Airdrop missions will deliver Christmas cheer to remote communities in Australia and the West Pacific while providing Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) crews with essential training.
The inaugural Exercise Christmas Drop Australia will be conducted by RAAF using a C-27J Spartan transport aircraft to airdrop loads to remote communities in northern Queensland and Western Australia, from December 3-7.
Meanwhile, a RAAF C-130J Hercules and crew will deploy to Guam in the West Pacific for Operation Christmas Drop, joining an American-led activity from December 4-17.
The overseas operation, which will involve participants from the United States, Japan, New Zealand and Australia, will deliver to remote communities in Palau, Micronesia and the Northern Marianas Islands.
Both Christmas drop activities will deliver donated goods ranging from sanitary and toiletry items to fishing equipment, canned food and rice, sporting equipment, toys and books.
Officer Commanding No. 84 Wing, Group Captain Nicholas Hogan, said experience with airdrop missions was greatly valued by Spartan and Hercules crews.
“Both Christmas drops will use drop zones that are largely unfamiliar to the crews and may have some unique environmental challenges to how a load can be safely delivered,” Group Captain Hogan said.
“For example, during Operation Christmas Drop in the Pacific, a crew might need to deliver a load onto a thin stretch of beach where there’s trees, prevailing winds and rip currents.
“Conducting airdrop missions with Christmas Drop ensures we’re able to overcome great distances and quickly resupply remote locations during an emergency.”
During an airdrop mission, the Spartan or Hercules will fly down to an altitude of 90 metres and slow down to 200km/h.
With the aircraft’s cargo ramp open in-flight, the pilots will signal to the loadmasters on board the aircraft to release the load from its restraints, allowing the load to descend to the ground by parachute.
"Exercise Christmas Drop Australia has given Air Force another avenue to engage with Indigenous communities."
As well as delivering seasonal cheer, the airdrop missions allow RAAF Spartan and Hercules crews to form relationships with a range of communities and organisations.
“Since the Hercules crews first participated in Operation Christmas Drop in 2015, they’ve had very positive responses from remote Pacific communities who have appreciated their deliveries,” Group Captain Hogan said.
“Likewise, establishing Exercise Christmas Drop Australia has given Air Force another avenue to engage with Indigenous communities.
“Through Air Force’s own Indigenous Liaison Officer network and the Army’s Regional Force Surveillance Units, Exercise Christmas Drop Australia gives us a deeper understanding of our Indigenous communities and strengthens our relationship with them.”
Army’s Regional Force Surveillance Units provide surveillance and reconnaissance in remote parts of Australia and maintain strong ties with Indigenous communities.
For Exercise Christmas Drop 19, the C-27J Spartan will depart on missions from Cairns and Karratha, and deliver to Lockhart River and Kowanyama in northern Queensland, and Roebourne and Yandeyerra in Western Australia.
Squadron Leader Nathan Thompson, of No. 35 Squadron at RAAF Base Amberley, led the establishment of Exercise Christmas Drop Australia 19.
“Exercise Christmas Drop Australia 19 started with an idea about how we could build capacity with other Defence units and benefit remote communities,” Squadron Leader Thompson said.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to integrate with Regional Force Surveillance Units members, building their capacity to conduct aerial resupply operations, while also helping remote communities.
“It’s an opportunity for us to engage with the people in these communities and deliver them goods through a unique method.”
While Exercise Christmas Drop Australia is being held for the first time, Operation Christmas Drop in Guam is the world’s longest-running humanitarian airdrop activity.
It was first conducted in 1952 when a United States Air Force WB-29 weather reconnaissance aircraft took an opportunity to airdrop supplies from their aircraft to the Micronesian atoll of Kapingamarangai.
"I really enjoyed the satisfaction after we successfully delivered an airdrop onto a difficult drop zone."
Operation Christmas Drop is now conducted by the United States Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) and supports more than 20,000 people spread over an area of six million square kilometres. RAAF has sent a C-130J Hercules and crew to Guam for the operation each year since 2015.
Flight Lieutenant Andrew Morgan, a C-130J Hercules pilot from RAAF Base Richmond, will participate in his second Operation Christmas Drop this year.
“In 2016, I really enjoyed the satisfaction after we successfully delivered an airdrop onto a difficult drop zone and hearing the excitement in the voice of locals on the radio as they thanked us,” Flight Lieutenant Morgan said.
“At a professional level, Operation Christmas Drop allows us to hone our airdrop mastery and gives us a complex and difficult operating environment similar to what we might expect on a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operation.”
The relationships built with international Hercules aircrew flying in Operation Christmas Drop are important for the RAAF.
“There’s an opportunity for us to integrate with people ahead of being called to work with them on any future humanitarian assistance or disaster relief mission in the Pacific,” Flight Lieutenant Morgan said.
“Operation Christmas Drop is an environment where we can learn from each other and refine how we do business.”