Aviation Spotters Online

Aviation Spotters Online

All posts by Sid Mitchell

Donghai Airlines – Shenzhen to Darwin, a new destination for air travellers.

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Chinese carrier Donghai Airlines in partnership with Darwin International Airport, has launched its inaugural passenger service to Australia, with the arrival of  the colourful B-7100. As of Wednesday May 30th 2018, Donghai Airlines is operating it’s Boeing 737-800 aircraft on the Shenzhen – Darwin route, currently a twice weekly schedule.


Donghai Airlines is based at Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport in Guangdong, China, and Darwin will be the third international destination for the airline after both their Thailand and Vietnam destinations.

Established in 2002 as Shenzhen Jiehui Freight Aviation Co., Ltd. it wasn’t until September 2006 that Donghai Airlines commenced commercial flights as a domestic cargo operator. The following year they were issued an international cargo charter licence to destinations such as Dhaka, Osaka and Seoul. In March 2014, Donghai operated it’s first passenger flight and during 2015 concentrated on transitioning from cargo freight to predominantly passenger services. By late 2016 they had been granted permission to operate as an international passenger transportation business.

As of February 2014, the airline had signed several contracts with Boeing to supply 25 Boeing 737-800 aircraft and in 2016, Donghai Airlines and Boeing also signed up the intention to purchase 25 737 MAX8 and 5 787- 9 passenger aircraft.

second flight arrival.
Second flight arrival.

Logo interpretation – Nine color seagull – Seagulls, the sea elf, are symbols of courage, wisdom, and tenacity. The nine wavy gulls, shaped like wings of seagulls, are riding the wind and waves on each tail and winglet.

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Initial services between the cities will be provided by one of the current 18 Boeing 737-800 aircraft, although Yang Jianhong, Chief Executive Officer of Donghai Airlines, has indicated that the aircraft will be upgraded to the newer Boeing 737-MAX 8 some time in the future.

Darwin International Airport logo
Darwin Airport

In a press release early April, NT Airports CEO Ian Kew, said the new air link between Darwin and China would create over 35,000 airline seats directly into the market – “Uniquely, Donghai Airlines will be the only airline from China to serve Australia with a Boeing 737- 800 aircraft, providing a more cost effective and economically efficient aircraft that will enable very competitive fares to be offered,” Mr Kew said.

Arrivals hall preperations after passenger immigration.

Northern Territory Chief Minister, Michael Gunner also praised the new connection and it’s econimic benefits to the Top End – “We know that travellers from China spend more on average than other visitors so it is an important and lucrative market. We are already attracting 18,000 Chinese visitors annually and this new direct flight will allow us to meet, and well and truly exceed, our target of 30,000 visitors from China by 2020. Shenzhen, with a population of more than 14 million people, is considered China’s ‘Silicon Valley’, so there is also enormous potential to establish new business and trade links.”

On each Wednesday and Sunday passengers will see flight DZ6223 Shenzhen (SZX) to Darwin (DRW) and a return flight DZ6224 from Darwin to Shenzhen, scheduled to operate along the route.

Arrivals board
On it’s way

The inaugural flight EPA/DZ6223 left Shenzhen Boa’an International airport at 0140CST 30th of May 2018 and after a 5:40min flight, touched down in Darwin at 0850 ASCT.

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Flight DZ6223 about to touch down for the first time in Darwin.

I was priviledged to be invited to the arrival by Darwin Airport and again be given access airside to capture the arrival from near to the runway. Riding with Bob in one of Darwin International Airport’s safety vehicles, we drove out and parked ready to watch the arriving aircraft land, and then taxi from runway 11 to the International Terminal – Gate 2.

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B-7100 touching down on Runway 11, Darwin, N.T
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Braking on Darwin’s 3,354m runway.
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Taxi to the gate

In a long standing tradition dedicated to special occasions, Airservices Aviation Rescue Fire Fighters (ARFF) positioned two of their Rosenbauer ARFF vehicles either side of the taxiway ready to create a water cannon salute for the aircraft to pass through.

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ARFF Tenders opening up the monitors
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DZ6223 passing under the arch

With company representatives, public and the media watching on, Donghai Airlines B-7100 taxied through the welcome arch and on to Gate 2 at Darwin International Airport. Interestingly Bob tells me that the Gate 1 and 5  CIMC Tianda aerobridges were actually manufactured in Shenzhen and installed at Darwin some years ago…. another small link between the two cities.

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Through the wash
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Onto Gate 2

After parking and shutdown, the ground services teams spring into action transferring baggage, performing after flight services and replenishing consumeables for the return flight. Bob invites me to walk the apron around B-7100 as the ground staff move vehicles and equipment about the new arrival, performing their respective tasks.

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Ground crews into action
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B-7100 on Gate 2
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Dnata catering services vehicle positioning to lift
On the bay
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Passengers depart DZ6223 for the immigration lounge

We leave the B737 on the bay but it will soon be relocated off the international gates until nearing it’s return flight, DZ6224, departure time of 9:45p.m. We return inside to wait as the passengers and crew transit through immigration heading towards a large welcome in the main terminal passenger hall. 

arrivals board after
Promotion on the flight status board

Representatives from Darwin International Airport, Donghai Airlines in Australia, the N.T Government, the Chinese Community plus local business Crocodylus Park had put on a welcoming show not often seen at the airport.  

Chief Minister Michael Gunner welcomed some passengers to the Northern Territory, while friends and relatives were waiting, as the flight was a mix of family members, first time visitors, business folk and even a Hong Kong movie star. Slowly the steady trickle of travellers began to pick up coming out of the immigration lounge.

Handing out the NT News
nt news
NT News 30May2018

Traditional musicians were playing percussion music as officials waited for executives of Donghai Airlines to emerge. A traditional Lion dance was being performed by the Chung Wah Society Lion Dance Troupe in sync with the music, weaving their way through the onlookers, which only added to the atmosphere of this special occasion.

traditional musicians
Musical welcomes
Lion dance performers

Eventually Donghai Airlines chairman Mr.Wong Cho-Bau and Donghai Airlines Chief Executive Officer Yang Jianhong emerged and were welcomed by the Cheif Minister and other representatives such as Tourism Minister Lauren Moss, returning to Australia on the flight, Darwin Airport and local companies. The welcome even included a pair of juvenile crocodiles being presented by staff at well known local attraction, Crocodylus Park.

dragon dance and welcome
Welcome to Darwin
CEO croc presentation
Mr Wong Cho-Bau meets some local inhabitants

With the Lion Dance completed it was time for some welcome speeches and with translators assisting in the proceedings, the Shenzhen- Darwin and Donghai-Darwin Airport partnership was again announced to the watching crowd, and that future partneships Mr Gunner said he believed the Territory was up to the challenge of giving Chinese tourists a memorable experience.

Dragon dancers
Crew mingling with passengers

Eventually the proceedings are wrapped up – and the crew passed through the crowd as passengers moved off to find their transport into the city. Many have planned some time exploring Darwin and it’s attractions and Darwin can look forward to some additional tourists choosing the Northern Territory as a travel destination. As Tourism Minister Ms Moss said earlier, “There are 18 million people in Shenzhen and tapping into them and others beyond is what lays ahead, I’ve said all along our goal is 30,000 by 2020 and from discussions I’ve had while in Shenzhen, I am confident we can achieve it.”

With the loss of a couple of airlines stopping at Darwin recently, it will be good to start to filling that gap again with what are termed – short-haul travellers. Donghai Airlines looks very capable of filling that void as the flight is only 5 and a half hours long…. either way. Certainly a destination for Darwin residents to consider also.

Mixing of cultures

I would again like to thank Bob the N.T Airports Aerodrome Safety & Standards Manager for escorting me airside and Jill from NT Airports Communications & Media for arranging my visit, much appreciated.

Cheers Sid

second flight arrival.

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Mallard on the Harbour – Paspaley Pearling Company Grumman G-73AT

If you have ever spent some time in Darwin since the 1990’s, you might have seen the occasional Grumman Mallard coming and going from Darwin International Airport. If you recently happened to be down at the Darwin Wharf Precinct or on Stokes Hill Wharf then you may have seen one of these classic amphibious aircraft operating on Darwin Harbour.

VH-PPI on final into Darwin, Northern Territory.
VH-PPI preparing for night operations – Darwin.

Iconic Australian South Seas pearling company, Paspaley Pearling Company, operates a fleet of three Grumman G-73AT Mallards from it’s hangars at Darwin International Airport, servicing their Kimberley based pearling operations. I was fortunate to be invited aboard one of their Mallards to experience a unique aspect of Australian aviation – the world of amphibious aircraft operations.

Gruman Mallard VH-PPE in it’s element.

Arriving at the Mallard hanger at the general aviation area of Darwin Airport, I was met by Daniel, a Mallard first officer at Paspaley Pearling Co who had arranged for my visit. We wandered in to the hangar where VH-PPE was up on jacks undertaking some maintenance – nose wheel and doors removed, engine access panels open, as were numerous other panels and lower belly sheeting. As with all amphibious aircraft, sealing, corrosion, lubrication of moving components is a never ending maintenance task, especially those that operate in salt water environments. 

VH-PPE under going maintenance in the Paspaley hangar.

A little history around the Grumman G-73 Mallard – originally designed in 1944 Grumman built 59 aircraft between 1946 and 1951. The G-73 was a step up from the smaller Goose and Widgeon aircraft having a larger passenger capacity, additional fuel in wingtip tanks, a double stepped hull, fully stressed skin and tricycle undercarriage. Although the Mallard was initially expected to serve in small harbour based airlines, it’s major operations extended into the corporate and private sector, providing a level of luxury air travel for those that preferred an amphibious option to their flying destinations.

Powered by the Pratt and Whitney R-1340 radial, the Mallard soon established itself as a reliable, stable, strongly constructed aircraft and was liked by all that flew her. During the 1960’s the idea of re-engineering the aircraft produced the modified Frakes G-73T Turbo Mallard, powered by the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6.

The Paspaley Pearling Co fleet of Grumman G-73AT Mallards.

In a further model development the three Grumman Mallards of Paspaley based in Darwin underwent the Pearl-Aviation G-73AT Turbo Mallard program at approximately $5 Million which saw a renewing of the airframe life and installation of new engine nacelles housing PT6A-34 turbines, plus the associated engine instrumentation. The new turbines also drive 4 blade Hartzell propellors which improve performance of the aircraft both on water and when airborne. Additional modifications are constantly being implemented by Paspaley such as updated avionics and navigation systems.

Original airframe serial numbers J22, J23 and J26 are now registered to Paspaley Pearling Company as VH-PPE, VH-PPI and VH-PPT,  all having been constructed in 1947. Not bad for a 70 year old aircraft that still has parts available, others that can be refurbished and with an ongoing inspection and maintenance program, has a long airframe life ahead. Waiting out on the apron was our ride for the day, VH-PPT, the youngest (by only months) of the three aircraft.

Wet weather – not a problem.

After meeting Andrew, Pete, Taiki, also chief and line pilots at Paspaley hangar, we climbed aboard PPT to perform a short taxi to the Pearl Jet Centre. The interior is surprizingly spacious and is two-tone cream and light grey with the cloth seating finished in a dark blue and the Paspaley Pearl logo on the headrest cover – quite nice considering a fair amount of the operations involve flying employees to and from the Kimberley locations. The normal seating capacity is 13 in a 2-1 and 1-2 arrangement, plus two crew of course.

Mallard interior furnishings – 13 seats plus two crew.
The Mallard safety placard.

After I get seated, Daniel goes through the safety brief and offers me a headset to listen in on procedings. Andrew and Daniel get seated up front and I listen in on them stepping through their checklists. With the all clear they start first the starboard then port turbines, after which Bob removes the auxiliary battery cart cable so we are good to go.

Aux battery disconnected
PT6A-34 turbine and 4 blade prop – part of the Paspaley upgrade.

With land taxi checklist completed we taxied out to the parking bay where each turbine is wound up and checked before we continue on around to the Jet Centre.

Cranking up the port PT6A-34.
Taxi via the parking bay.

We are marshalled into parking by Jess to pick up some additional Paspaley employees including General Manager, Tony, Jenna the Commercial Development and Operations Manager – red carpet treatment is standard at Pearl. While waiting I find out that the pilots have quite varying flying backgrounds, some have previous floatplane or amphibian type experience and some undertake conversion to Mallards here in Darwin. A lot of float and amphibian pilots gain valuable experience in Canada or the US/Alaska region where these types of aircraft are more prevalent.

