Pitch Black is a military an exercise staged ever 2yrs in the north of Australia by the RAAF – Royal Australian Air Force – to train and push to the limit aircrew so they can work in a realistic combat environment. Flying from 2 main basses RAAF Darwin and RAAF Tindal in the Northern Territory – the top end of Australia as the local like to call themselves – the RAAF alongside the US, RSAF, RTAF and Indonesian Air Force pitted 2 teams – Blue and Red forces against each other to simulate operational strike packages trying to attack targets, while been intercepted by barrier air patrols of fighters.
This year’s exercise brought for the first time the Indonesia Air Force with Su-27, Su-30 Flankers and C-130 Hercules. Normally these aircraft aren’t seen in Australia let alone a tactical exercise like PB 2012.
On August 11 the RAAF held special static display Open Day for residents of Darwin to come see up close some of the aircraft used on the 3 week exercise. The heat and humidity of Darwin wasn’t too bad this year with bright sunny weather and wind on the day. From 9am to 4pm the Bombing ramp was a sea of people mixing with olive flight suits and grey metal machines.
A variety of aircraft such as F/A-18 Hornets A and F models, SU-27/30 Flankers, King Airs 350, F-16 Viper ADF, F-16D Viper , F-15E Strike Eagle, AP-3C Orion, C-130H Hercules, KC-135R Stratotanker along with some vintage aircraft – Tigermoth, Harvard and Auster were all on show.
My trip to Darwin in itself was a testing 1.5days of flight time and walking on minimal sleep. The flying to get there and back at 1am-5am / 930pm-1am on both days really putting my body clock of out wack but I survived.
I made a few new friends at Darwin mainly Adam Burgan, a aircraft photographer who kindly allowed me to use his flying shots of the exercise, was joined by his family and fellow mates, all into aviation and who follow the airport operations. It is quite useful having contacts living only 2-3mins away from the airport able to keep me updated on issues.
The RAAF gained much useful PR and the ability to interact with the locals from staging this Open Day and it is hoped that a similar Open Day will happen in 2yrs time again but as a regular event if the large crowd numbers on the day were an indicator of the popularity of the event.
On the open day a small section of RAAF Darwin base HAS (Hardened Air Shelters could been seen. They are easily seen from road and air by the public, similar to the RAAF Townsville HAS. During WW2 the airport was the main RAAF base for the Top End and many revetments with no cover were built all across this land… to protect aircraft and crews from the many Japanese bomber air raids.
F/A-18A Classic Hornet
3 Sqn armoury crews with a training version of the GBU-12 500lb laser guided bomb on a MJ-1 bomb wagon
In a very unusual setup, the majority of the F/A-18F Super Hornets were parked with their wings folded up. This is very rarely seen in Australian operations but more common for US Navy and USMC Hormets on aircraft carriers.