport. Image credit Richard Pourzenic

Boeing 747-267F (SCD)
This particular 747, registered B-HVZ is one of four 747-267SF freighters that where operated by Cathay Pacific Cargo that featured the Side Cargo Door(SCD). HVZ started life as line number 687, and was given construction number (MSN)23864, and wore the test registration of N6005C for its first flight in September of 1987 before final delivery to Cathay Pacific Cargo and registered as VR-HVZ. After 22 years of long and loyal service,  B-HVZ was retired and last noted as stored/scrapped at the Southern California Logistics Airport near Victorville (VCV).

Boeing 747-2F VR-HVZ. Image credit Wilkes Aviation Collection

Cathay Pacific Cargo
The Cargo subsidiary was established in 1981 operating twice weekly on the Hong Kong – Frankfurt – London route that was jointly operated in partnership with Lufthansa.
Between its passenger and cargo routes, Cathay Pacific serves more than 80 destinations.

With special thanks to Melbourne Airport and staff from Menzies Air Services and Cathay Pacific Cargo for their time and opportunity.
Aviation Spotters Online would also like to thank Photographers Richard Pourzenic and Brian Wilkes for the use of their images in this article.

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Walkaround F-111C A8-113


Being one to frequent airshows, I usually find myself constantly filming and ending up with hours, upon hours of vision from each Airshow that I attend.
During the Australian International Airshow, which is held every two years at Avalon Airport in Victoria, I tend to spend up to 9 days there, and as you can imagine, record a lot of footage.
At times filming movements is fine, but I feel there’s always something missing when watching back my footage.
Now it’s not always easy, and at times you need to go through the proper channels, and require permission to do so, but getting a one on one interview with aircrew, or in this case groundcrew of any aircraft or squadron, is a privilege.
Having the opportunity to film crew talking about their aircraft and roles, marries the footage, and gives an insight into what it’s really like being in the Royal Australian Air Force.
Back in 2005, we were very fortunate to have Amberley based 6 Squadron at the Australian International Airshow, with their F-111C/G strike aircraft, on static display and performing in the air.
Since the advent of social media, it seems everyone is connecting from all parts of the world, and with myself belonging to a few aviation groups on Facebook, I was lucky enough, after all this time, to be able to get in touch with CPL Phil, who is the star of this clip. He has given his approval for us to be able to share it with you.
Corporal Phil, a ground crew member and ‘gunnie’ of 6 Squadron, was only too happy to say a few words and show me around F-111C, A8-113 which was on static display during the course of the show.

A8-113 proudly on display
A8-113 proudly on display at Darwin Aviation Museum

A8-113 A Brief History

F-111C, A8-113 started life as F-111A, 67-0113. After its first flight in August of 1969, it was transferred to the 430thTFS/474thTFW at Nellis AFB, Nevada.
After some modifications, 67-0113 left the 474th for combat operations in Vietnam, and by November 1972, has notched up 44 combat missions.
April 19 1973 saw 113 fly her last mission.
Roll forward to May 23 1982, and 67-0113 was delivered to the RAAF as one of four attrition aircraft, and later modified to F-111C standard by 3AD Amberley, QLD.
During 1997, 25 years after 113 saw combat over the skies of Vietnam as an United States Air Force aircraft, 113 completed test flying as an RAAF AUP(digital) F-111C.
Her last public appearance was at the Williamtown AFB Airshow held in September 2010, where large crowds came to witness the magic of the F-111 in flight before the types eventual retirement in December 2010.
A8-113 now resides as a static display at Darwin’s Aviation Museum and has been repainted in her original SEA camouflage scheme.

A8-113 fuel dump valve
Fuel Dump Valve

Australian Aviation Heritage Centre
557 Stuart Hwy, Winnellie NT 0820
(08) 8947 2145

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2018 Rolex Formula 1 Grand Prix F/A-18A Hornet Display.

