Nearly a hundred aircraft have been flying in and out of RAAF Base Darwin for Exercise Pitch Black and the one thing they all need before missions is fuel.
CAPTION: RAAF Leading Aircraftman Thomas Clarke-Kelly, right, and UK Royal Air Force Air Specialist Class One Declan McTrusty, centre, work together to refuel a Republic of Singapore Air Force F-15SG Eagle aircraft. Story by Flying Officer Connor Bellhouse. Photo by Leading Aircraftman Chris Tsakisiris.
With the parking aprons filled with fighter, transport and refuelling aircraft from countries around the world, the simple pit stop becomes an entirely different challenge.
Royal Australian Air Force Leading Aircraftwoman Emma Elward, a refueller deployed on Pitch Black, said the tasks on a large multinational exercise included some unique challenges.
“Refuelling different nations is quite exciting. There’s a lot of aircraft we have that we don’t deal with on a day-to-day basis,” Leading Aircraftwoman Elward said.
“The language barrier can be a little bit tricky at times, but it’s always nice to meet new people from all over the world.”
On Pitch Black, refuelling aircraft in between missions can be time sensitive.
“When we get the call, we grab our gear, jump into the truck and then we’re straight out to the aircraft,” Leading Aircraftwoman Elward said.
“If we don’t meet the timings to get out there to refuel those jets there’s a high chance they’ll miss their wave, which impacts the mission.”
Helping out to ensure that the aircraft on Pitch Black meet their mission times is a support team from the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force.
Royal Air Force Air Specialist Class One Declan McTrusty has deployed to RAAF Base Darwin to support the refuelling efforts for the entire exercise.
“We’ve come across from the UK to help out and refuel the aircraft, to make sure they’re ready to roll for their taskings,” Air Specialist McTrusty said.
“A lot of times when they come in for fuel they’re going back up again afterwards, so they need to get the fuel bang on the time they want it, otherwise it could jeopardise what time they go back up.”
For Air Specialist McTrusty, working with the Australian team has been an exercise highlight.
“To start with, it was a quick refresher working with the Aussies. Obviously they took us under their wing and showed us the way until we got up to grips with it,” he said.
“It’s definitely been a great experience so far and it’s been good to work with different nations as well to build up that relationship.”