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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At about 5:45 pm the crew fire up “05” and after obtaining clearance from Darwin Tower, depart the oval at 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
The launches went on until well after sunset – both RAAF Super Hornets and USMC Classic D models.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
The second group was positioned at the 7000′ marker near the lift off point, but managed to catch a little taxiway action as well.
A short lull between F/A-18 waves and a USMC KC-130J managed to depart from midfield.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Repeated passes by A97-465 offered some spectacular angles of a C-130J at low level – each pass different to the last.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With some aircraft out flying already, maintenance crews take the opportunity to tow aircraft between OLAs, sometimes for maintenance, engine runs or arming.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pilatus PC-21 A54-003 (HB-HWC) and A54-004(HB-HWD) have safely touched down in Australia on their delivery flight to the Royal Australian Air Force. With A54-001 and A54-002 having been delivered back in February this year, Pilatus is well under way to delivering the 49 aircraft order by the Royal Australian Air Force.
It is a journey that begins in central Europe in the northern hemisphere, takes them half way around the globe, crossing the equator into the southern hemisphere to terminate in southern Australia.
Again flying international routes under their Swiss registrations HB-HWC and HB-HWD, Pilatus pilots Patrick Willcock and Reto “Tödi” Amstutz landed their aircraft in standard RAAF PC-21 livery bearing the squadron markings of 2FTS (No 2 Flying Training School) based at RAAF Base Pearce, Western Australia.
As with the first two aircraft delivered, Pilatus has had to blank out the RAAF serial designation numbers while in transit to Australia. While the PC-21’are painted in familiar red and white upper livery similar to the PC-9A, they also have the distinctive Southern Cross and ‘Invasion Stripes” painted on the dark blue undersides.
The aircraft departed Buochs Airport (Pilatus Aircraft facility) in Stans, Switzerland approximately 0830 on Sat 29 April 2017. The first leg took them to Bari in Italy, where they refuelled and flew on to land at Heraklion on the island of Crete (Greece), for their first overnight rest.
Departing Crete the next morning they flew over the Mediterranean sea to Luxor in Egypt, then the Arabian desert to arrive in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Flying east initially, then turning to the south, they continued down the Persian Gulf to the United Arab Emirates, landing at Fujairah international.
From the UAE it was another long ocean leg to India with stops in Ahmedabad and an unusual arrival pattern into Varanasi International Airport, especially for HB-HWC.
Next stop Chittagong in eastern Bangladesh, followed by a track taking them across southern Myanmar (Burma), to end the flying day at Don Mueang International, Bangkok.
May 3rd saw the aircraft fly south down the Gulf of Thailand to arrive at Seletar Airport in Singapore. A days rest was had before departing to Denpasar Airport in Bali on May 5th.
Departing at 0900 on the last day before touching down in Australia, HB-HWC and HB-HWD heading along the Indonesian archipelago to Kupang. A quick stop then the final 1h:45m ocean crossing to Darwin, landing at 1530 on the afternoon of Saturday May 6th, 2017.
After performing post-flight checks and a top up of the mains and external tanks at the Pearl Jet Centre at Darwin International Airport, it was off to the hotel for a well earned rest.
Although having touched down in Australia, there were still a couple of flights to conduct. Leaving on a balmy Darwin morning they departed south to Alice Springs firstly, then Broken Hill before finally arriving at East Sale, Victoria.
This delivery completes the second paired flight from the Pilatus factory in Switzerland to RAAF Base East Sale in Victoria, Australia. They are destined for delivery and official hand over to the Royal Australian Air Force, eventually being on charge as A54-003 and A54-004, at No 2 Flying Training School (2FTS) based at RAAF Base Pearce, Western Australia. The first handover ceremony is reportedly scheduled for June this year at RAAF East Sale.
With a flight time in excess of 30 Hours, 19,000+km with multiple forms of documentation, certification, customs and procedures to go through each trip, it is no walk in the park to deliver aircraft such distances. Somehow the Pilatus pilots make it all look a little too easy. So now we continue to look forward to the RAAF Pilatus PC-21 fleet gradually expanding, even if only by two aircraft each time.