Marshalled into the Pearl Jet Centre.
The red carpet treatment…but not for me.

With a few minutes before we depart, I look into the cockpit and see the obvious changes to the instrument panel. Gone are most of the original gauges, replaced by modern instrumentation including the vertical engine instrument cluster, what I did notice was what looked like the original combined flap-position/undercarriage indicator – a touch of functional nostalgia, why not? Centre stage is the Garmin multifunctional navigation display which I saw the guys use to tick off the various checklists.

Modern take on a classic instrument panel
Checklist tick-offs

IPad/Tablets on each control column yoke are often the standard these days, but it was also great to see the overhead panel was looking quite authentic. This panel houses electrical controls, engine fuel selectors and gauges, plus the underslung throttle/pitch quadrant levers.

Overhead panel

One of those quirky features of the Mallard is located behind the copilot’s smaller rudder pedals – the access passage to the forward compartment. This is where Daniel will later crawl to open the front deck hatch which will allow him to secure the mooring line.

Copilot position with forwad compartment access over the rudder pedals.

With Andrew and Daniel up front going through the engine pre-start checklist again, Pete was busy answering questions about the Mallards for us first timers as we taxied out for a Runway 11 departure. After a short roll VH-PPT climbed out for a left turn to follow the coast at around 1000′ heading for our Darwin Harbour landing.

Main gear starting to retract
Climb out of Darwin

Soon we would be landing next to the cruise ship Radiance of the Seas docked at the Darwin Cruise Ship Terminal. Today we were checking the logistics in picking up passengers from a cruise ship, transferring them to and from a Mallard by tender, departing and returning to the harbour after a scenic flight, and back to the wharf (ship) by tender.

As we reduced altitude I could see Brad in the Paspaley tender powering out past the cruise ship to the mooring point a few hundred metres offshore. 

Brad powering out past The Raidiance of the Seas to meet us.

After a final descending turn into wind, VH-PPT gracefully touched down on the green waters of Darwin Harbour. It was interesting to hear the communications on the radio – needing to talk with both Darwin Tower and Darwin Harbour Control to co-ordinate the takeoff and landings with aircraft and waterborne traffic hazards. Having never been in an amphibian aircraft before I was quite surprised how quiet and smooth the landing was – some initial bumps and noise from the hull but that soon reduced to just the hiss of water being sprayed out with the turbines in the background.

A distinct profile from 20′ up.
Coming off the plane.

As we were required to disembark from the port side, Andrew cut the port engine while Daniel went to the rear and opened up the passenger door and assisted Brad bring the tender along side. It’s not often that you hear the term ‘bilge pump on’ used in an aircraft, however it seem quite appropriate for a Mallard.

Slow taxi to passenger transfer position.

Donning life preservers all passengers alighted to the tender for the short trip into the wharf where they were to visit the Darwin Cruise Ship Terminal. For me it was a chance to go back out on the water and take some photos of PPT taking off and landing across the bows of the Radiance of the Seas.

Reversing out – watching our heads on the tailplane.

Brad positioned us near the mooring point and we watched the guys taxi the Mallard downwind past the liner. A quick 180 degree turn into wind and they soon had the PT6A-34 turbines wound up and VH-PPT on the plane, lifting off with the Darwin CBD in the background.

Taxi past the waterfront.
Past the bow.

A quick circuit of the harbour and they were lined up for the approach and landing. Watched by some passengers aboard the ship, the Mallard touched down on the silver waters, flaring and finally slowing to a few knots taxi speed.

Back from the circuit.
To the mooring
Grumman Mallard VH-PPT

As the aircraft was to be moored for a while, the guys were to tie up to the mooring point and soon had the Mallard closing in on a float. Daniel had climbed through the access under the co-pilot dash after raising the rudder pedals, and into the forward compartment to open the front hatch.

Daniel ready to recover the float.

While Andrew manipulated the throttle/pitch controls to combat the outgoing tide and incoming breeze, Daniel armed with a boathook, retrieved the float and tied off PPT. Naturally the Mallard crews are not just aviators but have to take on the role of mariners at times.

‘Got it’

They made it look so easy but with all the practice they have over in the Kimberley bases securing up to pontoons and buoys it wasn’t surprising how quickly they had moored VH-PPT. I noticed the main undercarriage extended and Daniel explained later that it helps with handling by creating some drag. The hull is very ‘slippery’ and the exhaust from the PT6A-34 turbines actually creates some forward trust, even with the props feathered, so a little extra drag is an advantage on the water.

Retracting the mains while tying off to the mooring.

The Paspaley crew climbed aboard the tender and with passenger door left open to ventilate, we headed off to the wharf leaving the aircraft to swing on the mooring. After a stroll through the arrival hall in the Darwin Cruise Ship Terminal and seeing all the tourists heading into Darwin on various tours to do some shopping, it was time for a leisurely cruise back to the aircraft. With some time to spare it was decide VH-PPT would perform a last taxi past the cruise liner for a photo opportunity before I had to jump aboard.

Props clear
Radiance of the Seas and VH-PPT

Leaving Brad to take the tender back ashore, it was just myself and the Paspaley team to take the short flight back to Darwin Airport. We performed a final downwind taxi past the Radiance of the Seas and tuned into wind.

Our water taxi for the day.

This flight I had a different seat and as we taxied I could see the definite drag affect the mains had before they were retracted for take-off. A quick thumbs up from Andrew and we were away.

“Everyone right?.. here we go”

Take off was pretty much the opposite experience of landing, except with a little more noise from the PT6A turbines. I watched the wake dissipate through the window (porthole?) as we rose onto the plane and with one or two bumps were airborne once again. I fly quite often and the one thing I did notice this time was the absence of  bumps or clunks from the undercarriage stowing away. I guess thats floatplanes for you.

Taxi for takeoff.
Window with a view.

A swing of about 270deg around to the left and the guys had us almost lined up on the shorter Runway 36 – gear down, flaps and soon after crossing the Stuart Hiway we touched down and rolled out. A bit of a roundabout taxi to the Mallard hangar due to some ground traffic and we parked on the spot from which we departed earlier.

Homeward bound.

Wandering back through the hanger I see VH-PPE with parts removed and panels open everywhere. Pete had earlier explained the aircraft are removed from service for 100 Hourly maintenance – and of course major maintenances are performed over longer timeframes. Each time the aircraft is thoroughly inspected for corrosion and in the case of PPE, was having some lower hull skins replaced with the maintenance guys doing their utmost to have her ready to take to the air again as scheduled.

The Grumman G-73AT Mallard in it’s element.

With a final thanks to Daniel and Jenna for organising the day, I depart thinking “well…that really was a unique way to spend a morning”. Although a good part of my day was looking through a lens, going over the pics I see minor details I missed that I might have seen if I was just along for the ride, ahh well, maybe next time.

So is it a better vessel or aircraft? – I guess Grumman got the mix right back in the 40’s, as it seems to be just at ease in both environments. As for looks, well, personally I think the Mallard has classic lines that will endear pilots and passengers for many years to come…. I know the folks at Paspaley are pretty chuffed with them.

And for those that have never flown in an amphibian, if you ever do get the opportunity, take it, for it is so much different to your regular flying experience. 

A big thanks must go to Paspaley Pearling Company, Daniel, Andrew,Pete, Jenna, Brad and Taiki for humouring me all morning – so until next time.





Thumbs up for go

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SilkAir’s Boeing 737 MAX 8 slips into Darwin


On Sunday 7th January 2018 the Top End monsoon wasn’t enough to dampen the arrival of SilkAir’s inaugural Boeing B737 MAX 8 passenger service to Australia. The event opens a new chapter in the ongoing 6th year partnership between SilkAir – The Regional Wing of Singapore Airlines, and Darwin International Airport in the Northern Territory, Australia.

Although the Singapore – Darwin service isn’t new, the aircraft type certainly is, as SilkAir now operates three Boeing 737 MAX 8’s  in their fleet, 9V-MBA, 9V-MBB and todays visitor, 9V-MBC. However SilkAir will also be adding a further two services from Singapore’s Changi International Airport bringing it to six per week.


SilkAir 801 departed Gate E20, Terminal 2 at Changi International Airport, lifting off at 0856 local time on it’s 4H 40min flight of 3,345km to Darwin, cruising most of the journey at about 850km/h at an altitude of 10,680m.

SilkAir 801 about to touchdown in Darwin.
Thrust reversers in action.

Touching down in Darwin on a damp Runway 29 at 2:36pm local time, during a well timed break in the rain, 9V-MBC as Silkair 801 (MI801), greeted the viewing public with a spray of water as the crew applied thrust reversers of the new LEAP-1B engines. The MAX 8 slowed and exited the runway via B2 and taxied towards the terminal apron.

Damp arrival of B737 MAX 8 9V-MBC.
Taxi on B2

As on other special occasions, a water salute had been arranged by the airport authorities to greet SLK801 as it taxied to Bay 3 at the Darwin International Terminal.

Tender 1 – Rosenbauer Panther.
Tender 2 – another Airservices ARFF Rosenbauer Panther.

ARFF Tenders 1 and 3, a pair of Air Services Rosenbauer Panther fire trucks from Darwin’s Aviation Rescue Fire Service, had pre positioned themselves and opened up their monitors creating an crossing arc of water for the aircraft to slowly taxi through. A great job by the ARFF teams considering only 15 minutes earlier they had been responding to an alarm elsewhere at the airport.

Welcome to Darwin International Airport.
9V-MBC exiting the satute.

Once past the water salute, Captain Salazar picked up the ground handling team waiting at Bay 3, who proceded to manually marshal the aircraft into its final parking position at the airbridge. Normally the aircraft taxi/parking indicators are provided automatically up in the bay, but for today’s special occasion, manual guidance into position was chosen.

Marshalled into Bay 3.

With nosewheel chocks in place, ground comunications to the cockpit is made and final parking procedures performed – main landing gear chocks in position and airbridge connection made before the entrance cabin door is opened.

Ground communications.
Main LDG chocks in.

While the flight crew and passengers proceeded with disembarking to the international lounge and customs area, service crews began their individual tasks both inside and outside the aircraft, aiming to have it turned around ready for the return flight to Singapore.

Let the turnaround begin.

Most passengers never see all the activity that occurs in and around the aircraft while they sit inside the terminal waiting to board their flights. Darwin Airport does offer a number of great viewing areas to observe the activity, from the Dome cafe and Hector’s bar, to the seating area near Gate 4. And to help celebrate today’s arrival, local radio station MIX 104.9 FM has been running a competition promoting Silk Air and it’s many destinations – the team had set up and were broadcasting from the upper level of the Terminal.

The team from MIX 104.9 FM having a ball.

Back downstairs functions such as baggage handling, catering services, aircraft inspection to refueling and ablutions – all need to be performed to meet the next scheduled flight. I was able to observe these activities at ground level today thanks to Bob, the Aerodrome Safety & Standards Manager at Northern Territory Airports Pty Ltd, who escorted me airside for the arrival. Bob has been at the airport for two decades and has an enormous amount of aviation knowledge about the Top End.

Essential fluids.
Final baggage unloading.
The distinct trailing edge chevrons help reduce noise.

We walked around the bay as the groundcrew performed their tasks, which also allowed me to take some photo’s from a vantage point I don’t see very often. The B737 MAX 8 has a few subtle differences from the standard 737, sitting slightly higher at the front and Bob also pointed out the extra dimension of the downward facing winglets that could catch an unwary driver.

B737 MAX 8 Winglets

Once finished we left the apron and arrived inside the terminal so see the end of Silk Air’s welcome ceremony. Mr Foo Chai Woo, the Cheif Executive of SilkAir, acting Minister for NT Tourism, Eva Lawler and acting CEO of Darwin Internantional Airport, Tom Ganley were all on hand to close the celebration with a cake cutting ceremony.

Mr Foo Chai Woo, the Cheif Executive of SilkAir speaking about the new services and aircraft.

Earlier Mr Foo Chai Woo had said, “We are thrilled to be introducing the new Boeing 737 MAX 8 to Australia. Given we recently celebrated our 5th Anniversary of flights to the Northern Territory capital, Darwin is the perfect choice to host the arrival of the inaugural MAX 8 flight into Australia.”

Celebratory cake.

