Operation Pitch Black has been in full flight (hmm) this week over the Top End and the sounds of military jets scream overhead. The exercise is a collaborative air combat training mission for air force pilots from six nations: Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, USA, and in 2012 for the first time, Indonesia bringing their Russian-made Sukhoi SU-30 fighter aircraft.
I’m pretty sure this is the Sukhoi jet brought over by the Indonesian Air Force.
Luckily for us the aerial combat missions (aka dog fights) occur in open country south of Darwin with jets also taking off from Tindal RAAF base south of Katherine (300 odd kms from Darwin). You can hear Group Captain Mike Kitcher talking to the ABC about the exercise here: he’s the man in charge of the 100 aircraft and 2200 personnel who are taking part. We’re used to the sound of the RAAF’s F/A 18 Hornets overhead from time to time but this is a whole other level.
The Sukhoi from below.
Why Darwin? We’re at the Top End of the country and in many ways the top end of Australia’s military defences; it’s perfect weather here in the Dry with an almost non-existent chance of rain; and we’re very much in the South-East Asian region.
A Hornet (I think) from below.
For the past week we’ve had practice sorties with small groups of aircraft up at one time. In the coming weeks they’ll have up to 60 aircraft up at a time….I can hardly wait. Hopefully there’ll be more photos coming up. I’m sure it’s a fantastic training experience for all the personnel involved, but I’ll bet it’s like Heaven on a stick for them too.
Streaming contrails from the wingtips.
Here are a couple from the Amy Johnson end of the runway: a little fuzzy because of the dust and I’ve cropped it after using a long lens.
Three fighters on the runway as they finish a sortie. The rear one is just flaring on touch down.
Darwin airport is a combined light aircraft, commercial and military airport. No doubt everyone is having to make compromises on timing. As I sat at the Amy Johnson viewing end of the runway, a string of bigger aircraft waited for a twin engine plane to clear the airspace. As the jets took off they left the stereo-typical swirl around them, but sadly it was just too far for my lens to capture.
Jetstar (right, commercial flights), two fighter jets and an Air Force freighter of some sort wait their turn in the flight queue.
Watching the jets is a bit of a hobby in Darwin as you can see.