HB-HWC and HB-HWC add to the existing two PC-21’s delivered back in February 2017 – A54-001 and A54-002. Click on the following link to read about their arrival First RAAF PC-21’a arrive in Australia
My gear is Nikon D7100, 18-55mm, 50mm, 70-200mm and 200-500mm. Sandisk extreme memory cards.
On a grey, overcast April afternoon, the final rotary aircraft deployed as part of this year’s Air Combat Element (ACE), in support of Marine Rotational Force – Darwin 2017, pitched into Darwin, NT, Australia. The four MV-22B Ospreys from Marine Medium Tilt Rotor Squadron 268 (VMM-268) ”Red Dragons”, normally based at MCAS Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, are part of Marine Aircraft Group 24 (MAG-24), 1 Marine Air Wing (1st MAW). This will be the first time VMM-268 have been deployed to Australia, having only reach Full Operating Capacity (FOC) with 12 aircraft in January this year. Another 12 are expected to be delivered by the end of 2018.
The crews have flown the Ospreys to Australia from Hawaii, via Wake Island and Guam with the help of KC-130J refuellers from VMGR-152 “Sumo’s”, who themselves are based at MCAS Iwakuni, in Japan. With a total distance of about 10,000km (6000mi) flown, they have transited large expanses of open ocean over the last week and have finally arrived around the back of a cyclonic depression off the north coast of Australia.
The distinct rotor noise emanating from the Osprey, Super Cobras and Venoms, will again become familiar sounds around the top end of the Northern Territory as they operate to and from the RAAF Base. Flying out to locations such as the Bradshaw Military Training area, less than an hours flight time for the Osprey, the MV-22’s are well suited for operations in Northern Australia. They have been to Darwin for short periods previously, but this is the first time they will spend such a long land based deployment in Australia.
With a range of over 1500km and a cruise speed of just over 500kmh, a crew of 3 plus up to 24 troops, they will be one of the largest and fastest operators during this marine rotation.
They are unique in that they can provide a high speed ‘force connection’ capability, linking forward operating bases to staging landing sites or specific field locations of ground elements, in a very short time. Air to air refuelling capability expands the operating range while high speed reduces the deployment time into the battle space, giving an edge to troop insertion missions. The MV-22 can perform troop insertion and extraction even where a landing is not practical. In the case during the Northern Territory’s dusty dry season, it can also perform restricted visibility landings landings employing a hover type approach from 50 ft into a vertical landing.
This now brings the total Aviation Combat Element (ACE) to 13 aircraft that will be stationed at R.A.A.F Base Darwin, including five AH-1W Super Cobras and four UH-1Y Venom helicopters from Marine Light Attack Attack Helicopter Squadron 367 (HMLA-367) “Scarface”. The HMLA-367 aircraft have been delivered from Hawaii by C-17 Globemaster III from Hickam AFB over the last few weeks with crews already beginning to familiarise themselves with the Darwin airspace.
They have just arrived but ASO certainly looks forward to bringing you some more pics as the weeks progress, or if you can make your way to Darwin there will be plenty of opportunities to catch them airborne yourself.
My gear – Nikon D7100, 15-55mm, 50mm, 70-200mm and 200-500mm. Sandisk SDXC UHS-I memory cards.
The first large group of Marines have arrived in Darwin this week from the “Thundering Third”, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment based out of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in 29 Palms, California. The deployment is just part of the United States Force Posture Initiatives which earlier in 2017 has already included an Enhanced Air Cooperation (EAC) initiative based out of RAAF Base Tindal. For more on the F-22 and F/A-18 EAC please follow this link- EAC – Raptor and the Hornet
Touching down on board an Omni Air International 777-200ER just after 9a.m. local time, after its 15 hour flight time originating at MCAS Miramar, California, via Honolulu, the Marines disembarked into RAAF Base Darwin’s Air Movements terminal. Shortly afterwards they were welcomed by the Commander of the 1st Brigade, Brigadier Ben James, AM, DSM, after which they caught transport to their host accommodation at the Australian Army’s Robertson Barracks.
This years Marine Rotational Force-Darwin (MRF-D 2017) continues the long standing training relationship that Australia has with the United States. The training facilities provided by the expansive space of the Northern Territory present a premium opportunity to improve cooperation and interoperability between the two nations. It also furthers both country’s commitment to providing regional security and engagement.