After several desk models of the B737 Max 8 painted in the SilkAir livery are presented by Mr Foo Chai Woo, Jill, from NT Airports Communications & Media Office explains we have been invited go aboard MI801 and take some photographs. 

Some desktop B737 Max 8 presentations – both wood and perspex in the SilkAir livery.

This version of the B737 is configured as 12/144 – that is, 12 Enhanced Business Class seats and 144 Economy Class seats. What is apparent when entering the MAX 8 cabin is the extra room. Business class seating has an increase of 25% in seat spacing – from 990mm to 1245mm and the seats recline and extra 330mm for increased passenger comfort, plus have additional personal item storage pockets. Business Class also is treated with freshly brewed gourmet coffee from Illycafe.

Business Class – row 1.
Smiles all around.

Both Business and Economy seats are provided with USB charging ports and the SilkAir Studios in-flight wireless system has been upgraded to provide an improved entertainment streaming package to passenger’s own devices.

Two tone fabric upholstered sesting in Economy cabin.

While viewing the main cabin there was a subtle lighting change that transitioned from cool blues to warmer sunset hues – it was explained that the LED lighting can enhance the ambience and makes for a more enjoyable flying experience in conjunction with the new dual colour scheme of the fabric upholstery.

Cool blues.
Warm LED lighting to match the time of day.

As the return flight passengers were almost ready to board for MI802, our time was up and we moved down to the tarmac – the opportunity to take some ground level photo’s presented itself again as the he ground crew disconnected the tug and bar, so that the Business partners could be photographed holding the Welcome to Darwin Silk Air banner, with 9V-MBC as a fitting backdrop.

Unfurling the banner by executives – a last photo op before departure.

As the rain started to spit we left the apron for the dry terminal interior and proceded to hand our security passes back. I thanked Bob and Jill for their time and said I looked forward to seeing the MAX 8 back in Darwin soon. With two extra flights to Darwin we can expect even more Singaporean visitors to the Northern Territory, and more Australian travellers heading to one of the largest airline hubs in S.E Asia.

Today’s welcome message on what is normally the flight status board.

I figured I had just enough time to catch 9V-MBC from the end of the runway departing back to Changi Airport as I left the Terminal. SLK802/MI802 lifted off at 4:16pm, 1hr 40min after landing.

Departing as SLK802 to Changi.

Although this aircraft was not the first Boeing 737 MAX 8 to visit Darwin – Boeing’s own aircraft N8704Q was in the Northern Territory performing trials in January 2017, we will certainly be seeing a lot more of the Silk Air fleet in years to come.

I would like to thank Maria, Bob and Jill, the staff at Darwin International Airport and SilkAir for making this day possible and I look forward to the next visit. Darwin really is bit of a unique place and we do get some opportunities to catch a surprising variety of aircraft as they pass through.

Cheers…Sid Mitchell

Nikon D7100, 18-130mm, sandisk


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Bloodhounds freshen up – RAAF Base Darwin


I often drive past RAAF Base Darwin in the Northern Territory and recently noticed the ‘gate guards’, as they are affectionately called, appear to have had bit of a spruce up. Their last major refurbishment occurred back in 2013 so a polish of plaques and paint was a bit of welcomed attention I guess. Many who have lived in, worked in or visited Darwin may recognise these two unique historical icons.

Bloodhound RAAF Darwin
‘Sentinels’ No 7 & 8.

The two Ferranti Bristol Bloodhound Mk. 1 Surface-to-Air missiles, No 7 & 8 now located outside the old main gate, have a historical connection with the defence of Northern Australia. Both were operated as part of the Royal Australian Air Force​’s Number 30 Squadron – their roles specifically as Bloodhound SAM Detachment Flight “A”.

Bloodhound RAAF Darwin
Bloodhound Mk 1.

Originally re-formed and equipped with the Bloodhound Mk.1 at RAAF Williamtown in early 1961, No 30 Squadron and the detachment to Darwin operated for 8 years. It remains the only unit to operate a mid to high altitude Surface to Air missile system in the Royal Australian Air Force.

Bloodhound RAAF Darwin
No 7 – 2 x Thor Ramjets and 4 x  solid fuel boosters (jettisoned).

During the early 1960’s Konfronski (southern end) the almost defenceless nature of No 2 Control and Reporting Unit (2CRU) located in Darwin, N.T was exposed to potential enemy attacks by Tupolev Tu-16  Badgers.  Although the 2CRU radar site was provided with some limited short range L60 Bofor Anti Aircraft guns under Australian Army control, the then Minister of Defence approved the assignment of Bloodhound Detachment Flight “A” to Darwin in May 1965. This action was a stop gap measure during the ‘Konfronstki’ until the Mirage III0 was introduced in full numbers to the RAAF’s fighter squadrons.

Bloodhound RAAF Darwin
Twist and Steer – control surfaces.

Initially only 4 complete launcher and rounds (missiles) were installed with 3 spare rounds as backup. Later during December 1965, as part of Exercise High Rigel with the RAF Vulcan bombers – Darwin Air Defence Exercises (ADEX), RAAF C-130A Hercules would bring four more complete launchers from Williamtown. The missile establishment at full strength would finally consisted of 8 missile pads and their associated buildings being located at Lee Point, not far to the north of the RAAF Base. Most of the RAAF inventory was eventually located in the north – 8 of the available 12 missile launchers and 14 out of 24 live missile ’rounds’ in Australia.

Bloodhound RAAF Darwin
91 kg warhead with continuous-wave radar proximity fuse.

The Darwin based Bloodhounds had a short service life of only 3 years as this version had rapidly become outdated by new weapons technology and performance, and with the Dassault Mirage III being almost fully delivered and assigned the mid-high altitude defence role, by the end of 1968 the detachment and the remaining No 30 Squadron Bloodhounds were withdrawn and disbanded from service. During 1969 Bloodhounds No7 & 8 were relocated to their position outside the then RAAF Base Darwin main gate. 

Bloodhound RAAF Darwin
Hot and noisy end – fixed guide fins.

Up until the new entrance gate was built – visitors to RAAF Base Darwin have had to drive between the two missiles or park next to them while obtaining a visitor pass, before entering the base. Although there are a few other Bloodhound missiles located around Australia this pair have remained somewhat of an attraction for many years, with Darwin locals and visitors both inspecting and taking photo’s with now silent gate guards.

Bloodhound RAAF Darwin
No 8.

It is a credit to the restoration teams, both past and present, that have kept these two cold war ‘Sentinels’ preserved in such good condition so that they can represent an interesting and unique period of RAAF operational history. I hope they remain an interesting attraction in Darwin for years to come.

Bloodhound RAAF Darwin
2013 Restoration Team

Some Specifications of the Bristol Bloodhound Mk.1

Weight: 2270kg

Length: 8.5m

Thrust: 2× Bristol Siddley Thor Ramjets, 4× solid fuel boosters (jettison after Ramjets thrust exceeds SRB)

Max Speed: M2.2

Range: 190km

Warhead: 91kg continuous rod with annular blast fragmentation (buzzsaw)

Guidance and Tracking: Semi-active radar

Cheers… Sid Mitchell

Nikon D7100, 18-300mm sandisk memory card

Bloodhound RAAF Darwin

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Top End “Dog Fighting”- F-16’s and F-18’s team up at Exercise Elang AUSINDO 17

This week ASO was part of a small media group given access to RAAF Base Darwin in the Northern Territory to speak with Wing Commander Michael Grant, Commanding Officer of No 75 Squadron, about Exercise Elang AUSINDO 17. Visits to an OLA to view aircraft plus excursions to adjacent Runway 29 to watch jet departures and arrivals was also on offer.

Exercise Elang AUSINDO 17 is a bi-lateral exercise between the Indonesian Air Force, the TNI-AU, and the Royal Australian Air Force which is being held from 16 – 27 October based out of RAAF Base Darwin. The TNI-AU have brought F-16C Block 25 Falcons from 3rd Skadron Udara, Iswahjudi AB, East Java, while the RAAF has temporarily relocated some 75 Squadron F/A-18A Hornets from nearby RAAF Base Tindal. The exercise aims to increase interoperability between the two nations by developing skills in various Air Combat Manoeuvring (ACM) or ‘Dogfighting’ scenarios within designated training areas both off the coast, and over land in the N.T.

TNI-AU C-130H Hercules from 31 Skadron Udara delivering personnel and equipment for the deployment.
Arrival of F-16C from Indonesia.

Aircraft from the Indonesian Air Force began arriving early in the week with C-130H Hercules delivering personnel and equipment followed by the detachment F-16’s soon after.

TNI-AU F-16C flightline
F-16C’s from 3 Skadron Udara, TNI-AU on the flightline at RAAF Base Darwin.

Thursday at 9 a.m I joined the RAAF Public Relations Team at the front gate of RAAF Base Darwin and proceeded to the Military Hard Stand to meet Wing Commander Michael Grant, Commanding Officer of No 75 Squadron. WGCDR Grant is no stranger to meeting the local media and with a backdrop of TNI-AU F-16’s to set the mood, and us with our cameras at the ready, he welcomed us and began describing the purpose of Exercise Elang AUSINDO 17.

CO 75Sqn
Commanding Officer of the  75 Squadron welcomes media.

“We have brought 8 F/A-18’s up with us here to exercise with the Indonesian Air Force who have brought seven F-16’s to this exercise. The aim of the exercise is really two fold. The first is for international engagement between Australia and Indonesia. That is at the personnel and organisational level, developing those relationships as best we can to ensure that should we ever need to operate together in due course, that the fundamental links are in place if and when that time arrives.
The other side which the public is more aware of, is the flying side, and we will see plenty of that. We are operating together, integrating together in co-ordinated missions to not only learn about each others capabilities, but also share some tactics to make us a stronger package when we do operate together”

Hornet A21-44 from 75 Sqn arriving RAAF Darwin

“The exercise consist of a building block approach which which is pretty standard for joint exercises. It will start with basic fighter manoeuvring which we’re doing this week – which will typically be one on one ‘dogfighting’ if you like, where one F-18 will fight against one F-16. We will increase that to one F-18 against two -16’s or one F-16 against two F-18’s to really challenge our aircrew this week.”

CO 75 Sqn
WGCDR Grant explains what Exercise Elang AUSINDO 17 is all about.

WGCDR Grant goes on to say most of the flying is performed over water 50 km or so northwest of Darwin as the RAAF is very conscious of trying to minimise the noise footprint in the Top End.

“Being based in Katherine, I am very much a Territorian having spent 8 years up here and I am very invested in the communities of both Katherine and Darwin. I know that jet noise can be an issue – I would just like to assure the public that we do everything possible to limit our noise footprint – in particular when we recover to the airfield, we use low power settings where ever we can.”
“That being said, if you really want to see an aircraft at its best, I recommend you come out to Hidden Valley for the V8 Supercars” – he says with a grin.

RAAF F/A-18A Hornet from 75 Sqn departing Darwin.

This week has generally followed a two wave morning and afternoon launch pattern – the first wave departing about 10-10:30 AM for about 60-90 minutes where the packages carry out 3 or more 1 v.s 1 or 1 v.s 2 ’dogfights’ before returning to base to replenish and then the second wave at about 2-2:30 PM.

TNI-AU F-16C from 3 SkU waiting for aircrew prior to a training mission.

“Next week we will start integrating more co-ordinated missions – instead of 1 V 1 or 1 V 2 we will work up to 4 V X – where 4 aircraft (the good guys) are fighting an unknown number in a simulated threat. It’s not the case where it’s Australia v.s Indonesia or Indonesia v.s Australia in this exercise – next week we will get to send packages of four aircraft – two F-16’s packaged right next to two F-18’s. The idea is that we can take the strengths of the F-16 and the F-18 and package those together so that we can literally dominate the airspace and the threat that we’re operating in out there next week”

He continues on by saying that even though he hasn’t flown with the Indonesians for some time now, they have however been to Darwin quite recently – last year during Exercise Pitch Black 2016. Previously to that in 2015 Australian Hornets travelled to Indonesia to operate with them. Within the last 5 – 10 years there has certainly been an increased focus on co-ordination and inter-operability between other nations in S.E Asia. “75 Sqn has recently returned from 5 weeks deployment to Thailand and Singapore, maximising and learning about different aircraft types and their capabilities, which makes us a more knowledgeable and powerful Air Force, and ultimately acts as a wonderful deterrent here in Australia”.