Sunday the 25th day of March 2018, presented itself with many opportunities.. one of those was  catching an UBER ride into the heartland of inner city Melbourne, and elevating to the ninth floor balcony of an apartment block which was allowed through word of a good friend of mine who threw a whisper in the wind about said location, and with his gracious intent,  speaking  on my behalf, and through negotiation, allowed my access .

With the blessing of it’s gracious owner of said apartment, welcoming myself, and camera equipment into his home, and ultimately my platform overlooking the Albert Park Lake Formula One Grand Prix Circuit, I was overwhelmed with the view I was given.  Before long the RAAF  Roulettes crack aerobatic team had vacated show center leaving the airspace over Albert Park open to the numerous Helicopter’s employed by various news agencies to start hovering and circling the track once again.

So without further interruption, may I announce, the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet, belonging to Number  2 Operational Conversion Unit, located at Williamtown Air Force Base.


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HMAS Cerberus Open Day 2016

Sunday  the 23rd of October 2016, saw myself leaving my flat in Ascot Vale in the early hours of the morning for the long drive across town towards Western Port Bay, around an hour and a half drive or so heading in a south easterly direction.   Heading across town can be difficult on a good day, but being the weekend it wasn’t as heavy as usual so my timing was pretty spot on, or so I thought!

I was headed to HMAS Cerberus, a Royal Australian Navy Base that serves as the primary training establishment for RAN personnel, which is located adjacent to Crib Point on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. With approximately 6000 personnel trained annually, which roughly equates to an average of 600 trainees at any one time, this makes for one busy base.  HMAS Cerberus from the outside looking in looks big, and for good reason as the base itself  covers 1517 hectares and is 70 kilometers from Melbourne on Hann’s Inlet, Western Port Bay.   The base was originally purchased in 1911 and called Flinders Naval Depot, and  was  officially commissioned in 1921.

I’d only heard about the Open Day a few day’s earlier from a post on a facebook page, so was keen to head down after having a glance at the program of events that where planned for the day, and to visit this establishment that I’ve always had an interest in, but never had the chance until now.   As expected I did take the wrong turn and ended up on the wrong side of the base trying to gain entry, with the local recruits advising myself and many other’s on which road to travel down to enter the grounds.  This all seemed fine until every road that led to HMAS Cerberus became one, and that’s were the long queue to get in started.   Half an hour or so later the long line of vehicles started to slowly move and before long, I had been marshalled to my car park and the adventure began.

 One thing I will mention is how picturesque  HMAS Cerberus is, with it’s heritage listed buildings and vast landscapes, it truly is a beautiful part of Victoria and it’s coastline, and well worth the visit if you have the opportunity to do so.  HMAS Cerberus main business is specifically Naval based training, which  includes School of Survivability and Ship Safety, that specialises in firefighting, damage control and nuclear biological chemical defence, seamanship and weapons training also the home of the Recruit School which, for all sailors, their first contact with life in the Navy.

I won’t lie to you and say I was only there to witness the going’s on of young recruits, and question them on  their decision to enter the military..no, I was there for the airshow and military hardware on display.  Yes, whenever these Open day’s are held, one must make the effort, if possible, to go and be entertained by the Men and Women of the Australian Defence Force that provide our protection, and in turn learn and take in, what it is they actually do, which is very humbling, and very cool having the opportunity to do so as a member of the Australian public.

HMAS Cerberus has for the past decade or so become a tri-service training establishment that caters for the Army and Air Force also.  With a wide range of training on hand, recruits can find themselves  upon graduation from recruit school promoted to Seaman Star and undertake training at their respective category school.

Recruits will, with their respective future careers find themselves being schooled at the many faculty’s on base, such as the School of Ships Safety and Survivability, Engineering Faculty, Defence Force School of Signals, Supply and Health Faculty, and the School of Music.  One thing I did notice whilst walking around this vast Naval Base was how clean and well presented it was, and although it was the weekend, the members of the RAN and ADF alike, where more than happy to have the public inspect their premises, which made the whole experience that much more enjoyable.