Training this rotation has been lifted to a higher level and will not just include live weapons firing but also reacting to scenarios of disaster or humanitarian relief and counter terrorism missions.
While in Australia the MRF-Darwin will also participate to varying degrees with other exercises planned during 2017 such as Exercises Southern Jackaroo, Talisman Sabre, Kowari, Koolendong and Crocodile Strike. These and other activities will also involve personnel from other regional nations including New Zealand, China, Japan and Indonesia.
Atlas Air is another contracted airlift company providing logistics support to the US forces deploying to Australia. Atlas Air’s B767-38E, also carrying personnel, arrived from Andersen AFB, Guam within 24 hrs of the Omni 777.
Lt. Col. Matthew Emborsky, the officer in charge of the forward coordination for Marine Rotational Force — Darwin 2017, earlier stated the 3/4th will be supported by other Marines from the 7th Engineer Support Battalion out of Camp Pendleton, also from California. They are all part of this years contingent for the 6th Marine Rotational Force – Darwin (MRF-D).
With large scale exercises or detachments, there is always some lead up activity and often can include various aircraft passing through like the UC-35A, a military designated Cessna Citation 560.
Also the Boeing C-40 Clipper (737) carrying larger delegations – both observed flying in and out before and after each exercise. The Northern Territory is no stranger to these aircraft and they mostly go un-noticed, blending in with the other international air traffic.
Moving larger items and some personnel has been performed by Boeing C-17A Globemaster III, staging from a variety of overseas locations including aircraft from the 535th Airlift Squadron, 15WG/154thWG, JB Pearl-Hickam, and the 3rd Airlift Squadron 436th/512 AW AMC Dover AFB.
Some initial movements included the transport of compacted UH-1Y Venom and AH-1W Cobra helicopters from the HMLA-367 home base at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
After unloading from the Globemasters, the Venoms and Cobras were moved to where they could be assembled for ground checks and pre-flight run-ups. From there they conducted initial test flights to bring them up to operating status.
To provide airborne support for the troops and equipment movements during the deployment, there is a significant aviation element planned. The total Aviation Combat Element (ACE) of 13 aircraft is expected to be stationed at R.A.A.F Base Darwin, although they will often transit to and from forward landing fields, and may, if like previous years, overnight at remote exercise locations. It will begin with four MV-22 Ospreys assigned from Marine Medium Tilt Rotor Squadron 268 (VMM-268) ”Red Dragons”. It will be the first deployment for VMM-268 out of Hawaii since the unit arrived from California mid 2016. Although VMM-268 has not deployed to the NT previously, other Osprey squadrons such as VMM-265 have participated in exercises here.
The “Red Dragons” MV-22B Osprey aircraft, which are flying nearly 10,000 km to Australia via Wake Island and Guam with the help of KC-130J refuellers from VMGR-152 “Sumo’s”, are well suited for operations in Northern Australia. They are unique in that they can provide a high speed ‘force connection’ capability, linking forward operating bases to the actual field location of ground elements in a very short time. Their high cruise speed and longer operating range, along with the ability to configure for mission roles such as troop insertion, or MediVac, make the Osprey a versatile asset in the battle space.
I relation to the deployment to Australia, Captain Aaron Brugman, an MV-22 pilot with VMM-268 out of Kaneohe Bay says – “This is definitely going to prove the range and distance and speed of the Osprey and kind of really shape the global reach that we’re looking for within the Pacific area. While we’re in Darwin, some of the training areas we can can easily get to within 45 minutes,” he said, “But the helicopters won’t be able to do that, or they’ll require fuel support from us or another ground-based, whereas we can just fly down there, do our thing and come back. It’s a good area for the Osprey’s capabilities, for sure.”
In addition to the Ospreys, there will be five AH-1W Super Cobras and four UH-1Y Venom helicopters from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367 (HMLA-367) “Scarface”. HMLA-367 have operated both types in the Northern Territory on past exercises. With offensive weapons such at the 20 mm M197 Gatling cannon, 2.75 in Hydra 70 or APKWS II rockets (in both 7 or 19 shot LAU launchers or even up to 8 AGM-114 Hellfire missiles mounted on the two outboard hard points, the AH-1W Super Cobras are a very capable aircraft at providing close air support.
