AH-1W Super Cobra

AH-1W Super Cobra from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 367.

With the recent announcement that the United States Marine Corps will be expanding it’s fleet on deployment through Darwin in 2017, ASO has a peek at what aircraft types are coming and a quick look back at a few USMC aircraft from previous Darwin visits.

For 2017, the USMC force arrives during April and is planned to depart in October, but the difference this year is that the ground forces are being supported by several helicopter types, instead of just one. The NT will be treated to not just UH-1Y Venoms like we saw in 2016, but Super Cobra’s and Osprey tilt rotor aircraft as well, even though both types have also deployed to Darwin on previous exercises.

During 2017 the Marine Rotational Force – Darwin (MRF-D) squadron line up is expected to be 9 aircraft from HMLA 367, a Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron with tail-code VT, “Scarface”. They will be utilizing examples of both UH-1Y and AH-1W, being 5 and 4 of each type respectively.

AH-1W Super Cobra

“Scarface” a AH-1W Super Cobra from HMLA 367

UH-1Y Venom

“Scarface” UH-1Y Venom (Super Huey) from HMLA 367, a Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron

In addition there will be 4 MV-22B Osprey aircraft from VMM 268, a Marine Medium Tilt-Rotor Squadron with tail-code YQ, the “Red Dragons”.  The aviation combat elements are all from Hawaii, HMLA367 from MCAS Kaneohe Bay and VMM 268 from MCAS Hawaii.

MV-22B Osprey

“Dragon” MV-22B Osprey transitioning from forward flight to hover and land.

Well before the Marine Rotational Force – Darwin (MRF-D) was announced back in 2011, Darwin has been hosting various USMC visits, but more so on a semi-permanent basis since 2012. Most Darwin residents these days go about their daily business without much acknowledgement of the various C-17A Globemasters, KC-130J Super Hercules, CH-53E Super Stallions, UH-1Y Super Hueys or AH-1W Super Cobras coming and going.


“Sumo” KC-130J from VMGR 152 – a regular in the Darwin skies.

USAF C-17 Globemaster III

“Trek” USAF C-17 Globemaster III from 176th Wing Elmendorf Alaska, providing logistical support to the USMC

As a clear demonstration of the public’s acceptance of Darwin’s military history, not just with our own ADF, but with the foreign armed forces as well, is how the community welcomes the support and construction activities the Marines perform while on rotation in Darwin. Many local businesses and light industry benefit from the Marine presence in the Northern Territory, from providing catering and consumables to tourism and entertainment.

CH-53E Super Stallion

“Pegasus” CH-53E Super Stallion from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron HMH-463

During 2015 the MRF-D contingent was supported by four CH-53E Super Stallions, call sign Pegasus, one of the largest battlefield helicopters in the US military (mind you, the CH-53K King Stallion is coming). These 4 Super Stallions from HMH 463, a Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron also based out of MCAS Kaneohe Bay Hawaii, arrived in April and departed in October 2015.

CH-53E Super Stallion

“Pegasus” with crewman riding the ramp

The majority of their operations were troop airlifts to, from and within the Bradshaw and Mt Bundy military training areas – large spaces of the Top End that afford a variety of challenging combat environments for the Marines. There were also some offshore movements to and from vessels during local exercises during the year.

KC-130J VMGR 152

“Sumo” KC-130J VMGR 152

During 2016 Darwin saw the USMC forces supported by UH-1Y Venoms (often called the Super Huey) from HMLA-367, a Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron also from MCAS Kaneohe Bay Hawaii. These aircraft were not only assigned as Marine transport, but were configured with ground attack munitions – Hydra 70 and LAU launcher plus the two door mounted M240D GPMG’s. They could often be seen transiting to and from the Bradshaw training area and weapons ranges.

UH-1Y Venom

“Scarface” Venom off to the weapons range.

During other exercises conducted in the Northern Territory, we were treated to a number of USMC aircraft on short stay in Darwin. These included the MV-22B from VMM-265 and AV-8B from VMA-311, both squadron assigned on board the USS Bohomme Richard which docked into Darwin to back load during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2015.

MV-22B Osprey

“Dragon” MV-22B Osprey Tilt Rotor from VMM-265 departing Darwin

MV-22B Osprey

MV-22B parked for display.

MV-22B Osprey

MV-22B cockpit

USS Bonhomme Richard LD6 2015

MV-22B, CH-53E and AV-8B aircraft lashed down for return trip on the USS Bonhomme Richard.

It isn’t just the small operational aircraft that transit Darwin in support of the deployment. A number of USAF squadrons fly in and out providing various support functions for the Marines. Some transport aircraft such as the USAF C-5M Super Galaxy and C-17A Globemaster III, are quite capable of transporting equipment from palletised freight, armoured vehicles right up to helicopter size loads around the globe.

C-5M Galaxy

“Reach” one of the last flying C-5B Galaxy’s bringing equipment in to Darwin.



Another C-17 Globemaster from the 176th Wing approaches into Darwin

C-17 Globemaster III

Maintenance and Loadmasters carefully insert a prepared CH-53E into a USAF C-17 for transport home.

Another vital function is the regular operational re-supply and equipment support given from the Marine Corp’s own logistics squadrons. A regular sight has been the KC-130J’s from VMRG-152 “Sumo’s” based out of MCAS Iwakuni, in Japan. These work horse aircraft come and go at all hours and not only shunt cargo around, but are capable of Air to Air refuelling – aircraft such as the MV-22B Osprey and CH-53E Super Stallions.


“Sumo” KC-130J from VMGR 152 turns onto final in Darwin.

Sumo 22

KC-130J from VMGR 152 parked on the ramp.

In the lead up and ramp down each year, Darwin often sees a number of personnel transport aircraft, carrying both high ranking and regular troops. These types include the USAF C-40 Clipper (B737) and larger contracted airliners such as United or the Altas  747-422 and Omni Air International’s 757-33A, which conveniently can meet both freight and passenger requirements at the same time.

US C-40 Clipper

US C-40 Clipper from 73rd Airlift Squadron, 932nd Airlift Wing

USN C-40 Clipper

USN C-40 Clipper (737)

Omni Air 767

OMNI Air International B757 arriving into Darwin.

Atlas Air 747

United B747-422 about to touch down.

2017 appears to hold some great military photographic opportunities in store for anyone that happens to visiting the Northern Territory, not just from the USMC MRF-D aspect, but from other exercises and events planned for the year.

MV-22B Osprey

An Osprey transitions to hover and roll out landing – Darwin, NT.

Stay in touch as ASO looks forward to bringing you more from up north throughout the year and beyond.

Cheers..Sid Mitchell in the Top End

 My gear is a Nikon D7100, Nikkor f2.8 50mm, f4 70-200mm and f5.6 200-500mm. SD cards by Sandisk and Slik tripod.