F-16 Pitch Black 2016
Indonesian Air Force F-16 out of RAAF Darwin during Pitch Black 2016

Because the younger Australian pilots have been very keen to fight against dissimilar aircraft, he has let them have a go early this week, so WGCDR Grant only had his first exercise mission yesterday, against two F-16’s. He has been very impressed with the professional briefs, great tactical execution in the airspace, and the de-briefs by the TNI-AU. Thus far the exercise has been going exceptionally well and exceeding all his expectations and he has been very impressed with the professionalism and execution of tactics so far this week.

With reference to speed – “Out in the airspace there are no speed or tactical restrictions placed on us so we can operate our platforms to the full extent up to and beyond the speed of sound. The beauty of operating in Australia and what attracts our international guests here is the size of our airspace. It is that we have one, if not the best training space in Australia”.

TNI-AU pilot and ground crew perform an engine run during the inteview

What of the the differences between the F-18 and the F-16 – “It is critical that we operate with and against other platforms and we don’t get used to our own capabilities… its important in extending our aircrew’s understanding in what we need to do if, and when, we turn up to that merge or fight and see a different aircraft type. We have to identify that aircraft and understand where it’s strengths and weaknesses lay. So the F-16 is very different to the F-18 which is an agile 4th generation fighter whereas the F-16 has an excellent thrust to weight ratio…a big engine for a small aeroplane, which can make it agile in terms of the BFM (dogfighting) we are doing at the moment. But turn performance is also very important and that’s where the F-18’s strength lays”.

Hornet A21-8 in one of the OLA’s

Although live weapons will not be employed during this exercise – “Next week when we get into the 4 V X package work, we are operating in a multi-role scenario, so we will be literally fighting out way in through an air to air adversary, we will be simulating dropping weapons and fighting our way out. We aren’t using any airborne control (E-7A Wedgetail) because we are flying WVR (Within Visual Range) but we do have 114MCRU (No. 114 Mobile Control and Reporting Unit) up here monitoring the airspace which we may use next week when we go BVR (Beyond Visual Range)”

As we wrap up the interview the CO confirms that there may be some reduced flying next week, “Even though everyone loves to fly, none more than me, due to the increasing complexities of military operations, much more effort needs to be focused at investing on in-depth planning to attain better outcomes – We just can’t afford to waste a minute in the air”

From the MHS we are escorted out to an OLA (Ordinance Loading Area) where we find two 75 Sqn F/A-18A’s parked under the roof. A21-34 has had the centreline fuel tank and pylon removed so that the maintenance crew can work on part of the engine bleed air system. It is fitted with engine intake FOD screens to protect the engines from ingesting foreign objects while performing ground runs.

FOD screens fitted to engine intakes during ground engine runs.

The 20 minute photo opportunity is enhanced by the CO explaining various aspects of the Hornet, its operation and giving a  simulating part of a pilot’s are flight walk around of A21-8.

CO 75 Sqn
WGCDR Grant describing some of the the Hornet capabilities
CO 75 Sqn
Simulated pre-flight checks

He explains that the aircraft are fitted with an Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation Pod (ACMI Pod) which uses GPS positioning to identify the aircraft position in the battle space – this information is then used to monitor, review or analyse the merge and subsequent air combat manoeuvring of each aircraft to improve training.

Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation Pod (ACMI Pod)

On the other wingtip (port) the Hornet has a missile fitted to the launcher. This is the Matra-BAe AIM-132 Advanced Short Range Air Air Missile (ASRAAM) which has been in service since 2004 as the RAAF’s Within Visual Range (WVR) missile. Although a training missile, the Infra Red (IR) seeker head is the real deal so the pilot still has seek, track and lock functions providing feedback as if it were a live weapon.

Aim-132 ASRAAM
Matra-BAe AIM-132 Advanced Short Range Air Air Missile (ASRAAM)

Nearby we hear some aircraft starting up their APU’s and soon after the sounds of GE F404-GE-400’s, the Hornets main engines.

Ready for before action
75 Squadron Hornet A21-8

With the arrival of the Base Safety Officer we drive to the BRA apron and are given a brief in regards to safety at our position, the 5500’ marker, pretty much smack bang in the middle Darwin’s 11,000 foot runway. Once we sort our gear we wait for the aircraft to taxi.

TNI-AU F-16C crews
TNI-AU ground crew driving past to the ‘arming point’ at the runway end.

First the 75 Sqn F/A-18’s taxi out but wait for the No 3 SkU (Squadron) TNI-AU F-16C’s to pass them as they are slotted to depart first. The F-16’s will pause at the holding point while the TNI-AU maintenance teams simulate ‘arming’ of their aircraft, before lining up on runway 29.

A21-12 holds for F-16’s
F-16c TS-1625 taxies to holding

Pilots taxiing past a few media with cameras?……naturally we get a wave from one,two or three.

TS-1625 Pilot sharing the “Love” of aviation
We get the “wave” from TS-1639 Pilot
A21-12, the “1” of a 2 vs 1 package following the two F-16’s.

Todays first morning wave consists of two F-16C’s launching followed by a single F/A-18A. There is always something satisfying for an aviation fan when standing 50 meters from jet aircraft as they roar past with afterburners lit… especially paired two-up.

Paired departures in order again today
Gear going up.

Next to depart was a pair of F-18’s followed by a single F-16 – another variation of the 2 v.s 1 scenario mix and match the 75 Sqn CO was explaining to us about earlier.

Paired Hornets out bound
The ‘Chaser’

After a half hour break to allow some media to depart, we returned to the runway, heat haze playing havoc, for the second time of the morning. Firstly a F-16 vs F-18 before another 2 F-18 vs 1 F-16 package signalled the end of morning departures.

Temperature rising
A21-51 with 77Sqn tail flash – sharing aircraft is common practice these days.
A21-32 ARDU tail flash – most F/A-18s will end up at 75 Sqn as it will be the last to transition to the new F-35 Litening II
TS-1627 off the runway early

Within minutes we could see the landing lights of the first aircraft returning – a TNI-AU F-16 announced by the Base Safety Officer who was listening to Darwin Ground/Tower frequencies on his radio. For the next 10 minutes we were treated to the returning jets landing one after the other, some in pairs, rolling out past us to their respective OLA or flightline.

Rolling through the intersection
Back into the heat haze
“Success” ?
Some aerodynamic braking

Occasionally civilian props or jets were slotted in between military movements. As Darwin airport is a shared facility, RAAF 452 Sqn operates the Control Tower and ATC and as such performs scheduling of both civilian and military traffic into and out of Darwin, including ground movements, all which can become a little bit hectic, especially during peak periods such as exercises.

Careflight B200 King Air
Care Flight 25 – Beech King Air landing
Air North Embraer 170
Air North Embraer 170 taxi’s past between military jets

It was with some relief, even for a local, that we left the blazing midday sun next to the runway and headed for the shade of an OLA for some final static aircraft photos.

“Armed” nose flag
Hornets tail

After thanking the 75Sqn CO and BSO, and handing in the pass, it was time to leave the base via the front gate. What a fantastic day and one that I will not forget for a long time.

I would like to thank Wing Commander Michael Grant (CO 75SQN) and the RAAF Public Relations team, Marnie, FOFF Dea, Sgt Hack who allowed me to have a small insight into day to day operations during another of the Top Ends regular exercises.

Cheers Sid Mitchell

My kit is Nikon D7100, Nikkor 18-300mm, 70-200mm and 200-500mm with a sandisk card.

TNI-AU F-16C flightline

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VMM-268 MV-22B Osprey soft lands at Larrakeyah Defence Precinct


As part of the Larrakeyah Defence Precinct Open Day in Darwin this year, members of the Marine Rotational Force Darwin and VMM 268 “Red Dragons” provided a now familiar foreign flavour to the displays that were on hand. The open day officially launches the Northern Territory’s Navy Week 2017.
The MV-22B Ospreys have been a common sight and sound around Darwin since arriving late April this year. Today was a opportunity for the public to again see the unique aircraft up close as some would remember attending a similar display provided by a MV-22B from VMM-265 back in July 2015.

VMM-265 Osprey "00" July 2015
VMM-265 Osprey “00” leaving the July 2015 Open Day.

After loitering over Darwin harbour and the crowds being ushered back to the boundary of the oval, MV-22B ’05′ piloted by 1st T.J Lt Flanagan performed an initial low level flypast over HMAS Coonawarra to grab the crowds attention, which it certainly did.

MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 low pass
MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 low pass.
MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 low pass
MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 low pass.
MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 low pass
Osprey over the roof tops.

Then transitioning from forward flight to hover mode, the Osprey gently landed in the centre of the oval throwing up some grass and leaf clippings. Prior to arriving the crowds had been reminded to restrain loose objects like hats, umbrellas and prams (and jokingly – small children) to ensure they weren’t blown away by the considerable downwash generated by the two proprotors.

MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 landing
MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 landing
Checking clearance.
MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 landing
Kicking up some grass clippings.
MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 landing
On the pitch.

Once on the soft ground and with a slight tilt forward to the rotors, the rear ramp and side door opened and two crew members emerged to perform some post landing checks such as nose landing gear safety pin and main landing gear chocks being placed in position. Shortly after the the Rolls-Royce turbines were shut down and the rotors ceased their most distinctive sound.

MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 landing
Pins and chocks in.
MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 landing

It wasn’t long before the curious crowd wandered over and began inspecting the Osprey – many for the first time. It was a great opportunity for the public to have a real close up look, take photos and ask the crew a myriad of questions about this strang beast.

MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 on display
The public move in for a closer look at “05”.

The Boeing/Bell MV-22B Osprey is a peculiar looking aircraft with two large Proprotors that enable it to perform both like a helicopter when taking off or landing and a conventional aeroplane when in forward flight. 

MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 on display
Starboard engine nacelle and proprotor.
1st Lt Flanagan VMM-268 'Red Dragons"
1st Lt Flanagan pilot with VMM-268 ‘Red Dragons”.

I was fortunate to casually chat with the Pilot, 1st Lt T.J Flanagan, and asked him how the aircraft was dealing with the dusty conditions – extra maintenance and he remarked, pointing to a brown patch over the right hand undercarriage housing, how much Northern Territory dust has been collected while performing operations in the Bradshaw and Mt Bundey training areas. He explained that the conditions often result in a brown out when they are about to land at remote Territory landing fields due to the dust swirling around from the rotor downwash. He told me they have equipment attached to the helmet that they can use which provides a daylight HUD (Heads up display) indicating flight parameters relating to position and attitude of the Osprey. He also explains that while the Aircraft Commander sits in the right seat, maintaining overall command and communications, he is directing the pilot in the left seat who does the actual hands on flying.

MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 landing
Grass… not quite as dense as Northern Territory bulldust.

I asked him about the training he went through and he said – we start out at the same level but end up with choices of jets, like the Hornet or Harrier, props, helicopters or tilt-rotors. Initial training is in single engine aircraft learning basic flight control – then progress to both twin engined aircraft – the Beech 200 or UC-12 Huron as it is known – and the TH-57 Sea Ranger, the military equivalent of a Bell-206, if you are streamed to Tilt-Rotors.

Training for the Tilt-Rotors is carried out at Marine Medium Tilt -Rotor Training Squadron 204 (VMMT-204) located at MCAS New River in North Carolina. From there the USMC Aviators can be posted to one of nearly 20 Tilt-Rotor squadrons.1st Lt Flanagan explains the latest version of the MV-22 simulator is really amazing – it is a full motion simulator that has movement in all three axis and can simulate the acceleration and deceleration feeling of a real aircraft. The visual cues from hi definition screens out the windows generates very real environment imagery.

MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 departing Larrakeyah
Stowing the undercarraige on take off.

The training is unique as there is an additional aspect to consider when transitioning to or from hover flight and forward flight. He explains that the control inputs are complicated because the cyclic (stick) and the collective (in old terms), the thrust control lever, are ok in full airplane or full helicopter modes – it’s the area between that can be a challenge to fresh pilots. The throttle/pitch control slides forward and backwards and not up and down like a collective stick in a helicopter and it is easy for a new pilot to ‘balloon’ their landing – apply to much thrust instead of reducing, because it is actually rotor lift – when transitioning from the aerodynamic lift of the wings.