The UH-1Y Venom is a versatile medium utility helicopter and provides not only transport for up to 10 marines, it can also exercise air to ground suppressive fire from a pair of door mounted 7.62mm M240 GPMGs and deliver 2.75in Hydra 70 or APKWS II rockets when fitted with their 7 round launchers. In 2016 the HMLA-367 Venoms were seen configured in this fashion a number of times as they departed for local weapons ranges near Darwin.
HMLA-367 is no stranger to Northern Australia having been deployed the Top End as recently as 2016. They will be in familiar territory performing key training activities with the Australian Defence Force at various training areas such as the Bradshaw Field Training Area (BFTA).
As the rotation has now entered the ramp up phase, we look forward to seeing a greater number of USMC aircraft coming and going from RAAF Base Darwin. It won’t just be United States forces out and about, expect to see the Australia Defence Force in the action as well.
Although there has been no announcement made yet, there may be a static display organised at the Royal Darwin Showgrounds as it was in 2016. A great opportunity to get up close to the equipment and ask questions of both the USMC and ADF operations personnel who play a part of the Marine Rotational Force – Darwin 2017.
So if you can make your way to the Top End this dry season, there is plenty on offer for the casual, or serious, aviation photographer… blue skies and cool nights.
I use Nikon D7100, 18-55mm, 50mm, 70-200mm, 200-500mm and Sandisk Extreme SD cards.
The alarm went off at 0500 and I was up in a flash, and on the road to RAAF Base Tindal by 0530. Today was going to be one of those days that only come along on rare occasions.
The occasion?…. An opportunity to speak to four key personal involved with the first Enhanced Air Cooperation activity to be conducted in Australia. Not only that, I was going to see both the United States Air Force F-22 Raptor and a Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18A Hornet close up.
Arriving in Katherine, 330km from home, a coffee and fuel stop was in order before driving the 15km to RAAF Base Tindal.
After meeting FLTLT Stephanie and FLGOFF Dea at the security gates, we boarded a bus which transported us into the restricted, operational area of the base. As we arrived outside the Air Movements building, I could just make out a couple of sharp edged fins protruding from the surrounding vegetation. Definitely not the shape of an F/A-18 tail that I was familiar with.
We were welcomed into the building by Marnie from Department of Defence Public Affairs and shown through to the apron.
Parked right there in front was a USAF F-22 Raptor, the Commanding officer’s personal aircraft, and a RAAF F/A-18A Hornet nose to nose and in front of the aircraft and standing in the hot sun waiting for us were our hosts:
Wing Commander Andrew Tatnell -Senior Australian Defence Officer RAAF Tindal
Wing Commander Michael Grant – 75 Squadron Commanding Officer
Lieutenant Colonel David Skalicky – USAF 90th Fighter Squadron Commander
Flight Lieutenant William “Gradz”Grady – Hornet pilot on exchange to the 90th Fighter Sqn
The film crew set up their camera while we waited for the C-17 from the 517th Airlift Squadron to shut down it’s APU. This C-17 Globemaster III is one of the support aircraft for the 90th FS while in Australia, and is also based out of Elmendorf, Alaska. It has been shuffling equipment and personnel around in support of the detachment, including down to Avalon.
In addition to the C-17 a pair of KC-135Rs have been supporting the 90th in both local air to air refuelling plus transiting across and back to Townsville in Queensland. One from the 173rd Air Refuelling Squadron, 155th Air Refuelling Wing, Nebraska, Air National Guard and another from the 72nd Air Refuelling Squadron, 434th ARW, Grissom AFRC, Indiana.
First up to speak and welcoming us was Wing Commander Tatnell, the senior ADO who explained – “This opportunity provides the Enhanced Air Cooperation between the Australia and the US where we get to train and work together to validate what we do, and from that, we can in the future, be better prepared to support any requirement that is tasked of us. The F-22 has been able to come to Tindal in its current form and we are well developed to support all fighter operations from this air base. It’s a great place, lots of clear airspace to fly around in and down the road we have Delamere Air Weapons Range. There they can operate over that range unimpeded and not bother anyone in the Northern Territory.”