Making a bee line for the parade ground upon seeing the Sikorksy S70B-2 Seahawk, and MRH-90 Taipan Helicopters on static display, I was very excited and proceeded to get my video camera out and start filming.  Although there were hundreds of people about, it was very relaxed, and crews from both squadron’s where on hand to answer any questions about their Helicopters.  Before long, the soothing sound of a radial engine was in the air with the presence of Judy Pay’s T-28 Trojan putting on a display for the gathered crowd.  

After having a stroll around the base that was accessible to the public, and viewing some of the many ground displays it was great to see so many people had taken the time to visit the base, with many gathering around the local community groups stands that where selling food and refreshments, and was pleasantly surprised to see an open bar which I stopped at quickly to replace lost fluids. 

Things where getting busy around the Sikorsky S70B-2 Seahawk from 816 Squadron, with the ground crew from HMAS Albatross giving the aircraft a pre- flight inspection prior to it’s fast roping display, which I didn’t capture properly due to my location, although managed to be in the right spot for its wet winching demonstration which you’ll see in the video below.  

The NHIndustries MRH-90 Taipan from 808 Squadron also flew, and was open for inspection for the many curious onlookers that had made their way to view this newest addition to the fleet during the course of the day.

Amongst the many attractions that where taking place during the day, the Federation Guard made up of RAAF, RAN and Army personnel put on a fantastic display of precision marching that drew large crowds when they performed.  As HMAS Cerberus is situated close to Phillip Island, it was a great thrill to have an RAAF F/A-18 Hornet perform a flypast on its way to the MotoGP that was being held over the same weekend. 

In summary I would highly recommend visiting HMAS Cerberus if the chance presents itself, as there is much to see and do. The following video is a compilation of the many highlights during the open day.


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2017 Rolex Formula 1 Grand Prix Albert Park

Sunday March 26 witnessed the running of the ROLEX Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix which was held at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit.
For many this is an enthusiast’s dream, whether it be on the track, or in the sky, there is plenty of variety to satisfy all over the three day event.
The Royal Australian Air Force as always provides the aerial entertainment for the masses, and the 2017 event didn’t disappoint, with proceeding’s starting with the RAAF’s crack Aerobatic team “The Roulettes”, flying their Swiss made Pilatus P-C9A aircraft, dazzling the crowd with their formation aerobatics, showing skill and precision.
Next up was a first for the Albert Park Grand Prix circuit and crowds alike, with the RAAF’s Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet from 1 Squadron, making it’s debut this weekend as the fast jet component to this years display, as previous years had the F/A-18A ‘classic’ Hornet doing the honor’s, so it was very exciting to have the Super Hornet demonstrating it’s ability over the Melbourne skyline, and it didn’t disappoint with many impressed with it’s handling display.
The final flypast before the big race on Sunday was from 36 Squadron who fly the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III, which again wowed the crowd with it’s low flypast and nimble handling characteristic’s, very impressive for such a large aircraft.

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Mass Launch Airside Exercise Pitch Black 2016

Morning Launch of the first wave
Exercise Pitch Black 2016
Date- Thursday, August 11 2016
Where- RAAF Base Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia
Location- Airside,  Flight Operations.
Storyteller- Mark Pourzenic

Having the opportunity as a videographer and part of the team which is, Aviation Spotters Online, there are certain instances when something as big as Exercise Pitch Black, which is held every two years in Australia’s Northern Territory, that as a keen plane spotter and military aviation enthusiast you make an effort to attend and to experience essentially what is, the greatest collection of military aircraft in any one place and time, in the country.
Aviation Spotters Online were very fortunate to be granted access as part of the Air Force’s media embedded team, which under controlled supervision, was given the chance to witness certain activities and operations during ExPB16.

Mark Pourzenic capturing the action airside.
Mark Pourzenic capturing the action airside.