Cockpit of VMM-265 Osprey "00" July 2015
Cockpit of VMM-265 Osprey “00”

He goes on to explain some unique features of the Osprey – exhaust deflectors for when the aircraft lands, diverting most of the hot exhaust outboard and not directly at the ground – pointing to the oval grass under one engine, he says that wouldn’t last too long after a few landings. He also spoke of the trials on the deck coating materials where they were required to land and remain in position over various experimental pads covered in different coatings to determine which worked better.

Osprey exhaust/ deflector
Avoiding the burn.

Another feature of the MV-22B is the unique rotor driveline. Although, he says, there are two turbines, each is connected and synchronised via driveshafts in a central gearbox located over the main fuselage. Should one engine fail in forward flight there would be hardly any noticeable difference in performance as the Osprey is still generating lift by it’s wings as the drivetrain engages both rotors to one engine. When in hover mode it is a very different scenario because all lift is generated by the rotors which require a large amout of available horsepower.

MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 on display
Forward tilt after landing.
Rotors connected via a central gearbox.
Both rotor connected vie shafts within the wings and a central gearbox.

The mid wing gearbox also provides auxiliary systems such a hydraulic #3 and the Environmental Conditioning System (Air conditioning)- he then smiles and says it’s  broken on this machine. But hey, it’s the dry season in the NT I respond.

I mentioned the rotor tip LED lighting I have seen in night pics and he laughs and say that it is really cool system- they can be adjusted for brightness and frequency or a strobe effect. He grins and says he doesn’t know why they don’t use that mode – its very cool.

MV22B Ospreywingtip LED
Rotor blade tip LED – used during reduced visibility to identift the rotor disc arc.

While we have been chatting the line of people waiting to walk up the rear ramp, through the fuselage and out the front service door hasn’t reduced less that 25m. A good sign the public is satisfying their curiosity, especially the young kids who are full of questions for the Marines, and of course it was a perfect opportunity for a few selfies.

MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 on display
Public access via the ramp.
MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 on display
No rain – no wipers.
"05" Crew
Fielding plenty of questions.

With more questions from other visitors beginning to be asked of 1st Lt Flanagan, I say farewell as he takes up my offer off a few free photos that I will send him, and wander off avoiding the still constant flow of people. The USMC Osprey was certainly a winner for the public today, maybe not for the grounds keeper as I chuckle to myself while looking at how deep the nose wheels have sunk into the cricket pitch grass.

MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 on display
Soft landing
VMM-268 "Red Dragons" insignia
VMM-268 “Red Dragons” insignia
MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 on display
Public lining up well into the afternoon.

At about 5:45 pm the crew fire up “05” and after obtaining clearance from Darwin Tower, depart the oval at Larrakeyah.

MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 departing Larrakeyah
Departing Larrakeyah open day.
MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 departing Larrakeyah
Departing Larrakeyah

For most of the next hour the crew practice various approach types to RAAF Base Darwin with missed approaches thrown in for good measure, finally landing just after the sun has dipped below the horizon.

MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 practicing approaches
Missed approach
MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 landing RAAF Base Darwin
Last for the day


MV22B Osprey from VMM-268 landing RAAF Base Darwin
RAAF Base Darwin

I have a feeling this isn’t the last year we will see the USMC Ospreys operating out of Darwin and look forward to them returning possibly next year. VMM-268 and HMLA-367 are due to depart in the next month or so, ending this years MRF-D ACE (Marine Rotational Force – Darwin Air Combat Element) Fortes Futuna Juvat

 A big thanks to the crews from the Red Dragons for taking the time to open up their tilt-rotor world to ASO and the public of Darwin.

Cheers Sid Mitchell

My kit is Nikon D7100, Nikkor 18-300mm, 70-200mm and 200-500mm with a sandisk card.

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Batting the Home Run as VMFA(AW)-242 depart Darwin.

USMC Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242, or VMFA(AW)-242 for short, arrived in Darwin back at the end of May 2017 for Exercise Diamond Storm, the Air Warfare Instructors Course (AWIC) and Arnhem Thunder. The “Bats” brought 10 F/A-18D’s with them, along with enough personnel and equipment to fulfill the two month deployment operating out of RAAF Base Darwin in the Northern Territory, Australia.

F/A-18D “09” from VMFA(AW)-242 arriving into Darwin.

The squadron’s origin dates back to the 1943 formation at MCAS El Centro, California where Marine Torpedo Bomber Squadron 242 (VMTB-242) flew Grumman TBF Avengers from the USS Kitkun Bay. At the end of WWII the squadron was disbanded on return to the USA. Reactivation of the squadron in October 1960 saw Marine Attack Squadron 242 (VMA-242) flying the A-4 Skyhawk. The “Slashers”, as they were known as then, had their first in a long line of deployments to MCAS Iwakuni in 1963. After re-equipping with the A-6A Intruder they truly became an “All Weather” (AW) squadron which is now a designation applied to any current Hornet squadron that previously flew the Intruder.

During 1966, VMA(AW)-242 deployed to Da Nang Air Base where they adopted the nickname “Batmen” due mainly to their ability to perform attacks at night or in heavy weather. The shortening of their name to the “Bats” occured in the early 80’s while they operated the electronically improved A-6E Intruder. Transitioning to the current F/A-18D Hornet in 1990, they finally reached their current designation of Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242 (VMFA(AW)-242), along with adopting the motto, “Mors ex Tenebris,” Death from the Darkness.

‘Mors ex Tenebris’ – the Bats motto – Death from the Darkness

Through the first decade of the new millennium, the Bats continued to deploy abroad, including the middle east (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and in 2008, while on deployment #9 to Iwakuni,  it was to become their permanent station. After 50 years combined at both Miramar and around Southern California, VMFA(AW)-242 became the USMC’s only permanently forward deployed Fighter-Attack squadron. While based at Iwakuni the Bats have been performing training with the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) or assigned deployments to participate in exercises within the south east asia region.

Which brings us back to this deployment – the Bats operating out of Darwin for the first time.

A ‘Bat” about to touchdown in Darwin after the long ferry flight.
USAF KC-10A Extender (85-0033), from 60th/349th Air Mobility Wing – Travis AFB

Arriving the last week of May with the support of KC-10A Extender tankers from the 60th/349th Air Mobility Wing – Travis AFB, the squadron soon settled into the BRA facilities at RAAF Base Darwin. Some personel arrived from Iwakuni via an Onmi Air International 767-300 –  outsourcing troop transport to the civilian sector is common practice these days.

Omni Air International 767-300 N477AX in from MCAS Iwakuni

They proceeded to set up maintenance areas and operations buildings and reconfigured the aircraft from the ferry set up of 3 external FPU-9/A tanks and some with a ‘pannier’ to just two tanks for local missions. Due to limited hangar space on base some maintenance was performed out on the apron in full sun. Fortunately it was Darwin’s ‘Dry Season’ which also made for much cooler nights than the during the humid “Wet”.

A pair of F404-GE-402 engines removed and ferry tanks resting in the background.
Night taxi and F/A-18D up on jacks for maintenance.

While performing missions during Exercise Diamond Storm in the Top End some aircraft were seen with a Litening Targeting pod fitted to the centreline station and the AGM-88E (CATM) could be seen loaded to an outboard pylon during the exercise. The AGM-88 is an Air to Surface missile designed to target electronic emissions from fixed or mobile surface-to-air radar sources. The CATM is a training version of the AGM-88E which contains a guidance and control section with electronics to allow acquisition and identification of targets. Other components such as the warhead and propellant (engine) are inert.

AGM-88E (CATM) loaded to Station # 8 – R/H outboard pylon

A sensor package modification called the ATARS – Advanced Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance System, was also observed on a couple of aircraft. This is a nose end modification only applied to a few F/A-18D aircraft across a few squadrons, and replaces the M61A1 Vulcan cannon installation. The ATARS system uses a Reconnaissance Management System, interfaced with the APG-73 Radar and gathers infrared and visible light imagery which is recorded digitally and can be transmitted via a datalink pod.

ATARS sytem replaced the M61A1 Vulcan cannon.

For Air to Air mission applications the radar guided AIM-120C-7 (CATM) is also carried by the F/A-18’s of VMFA(AW)-242, being fitted to stations on the fuselage, and again is a non-launcheable training weapon. For short range engagements the infra-red guided AIM-9X Sidewinder is utilised and carraige of a CATM version can also be seen on wingtip stations #1 or #9.

AIM-120C-7 (CATM) loaded to station #4 – AIM-9X (CATM) loaded on wingtip station #1

The Bats made the transition into the concurrently occurring Exercise Arnhem Thunder which is an exercise aiming to develop and hone advanced air-to-ground combat training, not just in delivering live ordinance accurately onto a heavily defended targets, but acheiving it after fighting their way in and then fighting their way out again without loss.

Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) loaded to Station #2 pylon

Arnhem Thunder provided VMFA(AW)-242 the opportunity for multi-ship Hornet strikes and self-escort attack missions while employing the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) which was carried on the outboard wing pylons. Essentially the JDAM is a guidance kit fitted to ‘dumb’ bombs and as such, converts those unguided bombs into a precision ‘smart’ munitions. Guidance is performed by an inertial guidance system coupled to a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver meaning the weapon can be delivered in almost any type of weather conditions faced by the aircrews. The JADM kit can be fitted to both explosive and non-explosive bomb assemblies.

Off to the exercise area with Litening pod on centerline station.

Like the Royal Australian Air Force, the USMC employ the Northrop/Grumman Litening advance targeting pod. The pod is a multi-sensor targetting device which is used by aircrews to search, detect, identify and track targets at range before deploying weapons onto that target.

LITENING Advanced Targeting Pod – with spare.
Intial and pitch in the Darwin circuit.

Flying during Exercise Arnhem Thunder wasn’t restricted to just day missions either – although late returns meant that noise abatement procedures definately applied with TACAN, VOR standard or visual approaches as opposed to the ‘initial and pitch’ arrivals seen during Diamond Storm.

Lining up for sunset departure
Night launches
Before flight checks done and awaiting aircrews.

By the 4th week in July flying had wrapped up and the squadron has now been focused on squaring away and preparing for the return trip home – to MCAS Iwakuni in Japan. Deployment equipment can often be freighted by civilian transported contractors. It is not unusual to see Atlas Air and Omni Air International working hand in hand with US deployments to Australia. Flying into Darwin this week were both a B747 and B767 from Atlas Air.

Atlas Air B747-400 N409MC into Darwin from Honolulu
Dry season departure – RAAF Base Darwin
Atlas Air 767-300 N661GT into Darwin

Two KC-135R Stratotankers arrived in preperation for the Air to Air refuelling role during the ferry trip to Iwakuni. One from the 151st Air Refuelling Squadron of 134th ARW Tennessee ANG, stationed at McGhee Tyson ANG Base, Knoxville, Tennessee. the other from the 197th Air Refuelling Squadron of 161st ARW Arizona ANG, stationed at Goldwater Air National Guard Base, Phoenix, Arizona.

USAF Boeing KC-135 59-1517 151st Air Refuelling Squadron of 134th ARW Tennessee ANG,
USAF Boeing KC-135 64-14831 197th Air Refuelling Squadron of 161st ARW Arizona ANG

Both tankers are fitted with the drogue kit, essentially a standard boom, with a hose and drogue attachment that allows theKC-135R to accept recievers with refuelling probes, like the F/A-18 has, instead of the boom receptacle like on F-16’s. A typical scenario with two tankers usually provides support the first 6 Hornets (in this case) – with one KC-135R returning to drag the remaining aircraft home the following day.

Boeing KC-135 from 151st Air Refuelling Squadron departing Darwin
Goodbye wave.

After more than two months from their initial arrival, the crews and aircraft departed a dry RAAF Base Darwin on their way home to Iwakuni. We hope that the Bats had bit of a different experience while in Australia, not just the integration with the ADF during the exrcises, but enjoyed some ‘downtime’ exploring the local attractions – Croc parks and jumping tours, and the Katherine and Litchfield park regionns also.

“Bat….contact Darwin approach”

With VMFA(AW)-242 being one of the last USMC Hornet squadrons to transition to the Lockheed F-35B, they will be operating the legacy Hornet well into the mid 2020’s. Possibly we will see them in the Northern Territory again some time for an exercise – they are certainly welcome.

Black Bat into the 2020’s

A quick thank you to Capt J. of VMFA242 and the RAAF PAO during Exercise Diamond Storm.


