Captaining aircraft on Operation Argos

Deploying on Operation Argos to Okinawa, Japan, for the third time, Flight Lieutenant Natasha Henderson reflected on her progression from co-piloting a P-8A Poseidon to captaining one.

CAPTION: RAAF pilot Flight Lieutenant Natasha Henderson in the cockpit of a P-8A Poseidon prior to departing for a maritime surveillance mission. Story by Flying Officer Connor Bellhouse. Photo by Sergeant Nicci Freeman.

While her junior co-pilot days on the operation were focused on flying the aircraft, Flight Lieutenant Henderson’s current role as aircraft captain means she now commands the overall mission.

“As aircraft captain I have a range of responsibilities, such as safety of flight, mission execution and crew resource management,” Flight Lieutenant Henderson said.

“When we’re on station I work closely with the tactical coordinator to ensure the mission is conducted effectively.

“It’s my job to maintain situational awareness of our priorities, the airspace and factors affecting our performance or safety in order to make effective decisions in flight.”

Operation Argos is Australia’s contribution to the monitoring activities of the US Indo-Pacific Command’s Enforcement Coordination Cell. The multinational cell, embedded in the US Navy 7thFleet, gathers information to help enforce the United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea.

“For Operation Argos, the ECC provide a brief of key vessels of interest to gather information on,” Flight Lieutenant Henderson said.

“Part of my role is ensuring we are optimising the Poseidon’s sensors to capture the data they have requested. When we’ve finished the collection we provide the products to the ECC so they can use the information as evidence to enforce sanctions.”

During the deployment the aircraft captain also works to ensure the crew’s continual improvement and efficiency.

“We’ve developed a robust debrief process and over the course of the deployment there’s been a really positive trend,” Flight Lieutenant Henderson said.

“We’ve been able to reach an effective point as our baseline. It’s rewarding to see that teamwork build and see the quality of products we’ve been providing back.”

At the end of the operation, Flight Lieutenant Henderson will finish up at 11 Squadron and return to Australia soon after.

“Having come through on Operation Argos deployments as a junior co-pilot and finishing in the role of captain, it’s definitely a highpoint in my time posted to 11 Squadron,” she said.


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