Aviation Spotters Online

Aviation Spotters Online

Mass Launch Airside Exercise Pitch Black 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mark Pourzenic

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