Flight Lieutenant Andrew Willersdorf was on his Christmas break with family in Queensland when the bushfire emergency began to unfold.
CAPTION: Flight Lieutenant Andrew Willersdorf, a pilot with No. 35 Squadron, performs pre-flight checks on the C-27J Spartan to deliver essential cargo and passengers from RAAF Base East Sale to Mallacoota during Operation Bushfire Assist. Photo by Corporal Kylie Gibson. Story by Flying Officer Claire Burnet.
RELATED STORIES: Operation Bushfire Assist 19-20
The C-27J Spartan pilot from the Sunshine Coast was watching the scale of the bushfires on television when he decided to contact his boss to offer help.
“Our job as members of the ADF is to be ready when the government needs us and we spend a lot of time training and conducting missions for situations like this,” Flight Lieutenant Willersdorf said.
More than 800 Air Force personnel from about 71 RAAF units and a number of aircraft are working in support of Operation Bushfire Assist – including up to three C-27J Spartan, up to two C-130J Hercules, one C-17A Globemaster, one P-8A Poseidon, and up to three B350 King Air.
This Operation is Flight Lieutenant Willersdorf’s second inside Australia, the first being Operation Queensland Flood Assist in 2019.
“I arrived at RAAF Base East Sale from Amberley a week ago and have been busy flying firies, police, and Parks and Wildlife Victoria members into the bushfire-affected communities of Mallacoota and Merimbula,” Flight Lieutenant Willersdorf said.
His aircraft is a C-27J Spartan – small, nimble and capable of using short runways made of dirt.
“The Spartan is particularly suitable for sustained operations like this because it is light on the ground and won’t damage airfields during constant take-off and landing rotations.”
Royal Australian Air Force aircraft are conducting a range of tasks including providing critical supplies of water, fuel, food, medical and veterinary supplies, as well as transporting firefighting and essential services personnel into and out of fire zones, evacuating members of fire-impacted communities, and surveillance and reconnaissance.
Spartans have been particularly busy throughout Victoria with 119 flights moving 139,001 pounds of cargo, 1014 passengers, 25 dogs, five cats and 14 koalas.
“In South Australia, my aircraft flew Country Fire Service volunteers from Port Augusta and Mount Gambier to Kangaroo Island then took the current team of volunteers back for some time off,” Flight Lieutenant Willersdorf said.
Flight Lieutenant Willersdorf said this operation was rewarding for ADF personnel because they were directly helping Australians and making a real difference in people’s lives.
“It’s been eye-opening to see the amount of devastation these bushfires are causing and humbling to witness the selflessness of volunteers, and the community spirit,” he said.
“Being a pilot in the RAAF is always diverse and rewarding, but giving back to our own Australian communities makes me very proud to be part of the ADF.”