My gear is Nikon D7100, 18-300mm 50mm, 70-200mm and 200-500mm, with Sandisk memory cards.


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Dry Season Thunder- a week in Exercise Diamond Storm 2017

The ‘burn’

Over the last few weeks the tempo has ramped up to the final days of Exercise Diamond Storm 2017 which has been held in the Northern Territory. During just one week ASO was able to attend photographic and video opportunities arranged by RAAF Public Affairs Office to capture various aspects of the exercise operations based at both RAAF Darwin and RAAF Tindal. Additionally we also were able to capture some rarely seen action within the actual exercise area, from ground level to 20,000ft.

VMFA-242 ‘Bats’ F/A-18D’s
Holding position

The initial influx of foreign aircraft began during the last week of May 2017 with USAF KC-10A Extenders from 60th/349th Air Mobility Wing – arriving with the USMC F/A-18D Hornets from VMFA-242 ‘DT’ “Bats” MCAS Iwakuni, Japan. This is the first time the ‘Bats” have deployed to Darwin. Darwin is familiar with the KC-10A as they call in several times a year.

USAF KC-10A Extender from 60th/349th Air Mobility Wing – Travis AFB
USMC F/A-18D Hornet from VMFA-242 ‘DT’ “Bats” MCAS Iwakuni, Japan.

Deployment support for them were USAF C-17 from 204th Airlift Sqn 15/154th Wing and an Omni Air International 767-300 in from MCAS Iwakuni. Omni Air International are a familiar sight in Darwin, having brought many Marines to Darwin for the USMC Rotational Force-2017. Darwin will continue to see these come and go as they are the mainstay of many US Forces deployments to Australia.

USAF C-17 204th Airlift Sqn 15/154th Wing.
Omni Air International 767-300 N477AX in from MCAS Iwakuni.

The first week of June saw the arrival of the Royal Australian Air Force into Darwin – 2OCU F/A-18A/B ‘Classic’ Hornets from RAAF Base Williamtown New South Wales,  and 1Sqn with their F/A-18F Super Hornets from RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland.

RAAF F/A 18 Classic Hornet A21-116.
RAAF F/A18F A44-202 from 1 Sqn.

Support for the deployment was provided by 33 Sqn KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), C-17 Globemaster III from 36 Sqn and C-130J Hercules from 37Sqn bringing the last of personnel and equipment from RAAF Base Williamtown.

RAAF KC-30A A39-004
A41-210 C-17 Globemaster III loaded with cargo.
RAAF C-130J with personnel and spares from RAAF Williamtown.

Additional participants such at the RAAF 2 Sqn E-7A AEW&C Wedgetail and 5 Flight Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, plus 32Sqn Beechcraft King Air 350 and 10Sqn AP-3C Orion aircraft have been operating in northern skies during the exercise. Flying in the background and not seen by the public as often as other aircraft – the play an critical role in gathering and communication of real time situational information.

RAAF E-7A Wedgetail from 2 Sqn at RAAF Williamtown.
RAAF 5 Flight Heron RPV A45-253 from RAAF Amberley.
RAAF Beechcraft King Air 350 A32-349 32Sqn
RAAF AP-3C Orion from 10 Sqn with a number detached to

Continuing the Jet Air Support contract, non-military services were provided by four Learjet 35A/36A from Air Affairs in Nowra, NSW. The Learjets flew Tactical Missions in both adversary and counter offensive roles. It was great to see them back again in Darwin

Learjet VH-LFA from Air Affairs Australia – into Darwin
VH-SLF departing for the ExDS17 airspace

The view from most Air Traffic Control towers is pretty spectacular for the general public, and Darwin Tower is no different. The Tower and surrounding airspace is controlled by the personnel from RAAF 452 Sqn – both civilian and military traffic. 452Sqn work hand in hand with the Exercise Airspace Controllers making the transition to and from the battle space as efficient as possible.

452Sqn – Air Traffic Control from Darwin Tower

ASO was fortunate to spend the last daylight hour of the day on the mesh platform surrounding the Control Room. The platform affords a view of the runways, taxiways, operations facilities and beyond – right to the Darwin City skyline and Arafura Sea. The first wave out of the OLA’s were the Classic Hornets.

AWIC F/A-18’s from 2OCU taxi out for night exercise.
A21-16 taxi for sunset departure.
A21-7 afterburner launch

The launches went on until well after sunset – both RAAF Super Hornets and USMC Classic D models.

AWIC17 Tower visit (4 of 43)
A44-220 into the evening light.
AWIC17 Tower visit (28 of 43)
In and outbound
AWIC17 Tower visit (37 of 43)
Strobing out
AWIC17 Tower visit (43 of 43)
A “Bat” heading out for the night.
Two F/A-18F’s from 1 Sqn line up.

Early in the week ASO also visited RAAF Base Tindal, a leisurely 330km south of Darwin. Once on base having passed through security, we were escorted to the the grassed area next to taxiway Romeo. We could hear them idling in the OLA’s and it wasn’t long before the engine pitch changed and they left the OLA’s. Emerging from the scrub and taxiing out of the heat haze, they all passed right in front of where we were standing meters from the taxiway.

Taxi from OLA – RAAF Tindal
A21-34 – RAAF Tindal
A21-109 taxing out at RAAF Tindal.
A21-109 taxing out at RAAF Tindal.
Steely eyed – RAAF Tindal
AWIC17 Tindal (10 of 34)
To the holding point Runway 14

A quick trip up to near the 5000′ marker and we were able to capture the waves of Hornets lining up on Runway 14, then rapidly tacking off to the south-east. Leaving between the waves of F/A-18’s a lonely 32Sqn King Air 350 took off flying north towards Darwin. Even as we were getting back into the ute we could still hear them climbing away into the distance. It’s a sound most aviation photographers never get tired of hearing.

Waiting to line up Runway 14 Tindal.
A21-43 lifting off Runway 14
AWIC17 Tindal (15 of 34)
Gear up on A21-34
A21-18 launching Tindal.
AWIC17 Tindal (21 of 34)
A21-25 following up
AWIC17 -Tindal A21-109 launching on different coloured notes

Next on the list was a stop and a photo session in an OLA where A21-17 greeted us. These days it is not that unusual to see multiple tail identifications on one RAAF Base as squadrons freely swap aircraft between themselves to meet operational requirements, and in this case A21-17 was wearing the 3 Sqn livery.

A21-17 at Tindal – a 3Sqn Aircraft, fitted with 77Sqn Armed aircraft flag in a 75Sqn OLA – what diversity.
A21-17 Tindal OLA-8
AWIC17 Tindal (32 of 34)
A21-17 Tindal OLA-8

Having OLA 8 to ourselves we managed some walk-around photography and chatted casually with the two 75Sqn RAAF Techo’s manning the OLA. We climbed into the ute just as some of the previously launched Hornets were returning to base.

AWIC17 Tindal (33 of 34)
ACMI wingtip pod.

It was back to the Flight Line office to sign out and admire some of the squadron paraphernalia in trophy cases and up on the walls. This year is the 75th Anniversary of 75 Squadron and it was pleasing to see the entrance to the ops area displaying a welcome sign celebrating this event. The squadron has come a long way from the 25 P-40 Kittyhawks used to form up the squadron in March 1942. It was a little amusing that not only out Hornet, but the memorial Mirage tail on display was also 17 (A3-17)

AWIC17 Tindal (1 of 1)
Welcome to 75Sqn – 75th Anniversary 1942-2017.

One of the natural features of the Top End this time of year is the fantastic sunsets Darwin experiences. RAAF Public Affairs Office out-did themselves this year by arranging for a strip side mass launch photographic opportunity at RAAF Base Darwin.

First off the mark for sunset launches were the Learjets.
AWIC17 Dusk Take off (1 of 16)
VH-LFA taxi for departure

Split into two groups we were provided different perspectives of Classic, Super and Learjet departures, with a USMC KC-130J Hercules thrown in for something different. The first group positioned themselves at the end of the runway –  in this position it was perfect for using the sun, which was close to the horizon providing a brilliant light for silhouetting aircraft and their occupants.

AWIC17 Dusk Take off (4 of 16)
A21-112 on Alpha
AWIC17 Dusk Take off (5 of 16)
Taxi to holding point
AWIC17 Dusk Take off (3 of 8)
Classic silhouette
AWIC17 Dusk Take off (6 of 16)
Waiting clearance

Once lined up on Runway 29 it wasn’t long before the throttles were pushed to the max delivering some great afterburners and heat plumes.

AWIC17 Dusk Take off (7 of 16)
112 with burners lit
AWIC17 Dusk Take off (12 of 16)
Hazing Darwin Tower

The second group was positioned at the 7000′ marker near the lift off point, but managed to catch a little taxiway action as well.

A21-47 lifting the nosewheel.
A21-116 sunset backdrop.

A short lull between F/A-18 waves and a USMC KC-130J managed to depart from midfield.

USMC KC-130J from VMGR-234 ‘QH’
A ‘Ranger’ from VMGR-234.
A21-105 sunset lift off.
AWIC17 Dusk Take off (6 of 6)
Pairs into the burn

The last rays of sunlight seemed to fade so quickly as we captured our final pics before nightfall before mustering back at the old HQ building and departed the base. There was some really amazing light to backdrop the AWIC aircraft heading out for night operations.

AWIC17 Dusk Take off (15 of 16)
Last light

AWIC17 Dusk Take off (14 of 16)

On Thursday ASO’s two Marks departed Darwin for a 10 hour round trip to a location in Bradshaw Field Training Area. The Bradshaw Field Training Area is located over an area of approximately 900,000 hectares, 150 kilometers west of Katherine and 270 kilometers south of Darwin. It hosts military activities by both the Australian Army and the Australia-US Joint Combined Training Center and in this year is a battle space for Exercise Diamond Storm.

AWIC17 Down South (16 of 90)

Finally, positioned at a vantage point, we waited for the first pass by low level traffic. We didn’t have to wait long before the sound of approaching low level jets grabbed our attention. Looking horizontally and sometimes downwards on passing fast jet aircraft back-dropped by the ancient Northern Territory landscape, is definitely a unique experience.

AWIC17 Down South (17 of 90)
AWIC17 Down South (5 of 90)
A21-34 on a low sweep
AWIC17 Down South (23 of 90)
Looking into the ‘office’
AWIC17 Down South (25 of 90)
Banking outbound

While photo stills were being captured, video footage was being committed to memory card as the jets roared past. But that wasn’t all, shortly the sound of 4 Allison turboprops filled the air. A 37Sqn C-130J Hercules appeared at low level and repeatedly flew past our position banking as it passed by. Amazing indeed, in a bush setting quite far from the nearest town.

AWIC17 Down South (60 of 90)
Unmistakable sound – 4 x Allison turbo props
AWIC17 Down South (88 of 90)
Low level – nothing out of the ordinary
AWIC17 Down South (77 of 90)
Pulling up to meet the camera

Repeated passes by A97-465 offered some spectacular angles of a C-130J at low level – each pass different to the last.

AWIC17 Down South (83 of 90)
A97-465 rolling in from the other direction
AWIC17 Down South (84 of 90)
Eye to eye
AWIC17 Down South (85 of 90)
Ramp open wide

AWIC17 Down South (32 of 90)

While some members of ASO were out bush on Thursday, the RAAF PR team arranges for a full day of visits to operational locations in RAAF Base Darwin. The first was a photo opportunity at an OLA with two F/A-18’s parked within, A21-39 a single and A21-102 a dual seat version.

A21-39 and A21-102 – Darwin OLA.
A21-39 veteran with theater markings.

From the OLA, we were driven to the Military Hard Stand where a RAAF KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) awaited us on the apron. Essentially a modified Airbus A330, the KC-30/A is a veteran of RAAF overseas deployments and is often in high demand. The crews and aircraft are well regarded by coalition forces for their versatile boom and drogue refueling capability, and have topped up many different types of aircraft during operations.

A39-004 RAAF KC-30/A MRTT – RAAF Darwin.

KC-30/A pilot FlLt Nic escorted us a round the outside of the aircraft and then up to the forward crew area where he spent some time explaining the intricacies of the boom/drogue operator,s position. He operated the camera joystick to demonstrate the field of view the operator has, explaining that the screens provide not only low light night capability, but also 3D to provide depth of perception when using the boom.

A39-004 – one of two drogue refuelling wing pods.
External visual sensors (cameras) that assist the refueling operator to smoothly transfer Avtur.

