PITCH BLACK OPEN DAY 13 AUGUST 2016 – Story Mike ONeill, Photos Phil Buckley and Mike ONeill
On a sunny Saturday 13 August 2016, the ADF opened up the RAAF Darwin base gates to the Darwin general public and tourists to enable them to see the Pitch Black 2016 aviation assets and personnel up close at the well publicised Open Day.
By the time of the Open day, the Pitch Black 2016 exercise was into its last weeks and winding down. As part of thanking the city for hosting the exercise, RAAF Base Darwin once again opened its ‘apron’ to the public. The Pitch Black Open Day has no flying displays due to the large amount of private and commercial traffic operating out of the airport. It was also very interesting to hear from a local who said Darwin residents had allegedly not seen an airshow since 1990!. So with no airshow, the Open Day is just a static display of aircraft and various other defence related stalls which appeal to aircraft enthusiasts.
PB 2016 Open Day was quite a good turnout crowd-wise (reported at 18,000) and although actually exiting the event was akin to a dog fight with airspace fully loaded, they may well change their routine for PB 2018!. Getting close to the aircraft was also a benefit to the public – they’ve watched these military aircraft flying twice daily for three weeks straight – so the opportunity to get close to them would have been very much appreciated.
Nearly all of the participating exercise countries were represented by aircraft and with aircrew on-hand to chat with the public, answer questions and take the obligatory ‘selfie’ pic (where in days gone by one had to actually get someone else to take their photo…).
All of the squadrons had stalls up selling their wares – anything from T-shirts to hats and it was nice to see them giving away lapel pins and PB16 patches, stickers/posters free. I certainly took advantage of them!.
The RAAF provided the bulk of the displays with a large variety ranging from a 4 Sqn PC-9 FAC(A), 2 Sqn E-7A Wedgetail, 77 Sqn F/A-18A Classic Hornet, 36 Sqn C-17 Globemaster up to their 33 Sqn KC-30 MRRT for the public to see up close. The larger Air Force tactical and strategic transport/airlift aircraft were open for inspection also and there were at times some long lines of people to get in them. The kids especially enjoyed a photo and a chance to get inside these huge transporters.
FOREIGN AIR FORCES DISPLAYS
The USAF presented one of their 14th FS F-16CM alongside a fully loaded RAAF 1 Sqn F/A-18 Super Hornet.
The US Marine Corp brought their VMGR-142 “Sumos” KC-130J Hercules tanker and a pair of VMFA-122 F/A-18C Hornets to display.
The Royal Canadian Air Force brought to the Open Day a KC-130H tanker from 435 Sqn.
All of the Royal Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Lockheed F-16Cs and Boeing F15SG Strike Eagles fighters except one example was on display. They were fenced off away from the public and only viewable through the fence.
The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) had one of their dual seat F-16Bs on display with aircrew.
The French Air Force displayed their CN-235 light tactical transport.
LOCAL AVIATION DISPLAYS
The Darwin Aviation Heritage Centre museum included some of their aircraft for display – Wessex Navy helicopter, CAC Sabre jet alongside a private T-6 Harvard, Tiger Moth and WW2 era DC-3. Some of the public were left disappointed that the DAHC didnt display their big local drawcards such as the 75 Sqn Mirage IIIO fighter or F-111 strike bomber. Other local aviation on show included the Northern Territory State Police air wing PC-12 , Careflight A-139 helicopter, Border Force Dash -8, various RA/GA displays and local airport emergency units.
THE PEOPLE AT THE EVENT
As shown by the growing size of the crowd, this Open Day event is really showing how much interest Pitch Black has created in Darwin. Overall it would be rated a fun day out for the aviation enthusiasts, family and young kids. We give it a fun a rating of 9/10 purely for getting within a few metres of the aircraft and any time next to these warriors of the sky is a bonus. It’s a short wait until PB 2018 and hopefully we’ll see some new additions to the skies from past or newly participating countries.
DUAN would like to thank the RAAF personnel – Public Relations and Event teams, the various RAAF Squadron members, civil aviation personnel and the Pitch Black participating Air Forces for their time and effort in putting the aircraft and displays on show for the public. Many people worked hard behind the scenes and on the day to make this event run smoothly as intended.