Underneath the runway surface of Australia’s main air-force bases, lifesaving devices lie in wait, ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice.
FILE PHOTO (July 2017): A RAAF E/A-18G Growler from No 6 Squadron takes the arrestor cable at RAAF Base Amberley during Exercise alisman Saber 17. Photo by Sergeant Peter Borys. Story by Evita Ryan.
The Royal Australian Air Force’s aircraft arrestor systems and their 3.5-tonne energy absorbers can catch and stop aircraft that weigh up to 40tonnes, travelling at somewhere around 200km/hr.
Serviced every morning by Combat Support Group’s mechanical equipment operations and maintenance sections (MEOMS) at RAAF Bases Amberley, Williamtown, Richmond, Edinburgh, Pearce, Darwin and Townsville, the systems are always ready to go whenever RAAF’s fast jets are in the air.
No. 23 Squadron’s barrier-crew chief at RAAF Base Amberley Sergeant Alan Gill said when we came into work each day, the first thing they do is a daily service at each end of the runway to make sure the arrestor systems were serviceable for the next 24 hours.
“Once they’re deemed serviceable, we let the air traffic control tower and air base command post know that the arrestor systems are good to go.”
In the event that a fast-jet pilot issues a ‘pan-pan’ for urgent assistance and requests use of the aircraft arrestor system, air traffic controllers release the cable.
The arrestor cable rises from below the runway to about 5cm above the surface, where it waits for the fast-jet’s hook to engage the cable as the aircraft lands and passes over the top.
Once the hook engages the cable, the arrestor system’s brakes rapidly decelerate the fast jet as it travels along the runway.
“We basically staff our section in support of the fast-jet flying program,” Sergeant Gill said.
“If a pilot calls a ‘pan-pan’, air traffic control set off the central emergency alarm at MEOMS, the fire section and medical and we all scramble to an emergency form-up point.
“If there’s an issue with the landing gear on a fast jet or another issue that may affect the aircraft’s ability to land safely, the aircraft arrestor system is there to help pull the aircraft up.
“It’s primarily a lifesaving device for fast-jet pilots and helps to preserve the aircraft in the event of an emergency.”
With a system near each end of the runway, the second cable can be used in the event that an aircraft aborts take off or where, upon landing, an aircraft’s hook misses the first cable and is unable to take off.
If the cable is raised by air traffic controllers but isn’t used by the fast jet as it lands, the cable can be lowered back down below the runway, ready to spring back into action when required.