One interesting point is that the MRTT will carry and use the same specific fuel type required by the ‘receivers’. This is due to the fact that as it draws fuel for its own engines and the air to air tanking system from the standard Airbus fuel tanks – no additional fuel capacity is fitted.

Boom neatly tucked away.

The third event organized was a trip to the Darwin Air Traffic Control Tower on the opposite side of the base. Meeting at the base, we signed in and ascended to the top level by elevator. Again a brilliant view across the base and beyond as Lears and 1 Sqn Super Hornets roared off into the hazy afternoon.

A44-218 retracting the u/c.
A44-211 – Darwin CBD skyline behind.

With some aircraft out flying already, maintenance crews take the opportunity to tow aircraft between OLAs, sometimes for maintenance, engine runs or arming.

A21-117 being towed to an OLA

To end the day off , 1 Sqn had prepared a F/A-18F Super Hornet to be available for us to photograph. Due to the sensitive nature of some specific aircraft systems and hardware we were only permitted to take external photographs. A44-214 was parked at the end of the line next to a USMC KC-130J.

A44-214 at the end of 1SQN flightline.

Air Force Security (AFSEC) teams were observing us and at one point came over to check that we were in possession of the correct permit documentation to take photo’s – ofn course we were but it was good to see them applying the rules.

A44-214 and 32 Sqn KingAir 350

ASO were part of the small contingent of media who were able to experience an air to air refueling flight in one of the RAAF’s KC-30/A MRTT tankers, which was scheduled to top up aircraft involved in the AWIC exercise. Leaving mid morning, the KC-30, A39-004 initially climbed and held station before moving into the assigned flight level block for refueling operations.

RAAF KC-30A MRTT A39-004 lifting off for tanking operations during Diamond Storm.
Looking back over the township of Darwin.
Looking back over the township of Darwin.

Once established in the pattern, several flights of Hornets moved into proximity then lined up ready to tank. Tanking two at a time, one each from the reel hose and drogue/basket pod mounted on each wing, they maintained station and provided the perfect opportunity to take both still and video photography.

A21-16 2OCU 75th Anniversary Tail getting ready.
A21-16 2OCU 75th Anniversary Tail getting ready.
A21-111 & A21-117 2OCU tailed Hornets line up for their turn.
A21-111 & A21-117 2OCU tailed Hornets line up for their turn.

With each pair transferring the required amount they disengaged the basket and moved away to allow the next pair in to top up. During the sequences a Super Hornet from 1 Sqn took also slipped in to take on some fuel.

The final aircraft performed a few practice approaches for some of the pilots to hone their skills, and so by the time all had broken formation with the MRTT, a total of approximately 80 tonnes of Avtur had been transferred to the fighters.

A21-118 & A21-113 F/A-18B Hornets 2OCU.
A21-118 & A21-113 F/A-18B Hornets 2OCU.
The line up begins to refuel these "thirsty fighters"
The line up begins to refuel these “thirsty fighter”

Call sign "Hawkeye" 4 ship from 2OCU.
Call sign “Hawkeye” 4 ship from 2OCU.

Call sign "Hawkeye" 4 ship from 2OCU.

During the transfer ex F/A-18A Hornet Solo Display Pilot FLTLT Matt “Traylz” Trayling was on on board as the knowledge base for any questions being asked along with the Commanding Officer for 28Squadron –  just keeping an eye on proceedings.

77SQN A21-7 & ARDU A21-32 F/A-18A Hornets.
77SQN A21-7 & ARDU A21-32 F/A-18A Hornets.
Refuelled and about to go back into the fight.
Refuelled and about to go back into the fight.
2OCU aircraft ready to go back into the fight.
2OCU aircraft ready to go back into the fight.

Come for a ride on board with the Royal Australian Air Force from taking off to refueling with the KC-30A.


In the final week of the exercise I was afforded a rare chance to ride with the crew of an Air Affairs Learjet during a Tactical Mission in the Bradshaw exercise area. We were a ‘Red” team element and maneuvered in two separate engagement scenarios. Something that I won’t forget for some time to come. For more on this pax ride and some air to air pictures between two Learjets, please click the following link  Air to Air Learjet flight

Lears on approach
Air Affairs learjets – RAAF Darwin

To complete the AWIC training phase of Exercise Diamond Storm ASO was on hand in several locations to catch the now famous “Dawn Strike”, a mass flyover as the sun broke over RAAF Base Williamtown on Friday morning.

AWIC17 Dawn Strike (23 of 27)
Inbound at speed
A21-109 landing after Dawn Strike

For those in attendance it is one of the premier low level flyovers performed by the RAAF. This isn’t actually a public display, but the final part of offensive v.s counter-offensive aircraft mixing it up after overnighting at RAAF Amberley, and before the AWIC detachment aircraft touchdown at home base. For a more detailed look at some fantastic early morning light on Hornets, Hawks, Wedgetail and Hercules aircraft, click HERE

A21-117 – home again.

Again RAAF Bases Darwin and Tindal have been able to host another military exercise that brings many photographic opportunities to us at Aviation Spotters Online. We are always in appreciation of the efforts that the Royal Australian Air Force Public Affairs Office goes into allowing the media to attend special events. It allows us to share an insight into various aspects of exercise operations that the general public rarely gets to see.

Special Thanks to WgCdr Bruce Chalmers and his team, FlLt Nick, FlOff, Dea, Tracey and Stephanie in Darwin, FLt XXX and Sgt Andrew down in RAAF Tindal, plus 452Sqn team at ATC Darwin Tower. Thanks must also go to Fllt Nic and ‘Traylz” in respect to the Air to Air flight…. Always a highlight of any media experience, plus to Adam and Geoff from Air Affairs for the opportunity to fly with them on one of their Learjets.

Thanks also goes to the Crews, Techs  and Base personnel that escorted us and answered our questions when we paid them visits at OLA’s, Hardstands, Darwin runway and aircraft.

Looking forward to next time, as always.

Cheers….Mark,Sid and Mark

ASO photographer/videographer – NSW/NT/VIC

We use Nikon DSLR cameras, Nikkor VR lenses and Canon Video equipment.


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Air Affairs Australia – Learjets over Darwin – Exercise Diamond Storm – 2017


Recently I was given the opportunity to meet and take a flight with the Air Affairs Australia team, currently on deployment to Darwin in the Northern Territory. The AAA team was in the Top End providing a specialist support role to the Royal Australian Air Force.

Air Affairs is a wholly Australian owned company established in 1984 with headquarters based at the Albatross Aviation Technology Park at Nowra, NSW, and has been providing target services, fire surveillance and precision engineering support services to the Australian Defence Forces, other military forces and Governments since 1995.

More recently and since October 2015, Affairs Australia has been providing specific services to the Royal Australian Air Force under the Jet Air Support Contract which provides Training Support Tasks including Aerial Target Towing and Tactical Flight Missions in various locations across Australia.

VH-LFA departing at sunset for night operations

One such airborne service has been delivered in Darwin as a key component of the Air Warfare Instructors Course (AWIC) which has only just concluded. Exercise Diamond Storm and the AWIC course aims to graduate expert leaders and instructors capable of tactics development, validation and instruction across number of defence force platforms, and so the air to air component is critical to training and qualifying scenarios.

VH-LJA departing Darwin for Exercise Diamond Storm airspace.

Air Affairs flew four of their Gates Learjet fleet – LJ35A’s VH-LFA, VH-JCR VH-LJA and LJ36A VH-SLF, up to Darwin prior to the commencement the exercise. Some of the Aircrew and Learjet’s are familiar with the Top End having been here before, as recently as 12 months ago at Exercise Pitch Black in 2016, so the process of settling into RAAF Base Darwin was fairly routine.

VH-SLF arriving Darwin.
VH-LJA arriving Darwin.
VH-LFA arriving Darwin.
VH-JCR arriving Darwin.

I was permitted access to the AAA team on their last mission day for Exercise Diamond Storm. I was met at the main gate of RAAF Darwin by Ray and signed in as required.

Air Affair crew members connecting hoses and topping up the tip tanks.

We drove down to the where Air Affairs was operating from during EXDS17 – the Duty Crew complex next to the Military Hard Stand. On the apron the four Learjets were parked in a neat row opposite other aircraft such as 1 Sqn F/A-18F’s and 32Sqn Beech King Air 350’s involved in Exercise Diamond Storm. One immediate difference I noted from their last visit was that the Lears did not carry the familiar MTR-101 used in Aerial Target Missions as seen previously in the Northern Territory, flying almost  ‘cleanskin’ during the deployment with only pylons fitted to three of the four aircraft.

AAA Mission brief room.

We entered into the operations room with it’s various maps and info bulletins pinned up on the wall and also where the crews were currently relaxing before the day’s mission. After a quick introduction to Detachment CO Geoff, and as a brief was about to get under way, the “Red” and “Blue” crews split to different areas. I was to be a passenger with the crew from “Red” team and listened in on the co-ord brief delivered by Geoff – basically an overview of todays mission, work flows and backup procedures, a lot of details that makes no sense to this average photographer, but is critical to safe aircraft operations.

After the brief it was the last chance for a rest room break as today’s flight is estimated to be over 3 hours duration, and then the short walk out to the Learjets which were paired VH-LFA and VH-LJA as Blue, and VH-SLF and VH-JCR (my ride) as Red.

Engine start for “Fencer”.

My pilots for today are Brian and Karl both from a military background and as Brian prepared JCR for engine start, Karl showed me the headset which I could listen in onto the comms, then delivered the Learjet safety and exit door brief before taking his seat up front.

My pilots for the day – Brian and Karl.

Blue had already taxied so we followed suit to line up for departure sequencing. Today was one of those days that 452Sqn who operate ATC at Darwin tower, work hard to clear departing aircraft on time. 2OCU F/A-18’s, 1Sqn F/A-18F’s and USMC VFMA(AW)-242 F/A-18D’s taxied across in front and then behind us on the way to Runway 11. In between Hornet waves the tower cleared a Border Force Dash-8, some local GA Cessna’s and a Qantas B717 for take off before it was our turn to line up.

Hornets from 2OCU taxiing for departure to DS17 Airspace.

Final cockpit checks and both SLF and JCR accelerated down Runway11 past aprons of USMC Hornets, Ospreys, Cobras and Venoms, lifting off about 140Knots up into a slightly hazy Top End morning.

Unmistakably a Learjet tip tank over the bottom end of Darwin harbour.

It wasn’t long before we were established in a climb to about 17,000ft where Brian slowly manoeuvred JCR into close formation with SLF providing the first opportunity for some air to air pics. While I was taking pics I could hear the guys were discussing various aspects of what lay ahead in this mission plus checking comms, flight and fuel parameters.

Transiting to exercise airspace.
Geoff checking our position from VH-SLF.

Shortly after “Red” (Fencer 11/12) was called into the mix over the Bradshaw Field Training Area (BFTA) and as we followed ‘Fencer 11’, Karl pointed out contrails giving away positions of aircraft at higher altitudes. We performed some offensive manoeuvring, not your standard Learjet manouvers, as required for the role today, and while I reached for the bag I listening to the ‘chatter’ over the exercise frequencies. There is a large amount of interpretation of coded communications, and that is one reason Air Affairs is totally crewed by ex-military pilots, some from F/A-18’s, some F-16 Vipers and even some who have flown F-104 Starfighters. This aspect allows smooth integration into ADF military operations and the various scenarios that take place, as they already ‘talk the talk’ and have a large amount of experience to bring to the training environment.

Autopilot for a while at 18,000ft – a few avionics upgrades since it’s 1979 build.

It seemed like ages before the horizon returned to a normal passenger attitude after which the aircraft cruised to a holding point towards the southern end of the BFTA. En-route Geoff manoeuvred SLF to port side and this time Karl slowly positioned JCR so that I could capture a different angle, circling in a left holding pattern with the Victoria River in the background.

Transit to holding point.
Established in holding pattern over Victoria River.
Eyes on lining up the tip tank and nose for position.
VH-JCR holding formation with VH-SLF in a left pattern.

The one hour loiter was up and with the tip tanks well and truely empty it was back into twisting and turning, this time a little more aggressively. From my position I couldn’t see anything but both Brian and Karl were scanning back and forth as they weaved the Lear around. I just sat back and enjoyed the soft seat and airwaves banter until we climbed to 20,000ft for the homeward bound leg.