He then handed over the speakers position to Wing Commander Michael Grant CO of 75 SQN who said “It’s an absolute pleasure to be hosting the 90th Fighter squadron here, this and next week. It’s no mean effort to bring a squadron down from Alaska and we are really excited to have them here operating in our back yard” He goes on to say “It is a real privilege to have Australia involved with a 4th Gen – 5th Gen mix. In previous years we have had to have squadrons deployed over to places like Alaska or Nevada to participate in exercises such as Red Flag. Those exercises can have over 100 aircraft in them and we don’t always get to work directly with F-22s when we are there. So it is a real privilege that the 90th and 75 sqn operating solely here at Tindal over these next two weeks.”
WGCDR Grant continued on to explain the focus is purely on interoperability and integrated tactics taking the absolute strengths of the 4th generation aircraft and combining them with the huge strengths of the 5 generation aircraft, bundling them together to deal with the scenario threats presented at the moment.
“This is really important, as Australia progresses into a fifth generation Air Force, we’re going to face the exact same scenario as we have here. As the F-35 comes online in a couple of years, that transition won’t happen overnight. So while this cooperation between 75 and the 90th is fantastic, it is also critical for Australia as we will have F-35s and F-18s (4th and 5th Gen) operating in the same scenario. We will need to be good at it, and so we are getting that valuable training this week”.
I remember when working at 75 Sqn that both 75 SQN and the 90th Tactical Fighter Squadron (as they were known back then), had flown together previously in the Northern Territory. Exercise Pitch Black in 1987 saw the two squadrons, one flying the Mirage III and the other the Phantom F-4E/G, both performing in mock battles in the skies over the N.T. A plaque remains commemorating their visit on the wall in the old RAAF Base Darwin operations room.
WGCDR Grant continues on the historical relation ship between the US and Australia – “75 and the 90th have a rich and long history both being ‘born’ around the early 1940’s dealing with the conflict in the Pacific. Fast forward seven and a half decades and I find myself overseas on operations side by side with the 90th very recently in theatre, and this week we’re back together again in a significant exercise, testing our integration and interoperability. It is with great pleasure I introduce the Commanding Officer of the 90th”.
Lieutenant Colonel David “Zeke” Skalicky steps up to the microphone and begins by telling us they have brought 12 F-22s and about 240 airman down to Tindal to integrate with 75Sqn.
“This exercise provides the unique opportunity to integrate down at the unit level in smaller packages – we have integrated in large combat operations and exercises before, but this exercise allows us to delve into the smaller scale tactics and individual execution of each pilot to make us better as a team. What that does for us, it makes us a better postured to meet with emerging threats or anything happening in the future – a better coalition to meet the challenges of the future.
What we have with us is the C-17 cargo aircraft and a KC-135R refuelling aircraft and while we focus on fighter to fighter integration, there’s a whole logistics side to the EAC. In bringing those logistics forces down we have seen that the interoperability of the fighters, logistics, security forces and maintenance functions that WGCDR Tatnell is in charge of. All those parts of our services interact very well and we are seeing the synergistic effects of combining our efforts.”
“For me, its been an absolute pleasure to get to fly with the 75 squadron again, getting to match our F-22 and F-18 capabilities together in a training environment, but also it’s been neat to see the logistics of both our sides working together. To see all that come together has been phenomenal”.
“We have a long tradition of integrating with Australia and that goes all the way back to WWII when the 90th Bomb Squadron at the time was operating out of Northern Australia. More recently we’ve had an Australian exchange pilot in the “Dicemen” as part of my squadron. I’ve got him here today, he has been a phenomenal asset, and an integral part of the Dicemen for the last several years and so I would like to introduce FLTLT William Grady”
Flight Lieutenant William “Gradz”Grady moves forward and although wearing his RAAF ranked flight suit, it bears the patches of the ‘Pair-o-Dice’ (90th FS), Pacific Air Forces, and his “Gradz Grady ‘Dicemen’ name badge. FLTLT Grady does however retain his RAAF FCI patch on the left shoulder.
He also sports the coveted pair of dice awarded to all pilots of the 90th Fight Squadron.
