Aviation Spotters Online

Aviation Spotters Online

Dry Season Thunder- a week in Exercise Diamond Storm 2017

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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.

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VMFA-242 ‘Bats’ F/A-18D’s
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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.

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USAF KC-10A Extender from 60th/349th Air Mobility Wing – Travis AFB
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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.

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USAF C-17 204th Airlift Sqn 15/154th Wing.
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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.

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RAAF F/A 18 Classic Hornet A21-116.
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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.

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RAAF KC-30A A39-004
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A41-210 C-17 Globemaster III loaded with cargo.
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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.

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RAAF E-7A Wedgetail from 2 Sqn at RAAF Williamtown.
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RAAF 5 Flight Heron RPV A45-253 from RAAF Amberley.
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RAAF Beechcraft King Air 350 A32-349 32Sqn
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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

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Learjet VH-LFA from Air Affairs Australia – into Darwin
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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.
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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.

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Taxi from OLA – RAAF Tindal
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A21-34 – RAAF Tindal
A21-109 taxing out at RAAF Tindal.
A21-109 taxing out at RAAF Tindal.
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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.

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Waiting to line up Runway 14 Tindal.
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A21-43 lifting off Runway 14
AWIC17 Tindal (15 of 34)
Gear up on A21-34
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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.

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

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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.

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A21-115
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A21-47 lifting the nosewheel.
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A21-116 sunset backdrop.

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

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USMC KC-130J from VMGR-234 ‘QH’
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A ‘Ranger’ from VMGR-234.
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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)
Inbound
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.

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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.

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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.

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

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.

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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.

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A39-004 – one of two drogue refuelling wing pods.
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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.

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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.

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A44-218 retracting the u/c.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Lears on approach
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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
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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

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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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