Homeward bound

Descending into Darwin I managed a few more pics and again methodically stepping through their checklist, Brian and Karl had us landing via an initial and pitch during which I could see the 1 Sqn Super Hornets taxiing back to their lines. Once on the ground and positioned behind the other three Air Affairs Learjets, we taxied to the MHS and parked – just over three hours since departing.

1Sqn F/A-18F Super Hornets taxiing back to their MHS parking bays.
Learjet version of the ‘Elephant Walk’ – but after landing.
Parking for “Blue”

As the jets weren’t flying again today they crews after-flighted/fitted covers and completed the mandatory paperwork before retiring to the ops room. The teams had a short debrief before Geoff had to depart for a full RED Mission Commander de-brief. I thank him and the crews before Ray kindly drove us to the front gate.

Job’s not over until the paperwork is complete.
After-flights done and covers on by mid afternoon.

What a day to remember – an experience that will long stay in my memory. As a member of the general public, we normally just see the Learjets come and go from airports, but today was a great insight into what added value the Air Affairs team brings to assisting training of our ADF personnel, especially when they perform Tactical Flight Missions like the one I was priviledged to ride on today.

A big thank you must go to the Air Affairs team including Geoff, Brian, Karl, Raymond, Rob, Chris, Adam for taking the time out from their normal duties to organise an extra pax on the flight. I look forward to catching up again in the future.

Thanks must also go to WCDR Chalmers at RAAF Public Affairs Office for authorising the base visit.

For more information relating to Air Affairs Australia and their support of Australia’s Defence Forces, please click on the following link: http://www.airaffairs.com.au

Cheers Sid Mitchell


ASO photographer – Northern Territory

I use Nikon D7100, Nikkor, 50mm, 18-300mm, 70-200mm and 200-500mm lenses with Sandisk Extreme memory card.



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Darwin Aviation Heritage Museum Open Cockpit Day 2017

It seems less than a year since the last event but Darwin Aviation Heritage Museum has again held it’s annual Open Cockpit Day on Sunday 14th May 2017. It is the one day each year where a selection of normally sealed display aircraft at the museum are opened for public access, not just the cockpit but crew and passenger compartments as well.

Ready for the crowds

Instead of viewing through perspex canopies and crazed side windows, aviation fans young and old, can sit in seats once occupied by pilots, navigators, weapons offensive/defensive and engineering crew members. It is an opportunity rarely offered by other museums, but every year draws locals and tourists to the hangar on the Stuart Hi-Way at Winnellie, NT.  It is very hard to miss the museum grounds as they are identified by the old red and white RAAF Darwin Control/Water Tower near the entrance.

Former Control and water tower of RAAF Base Darwin marks the entrance.

Classic fixed wing aircraft like the USAF B-52G, RAAF CAC27 Sabre , RAAF F-111, plus the US Army UH-1 Cobra and Fleet Air Arm Wessex helicopters have their cockpits opened up to allow the public to sit in and enjoy an aviators perspective. Additionally there are military and civilian displays for the public to view, including a selection of classic cars and motorcycles.

A replica Mk VIII Spitfire “Grey Nurse”

The museum doors opened at 9a.m and the crowd shuffled through the shop area and out into the hanger. A number of museum staff and volunteers were on hand to answer any questions the crowd may ask and it was great to see cadets from No 8 Wing Australian Air Force Cadets (Darwin), manning a number of static aircraft to assist the public with basic enquiries.

B-52G ‘Darwins Pride” looms large in the hangar space.

A popular first stop was the USAF B-52G 59-2696 “Darwin’s Pride” which has been a major draw card for visitors to the museum since 1990. Having provided over 30 years of service to the USAF, it was refurbished for display in Darwin by the 43rd Maintenance Complex, 43rd Bombardment Wing, Andersen AFB. Having removed major assemblies like the 8 turbojet engines and an array of electronics equipment and panels, the team even assisted with positioning the ‘BUFF’ into it’s final resting place in the hanger by folding the tall fin and rudder assembly so it could be towed inside.

One of the various ‘special’ interlocks that visitors seem fascinated by.
Crew door between two sensor housings open for public access

There is only one real practical way to enter this B-52, and that is to climb up through the crew hatch. With eyes adjusting to the gloom, you arrive at the lower level compartment that is occupied by the forward facing Navigator and Radar Navigator/Bombardier ejection seats, the only two seats that eject downwards in the B-52.

A lamp not really wanted to be seen illuminated by the crew.
A pair of special weapons manual release handles – yellow/black generally indicates something of importance.
Last flight (27MAR90) marker board with basic callsign, comms and nav information at the Navigators station.

Up the rung ladder to the next deck reveals the rearward facing Gunner (tail) and Electronic Warfare Officer compartment although the Gunner role was to become redundant in later models when all defensive tail weapons were removed. All four of these positions so far have no direct view of the outside world – that is, no windows.

Rear facing Gunner and EW Officer stations – many modules and panels were removed by USAF.

Turning forward and taking a few paces past some circuit breaker panels, we arrive at the cockpit with it’s recessed Pilot and Co-Pilot ejection seats and the fixed Instructor Pilot’s seat behind them. “If the IP had to bail out he was supposed to go through a lower hatch after the Navigators had ejected and deploy his parachute”,  we are told by one of the museum staff who was there to help visitors up and down the ladders.

B-52G looking forward to the cockpit
Helmet and personal parachute on display – IP was to self-initiate after leaving a lower hatch.

It is always fascinating to sit in these seats every year and just admire the number of instruments and switches- especially the engine gauges that spread out across the cockpit, not to mention a throttle quadrant that would have controlled thrust to those 8 Pratt & Whitney J57-P-43WB turbojets. In many images of the B-52 G there are often black smoke trails leaving each exhaust on take off – this was the now defunct water injection system and the panel still remains to the left of the pilot in this aircraft.

B-52G Pilot side
Centre engine throttle quadrant and dial bank
Co-pilot position B-52G
Water injection panel for the 8 J-57 turbojets.

An aviation fan could spend hours inside the BUFF but alas it was time exit and let others crawl through the cramped compartments. Oh, and yes, there is a small ‘can’ on the upper deck for taking care of natures bodily functions during those sometimes very long missions.

Lower crew hatch

Down two levels and back on the ground, looking to the rear you can’t but wonder at the engineering that originally went into the undercarriage of this now 57 year old aircraft.  The quadricycle undercarriage consists of four individual ‘trucks’ that can be steered up to 20 degrees L/R by a rotary knob between the pilot/co-pilot for cross wind landings.

L/H forward undercarriage up to +/-20deg crab steering available on landing
Looking forward in the bomb bay with the ‘catwalk’ and access door upper right.

Between the sets of wheels is the bomb bay where the museum has set up seating and a TV, a nice place to rest while watching a sequence of interesting historical documentaries on the B-52. To the rear and looking up at the tall tail the open brake chute hatch is evident, and radar guided gun turret displaying the four .50cal machine guns controlled by the Gunner, sticks out the end.

Looking rearwards in the B-52 bomb bay with original Tail Gunner access hatch upper L/H side.
4 x .50cal Brownings in the tail turret aimed buy the Gunner with the help of radar. The open brake chute compartment at the top.

The second largest complete aircraft on display, the not so long ago retired RAAF F-111A/C, A8-113, also has been opened for all to admire. Conserving floorspace within the museum hanger, it has been displayed with wings swept back, as if in supersonic flight. That being said, it still radiates a presence like no other aircraft can.

F-111A/C A8-113 with it’s wings swept back.

Having been one of the latest aircraft to be placed on display, the aircraft and especially the cockpit module is in pristine condition, as it was when in RAAF service. Very pleasant to scan over gauges and dials which are clear and dust free….almost in new condition.

A8-113 cockpit- Pilot side
A8-113 cockpit-Navigator side
Rear bulkhead with long mission creature comforts – thermos and lambswool seat covers

Some other exhibitions are unfortunately incomplete, missing panels and instrumentation from their cockpits, but as with most museums, they are a work in progress. One example is the 76 Sqn CAC Sabre, A94-914, with it’s canopy slid open for this one day each year. Despite the unfinished instrument cluster, the external finish is complete with panels covered in warnings, maintenance instructions and fluid types stencilled intricately on the exterior surfaces.

CAC Sabre A94-914 of 76Sqn RAAF
Looking down the Sabre fuselage with speed brake extended.
R/H communication and navigation panel

Moving to the rotary exhibitions the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Australian Navy  is represented by #12 Westland Wessex 31B, N7-202 which has the sliding side door open – providing access to the passenger compartment and raised cockpit level.

Westland Wessex 31B, N7-202

This Westland on display has a local connection as it was involved with the 1974 Cyclone Tracy clean up in Darwin. The Wessex was the workhorse submarine hunter of the RAN for many years.

Passenger compartment – room for up to 16
One of the higher helicopter cockpits Fleet Air Arm Wessex 31B
Overhead Comms/Nav panel.

Next to the Wessex is an ex US Army UH-1G HueyCobra, 71-21018, both front and rear seats available for young fans to climb into – and even trying out a period aviation helmet.

AH-1G Hueycobra with a selection of weaponry – paired 7.62mm Mini Guns in the chin turret.
Wing stubs fitted with 2.75′ rocket launchers
A young visitor enjoying the pilots seat of the 1971 built AH-1G

Extra static displays set up representing the military, included a Mobile Satellite Comms G-Wagon vehicle from locally based 114 Mobile Reporting and Control Unit, and an Aircraft Cargo Loader from RAAF Base Darwin Air movements with an AP-3C engine and propellor secured in cradles for transport.

114 Mobile Reporting and Control Unit mobile communications vehicle.
Spare engine and propellor for a RAAF AP-3C Orion ready for air transport

The civilian sector displays included an Aviation Rescue Fire Tender from Darwin Airport, local flying schools and private aviation enthusiasts who had flown their own aircraft in for the day. You could even take a scenic helicopter flight from the helipad located next to the museum grounds. Even the Motor Vehicle Enthusiast Club was displaying their vintage and veteran cars and motorcycles and you could grab a bite to eat from the sausage sizzle wafting it’s aromas across the parking area.

Local flying school Flight Advantage – DW 200 Whitney “Boomerang’ VH-DWF
Another local display the very colourful and aerobatic – Yak 52 VH-YGV flown in from Emkaytee airstrip.

The aircraft parked on the apron outside the open hangar doors, included a DC-3, a Harvard, Tiger Moth, Yak-52, DW-200 Boomerang (no, not the CAC type) and the Antonov AN-2, just to name a few.

Locally owned Antonov AN-2 VH-YNT utility biplane
If you know a little Russian, it can help.
Dh.82 Tiger Moth VH-NMD always in great presentation on days like this, and above Darwin.

A pair of silver skinned locals – one seen in the skies over Darwin on weekends and the other heard performing engine runs occasionally outside the museum – VH-VFM and VH-MMA.

A local flier is VH-VFM – an ex-RNZAF Harvard
DC-3 VH-MMA did provide a little shade for visitors.

Looking around you can see more classic aircraft at the museum that have sealed cockpits, but that doesn’t stop the visitor from admiring those other examples of Northern Territory aviation history. There is a DH. 82 Tiger Moth, Dassault Mirage IIIO A3-36, a replica Mk VIII Spitfire “Grey Nurse”, a de Havilland Dove and a sectioned B-25 Mitchell bomber plus other aircraft.

Mirage IIIO A3-36 has some local history.
USAAF B-25 Mitchell bomber ‘Hawgmouth’ sectioned for display.

Wandering around the hanger you can find large components like and array of engine types, a Sperry Ball Turret from a B-24 Liberator and the remains of an Japanese A6M2 Zero plus many other artefacts from Darwins air war.

Sperry Ball Turret from a B-24 Liberator with ammunition feed chutes.

Without museums and preservation societies, and their dedicated staff and volunteers, many items of history would be lost forever. It is a credit to those with a passion for the preservation and restoration of Australia’s long standing aviation history that we have a number of museums around the country that can showcase their hard work for the public’s viewing pleasure.

For Darwin, this open cockpit day occurs just once each year, usually in April or May, but the museum is open almost every other day. So if you are up visiting the Top End, find a morning, or afternoon to wander through and experience the Darwin Aviation Heritage Museum… well worth a look.


My gear – Nikon D7100, 18-55mm, 50mm, 70-200mm and 200-500mm. Sandisk extreme memory cards.

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