“ I arrived at the 90th Squadron in November 2014 and I will likely depart in December this year. So its about a three year tenure in total. The idea behind the exchange is for a RAAF pilot normally from Air Combat Group, to be converted to type and taken across to Alaska to fly integrated with the pilots at that squadron. That involves daily training, daily ground training, participating in the exercises that we have in Alaska, and of course it involves travelling across the United States and overseas as required to do so in those exercises and deployments WGCDR Grant talked about earlier”
“The premise of the exchange from an Australian perspective is to gain a good, solid understanding of 5th generation fighter flying, to bring those tactics and techniques back to Australia so we can stand up that integrated and technical force that we are desiring in Australia with the E7, Super Hornet, Growler and eventually the F-35. So it’s a fantastic opportunity for me personally and professionally to be part of it and bring that knowledge back.”
He goes on to say “ From the USAF side I would hope they gain a highly experienced fighter pilot into their squadron as well, hopefully they get a different perspective of how to achieve a mission or a task we are up against every day. So ultimately it comes down to that interoperability, that cross service we talked about earlier, and doing it over a longer term to achieve the goals we are after as an integrated force.”
Lieutenant Colonel Skalicky says “ What FLTLT Grady talked about – his contribution to the 90th and USAF, well…he is being a little modest in that. He was actually our squadron’s Instructor Pilot of the Year, an award he won from the entire 3rd Wing, which is about five squadrons worth of different aircraft. So he is an absolute asset not only to the 90th, 3rd Wing, but the United States Air Force and we are honoured to have him flying along side of us.”
“The exercise we are conducting is actually one that FLTLT Grady built – a rolling fictitious scenario involving some high end threats that optimise the capabilities of the F22 and F18 to show what we can really do. It has problems that the F-22 can’t solve on its own and problems the F-18 can’t solve alone. So it forces us to combine and realise that interoperability and what we can do together as a team.”
“The F22 is probably the most advance aircraft we have in the USAF but this exercise is not just about their unique capabilities, we realise that due to the numbers of F-22’ we have, we are much more effective when we bring in our coalition partners and their assets, like the 2 Squadron E7 Wedgetail and alone we can’t accomplish these scenarios but together we can”.
Australia has been participating in the bi-lateral pilot exchange programme with the USAF for years. Australian fighter pilots have been embedded in Navy F/A-18As, Air Force F-15C/Es, F-16s, and F-22s. with pilots The first F-22 exchange pilot was Squadron Leader Matthew Harper who was a F-22 instructor pilot and was the 90th EFS officer in charge of scheduling and training. Sqn Ldr Harper began his exchange posting starting in late 2008.
With regards to Townsville – “We were in Townsville twice in the past weeks….” He pauses as a flight of F-22s perform their initial and pitch overhead prior to landing. “What we were looking at there was this logistical side of the operational initiative – its really about demonstrating that we do very well in the logistics side , not just the fighters. What that gave us was that we know that we have the capability to meet say, humanitarian crisis, earthquakes, tsunami’s , something like that, We know we can go to a RAAF Base, know the kind of support we’re going to get.”
We watch the F-22s land and taxi past to their parking bays on the apron behind the Parked C-17.
I have a chance to ask Lieutenant Colonel Skalicky what celebrations he has planned for their 100th birthday later in the year. he said “We are planning a few celebrations back in Elmendorf – a night where we all get dressed up in our uniforms (USAF dress code), a large dinner function. We are also trying to organising a cruise, glacier cruise. It’s a big occasion – well the first 100th birthday for us – a long time since that original formation of the 90th at Kelly Field (Texas)”
I asked him what triggered his interest in an aviation career – “Ever since I was a kid, its all I ever wanted to do. In fact I still have a little Dr Seuss book, and it has writing in it from when I was a kid, one of the last things in it – ‘when I grow up I want to be’ – and I wrote in there with a backwards letter or two – PILOT – and so here I am. In my career I have flown just the trainer aircraft and the F-15C then the F-22. I’ve got a little over 2000 hours time in those two aircraft. The conversion from F-15 to the F-22 can be relatively short, a few weeks in the simulators plus classroom time is all it can take for a really experienced pilot to take his first flight”.
We mingle and I ask Wing Commander Grant whether 75 Squadron has finalised details for it’s up coming 75th celebration, He says they aren’t all set in concrete yet as the squadron has some flying commitments at the same time as the birthday. But should be sorted soon.
