The milestones of Exercise Pitch Black are being recounted through an online campaign on RAAF social media channels.

Called ‘Exercise Pitch Black Online’, the campaign will run until August 7, coinciding with the period the live exercise was originally slated to occur, which was cancelled because of restrictions associated with COVID-19.

Air Commander Australia Air Vice-Marshal Joe Iervasi said the online campaign was an opportunity to recount the exercise’s history, its international participants and its engagement of the local community.

“It's been a challenging year for everyone right across the globe,” Air Vice-Marshal Iervasi said.

“A number of participating nations have found it difficult to send personnel and aircraft down to the exercise.

“So we're taking the opportunity, even though we can't exercise physically, to continue the engagement through Pitch Black Online.”

The last exercise in 2018 was held over three weeks and involved 140 aircraft and 4000 personnel from 15 nations.

“Exercise Pitch Black is our biennial international engagement exercise,” Air Vice-Marshal Iervasi said.

“The exercise has evolved over many years to become the premier southern hemisphere air combat exercise.”

It began at RAAF Base Williamtown in 1981 as an air defence exercise for delta-wing Mirage IIIO fighters from No. 77 Squadron, supported by radar surveillance from No. 3 Control and Reporting Unit.

Together, the Mirages fended off attacks from RAAF No. 1 Squadron F-111C strike jets.

A similar exercise format returned in 1982, but in 1983, Exercise Pitch Black relocated to the Northern Territory and involved the United States Air Force.

Over the next four decades, Exercise Pitch Black grew significantly, and shifted its focus from air defence to strike and large force employment missions around the year 2000.

“Pitch Black really is the opportunity for the Air Force to demonstrate its full capabilities, not only within the Defence Force itself, but within local and state communities as well, and for the Australian public,” Air Vice-Marshal Iervasi said.

“Pitch Black Online is a great opportunity for us to reflect upon where we've been as an air force and where we've been with Pitch Black, where we're at today, and what the future of our air force and Pitch Black looks like.”

Air Vice-Marshal Iervasi said his first exposure to the exercise came in 1997 as an F/A-18A Hornet pilot.

“I remember the first time I stepped onto the flightline at Darwin. Just to see so many air combat aircraft from all over the world and going ‘wow, we're all going to be airborne at the same time in that airspace’,” Air Vice-Marshal Iervasi said.

“The key lesson I learned from those early days is get your head out and have a look around, because chances are you're going to see someone coming before the radar finds them as well.

“The flying itself is incredible, in terms of the opportunities that are presented there, but the social life is also fantastic.”