One memory that will stick in my mind was the opportunity for a ringside seat along RAAF Base Darwin’s main runway, to be present for the day’s launch of the first wave of aircraft participating in Exercise Pitch Black 2016.
Now being a video guy, my line will always be different to those of you that take stills, and as you’ll see from the clip that accompanies this story, it isn’t as easy as it looks.
Every airfield comes with its own set of challenge’s, from accessibility, direction of the sun, fences and so forth.
Having the privilege provided to us by the Royal Australian Air Force, with our media contingent bused down to a prime spot along the runway, the sun on our backs, and given ten minutes to set up before the first aircraft where taxiing out for departure, the only thought going through my mind at this stage, was where can I set up my camera to maximize my position, and to keep a flow so that my scenes or clips will work once I start my editing process.
Another factor that we face as videographers/photographers is we all must endure each other.   Whether it be our lenses or cameras that get in the way, to the person that always takes one or two steps too many, to be the one that grabs that elusive shot, and by doing so, may ruin it for others, but at the end of the day, you must be prepared, and need to overcome this scenario.
So one thing I’ve learnt over the years is that you need to film and edit at the same time. Sounds strange doesn’t it? Well yes, and there’s a reason.  So going back to location, and seeing as we’re along Darwin’s main runway the thing that must be remembered is how much of each take off do you want to see, and more importantly, how others will view your work, and will they become bored.

RAAF F/A-18A Hornet A21-49 77SQN launching into action.
RAAF F/A-18A Hornet A21-49 77SQN launching into action.

Another important factor when setting up for a mass launch, or any shot for that matter, is to use a tripod.  Now the reason a tripod is so critical is it allows you to set up your shot, from the top of the runway, through to your pan shot, and your exit, all the while working at keeping a fluid motion, which allows each scene to become seamless once in the editing stage.

USAF F-16CM "Wild Weasel" 14th Fighter Squadron
USAF F-16CM “Wild Weasel” 14th Fighter Squadron

Once you’ve got yourself set up and you’re happy with your camera’s settings, the next thing to do is wait for the aircraft to start rolling, and being witness to the Thursday morning’s mass launch, was one of sheer happiness and excitement, being only metres away from F-15’s, F-16’s, Super Hornets and so forth.  One can easily get carried away paying too much attention to the aircraft they’re filming on the exit, as before you know it, the second aircraft that is part of the mass launch is already wheels up before you’ve swung your camera back around to catch it.

RSAF F-15SG "The Fighting Shirkas" 149th Squadron.
RSAF F-15SG “The Fighting Shirkas” 149th Squadron.

What I prefer to do is once the first jet has launched, count to three, then turn the camera back around to the next departing aircraft and so forth, until the last of the bunch has rotated before filming that little bit longer on the last departure to capture the sequence.  When there’s over twenty or more aircraft taking off in such rapid succession , one can easily be overwhelmed, and get locked into the one setting, or stay too ‘zoomed in’ so to speak.   It’s always good to pan back and always show some perspective as to where you’re filming from, because at the end of the day, other people will watch your work and probably want to see it also.

RTAF F-16B (MLU) 403 Squadron.
RTAF F-16B (MLU) 403 Squadron.

At times filming can go wrong, and more often than not it does, but one thing to always remember is to have fun doing it, that’s the reason why we’re all out there in the first place, is keeping our passions alive and a smile whilst doing it.

RAAF F/A-18F Super Hornet A44-212 1Squadron
RAAF F/A-18F Super Hornet A44-212 1Squadron

Although at the time it was hot and there wasn’t any shade and with sweat running down my face, being witness to the mass launch that close to the runway is a memory that will stay with me for a very long time.  Hopefully what you’ve read here shows in my footage and you enjoy watching as much as I enjoyed filming!

Again I’d like to thank the RAAF media team for providing this amazing opportunity.


Mark Pourzenic

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