Just then some returning 75 Sqn Hornets initial and pitch above us, land and taxi past behind the two parked aircraft, and then off towards their OLA’s. Such a great sight, sound and smell that I do miss from my own days at 3 Squadron RAAF Base Williamtown. The 3 Sqn aircraft, A21-13 on loan to 75 Sqn passes behind and he joking asks me not to photograph it – “You should be taking pics of of our Magpie aircraft” he says with a grin.
As the Wing Commander finishes an aircraft integral to this EAC The E-7A Wedgetail AEW&C lands and gracefully taxies past us to it’s parking slot. One of the quiet achievers in the RAAF inventory.
Once the Wedgetail has move out of earshot Flight Lieutenant Grady continues to describe flying the F-22 – “To fly the F-22 is just unbelievable, its a fantastic jet, who can complain about having super-cruise, super manoeuvrability, integrated avionics and stealth of course. Its one of this aircraft you can’t ‘blame your tools’ on anymore, one of the down side to debrief (as he smiles) . To Fly, you go up there, race to 50,000 feet and at Mach 1.3. It makes it incredibly challenging but also fantastic to go to work every day.”
I watch as a USAF maintenance hook up a tow motor and tow bar to one of the Raptors and proceeded to move it from the apron to the OLA’s after it had shut down earlier.
With regards to bringing his skills from Alaska back to Australia – “ We are getting the JSF, F-35 and whilst this exchange isn’t directly supporting that, all the experience and the lessons we have from operating with the USAF, flying the F-22, will be interchangeable with the F-35. So we will be able to bring those lessons back, develop them and stand up the F-35 as soon as possible. The end state Australia is looking for is a highly technical, integrated force leveraging off the E-7, Super Hornet, Growler and that F-35 mix in there as well. With those components we should be punching above our weight.”
The final flight of F-22s fly over and land in trail on RAAF Base Tindal’s 2744m runway.
I watch mesmerised as they again taxi past on their way to the OLA’s.
Finally as the last Raptor taxi’s to it’s lair it is time to wrap it up – all of us feeling the heat a little after an hour and a half in the Top End’s blazing sun.
I shake hands and thank the pilots and CO’s who gave me their valuable time to open a window into their exciting world.
Wing Commander Andrew Tatnell -Senior Australian Defence Officer RAAF Tindal
Wing Commander Michael Grant – 75 Squadron Commanding Officer
Lieutenant Colonel David Skalicky – USAF 90th Fighter Squadron Commander
Flight Lieutenant William “Gradz”Grady – Hornet pilot on exchange to the 90th Fighter Sqn
Meandering back into the Air Movements building I begin reflecting on what has been an experience I won’t forget for a long time. YES! – I have seen a F-22 Raptor up close.
I would like to thank Marnie from DOD Public Affairs, for the opportunity to attend this unique event, and FLTLT Stephanie, FLGOFF Dea and CPL Kelly for getting us safely to and from the location.
Cheers… Sid Mitchell
I use Nikon D7100, 18-55mm, 50mm, 70-200mm and 200-500mm, Sandisk cards.
Just before 10 a.m on the morning of the 19th of February 1942, Australian history was marked by a dark moment as Darwin became the first major target on land to be bombed by a large airborne enemy force.
Having been relatively immune from enemy strikes, this attack was to be a wake up call for Australia as a nation…. war and conflict had finally reach our shores. Australians had heard on the wireless and in read in print news of the Japanese surprise attack on the United States at Pearl Harbour, but most never thought the horror of war would impact the civilian population so violently on home soil.
The initial Darwin raid at 9.58am, was conducted by 188 Japanese aircraft, 36 A6M2 ‘Zero” fighter escorts protecting 71 Aichi D3A “Val” and 85 Nakajima B5N2 “Kate” bombers from four Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carriers, the Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu, located in the Timor Sea to the north.
Nine large ships were to eventually sink in Darwin Harbour as a result of the raid that day and a further two more outside the harbour. More than 15 others would be damaged either at anchor, berthed or in slipways.
A second attack followed 25 minutes later buy 54 land-based aircraft including 27 Mitsubishi G3M ‘Nell” and a further 27 Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers.
Both attacks caused considerable damage and loss of life to not only the military but the civilians of Darwin. The Darwin Hospital, Post Office, Police Barracks, Bank of NSW, 7 out of 10 fuel bunkers (tanks), wharf, rail/road facilities and the telegraph line were just some of the infrastructure damaged.
With the Australian Government’s official figures as a result of the two raids that day being 235 people killed and an estimated 300 to 400 wounded causalities, many allied soldiers and sailors , some say those numbers under estimates the real figure.
As a response ten P-40’s of the 33rd (Provisional) Pursuit Group USAAF, which was based at Darwin on that day, were sortied with all but two being shot down defending Darwin and the following pursuit of the raiders as they departed. The newly formed “A” Flight 33rd Pursuit Squadron, under command of Maj Pell ceased to exist that day following the air raid and aerial combat with the Japanese. One of the later wartime air strips built 100km down the Stuart Hi-way was named in Major Floyd Pell’s honour. Even though it was surprise attack, one Kate dive bomber was shot down over Darwin, a Val and a Zero crashed from damage returning to their carriers and a further Zero crash landed on Melville Island to the north of Darwin.
Of note was that the Japanese Zero pilot., Sgt Hajame Toyoshima became Australia’s first prisoner of war captured on home soil, being detained by local Aboriginal men until handed over to military authorities.
No. 2 squadron Hudsons had just started returning to Darwin from Koepang (Kupang) on 18 February 1942, joining some of 13 Squadron Hudsons at the RAAF Station. Other 2 Sqn Hudsons arrived at Darwin on 19 February only a few hours before the first Japanese bombing attack. Up to 30 aircraft were reported as destroyed in various telegraphs to HQ, including 6 Hudsons, 2 Kittyhawks and a B-24 Liberator totally wrecked on the ground with a Wirraway plus another Hudson badly damaged as well. In air combat 8 Kittyhawks were shot down and 1 returned suffering battle damage.
It interesting to note that more bombs were dropped on Darwin, the RAAF Station and Darwin harbour on the 19th February 1942 than were delivered in the attack on Pearl Harbour 3 months prior. Some long range drop tanks were initially mistaken as bombs in the aftermath of the raid.
WWII relics are still visible at many Darwin locations and in the surrounding areas including a number of airfields and storage facilities used during the war. Darwin also has a number of historical centres that show the wartime history including the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre, WWII Oil Storage Tunnels, Darwin Military Museum and the Royal Flying Doctor Service Darwin Tourist Facility at the wharf which includes the Bombing of Darwin Harbour display with a replica A6M Zero suspended from the roof.
Even today evidence of attacks can be seen at the old QANTAS hangar – formerly of the RAAF station in Parap. Strafing runs performed by A6M Zeros have left 20mm cannon left holes in the building’s structure in a number of places.
One popular airfield right on the Stuart Highway is Strauss Airstrip, about 45 km from Darwin CBD. It is a popular rest stop for travellers to the NT with Strauss Airfield providing some information boards and three painted silhouettes of aircraft types used to defend Northern Australia.
In Honour of this 75th Anniversary two locally based aircraft, an AT6 Harvard and DH.82 Tiger Moth, both flew over the city. This was in addition to the USS Peary Memorial Service conducted earlier in the morning. USS Peary , a destroyer at anchor in Darwin Harbour, was sunk in the attack and many allied sailors died as a result.
The ADF also performed displays for the public, a simulated attack with the Australian Navy’s patrol boat HMAS Maryborough firing it’s guns, and troops from the Australian Army at Robertson Barracks firing field guns near the Cenotaph.
At 9:58am a low level flypast by the Royal Australian Air Force roared overhead, consisting of 4 aircraft , a P-3C Orion based at RAAF Base Darwin plus three F/A-18A Hornets flown up from RAAF Base Tindal. The first past was as a combined formation then as the smoke cleared from the gunfire, individual low passes back over the Cenotaph and CBD.
Truly a sad day in Australian and Allied history but one that is to be remembered with a memorial ceremony held every year on 19 February at the Cenotaph in Darwin. As with each year past, at 9:58 am a World War II Air Raid Siren sounds to mark the precise time of the first attack. Lets We Forget.