No. 36 Squadron is located at RAAF Base Amberley and provides responsive global airlift with its Boeing C-17A Globemaster III transport aircraft. Four aircraft were delivered between December 2006 and March 2008, and a fifth aircraft arrived in September 2011.
The size of the Australian continent, combined with the distances to regional partners, mean No. 36 Squadron has an important responsibility to provide reliable and effective airlift.
No. 36 Squadron aircrew are comprised of pilots who fly the C-17A and loadmasters responsible for loading, unloading, and safe cargo carriage. No. 36 Squadron’s headquarters includes an executive, administrative support, and operational support.
The No. 36 Squadron maintenance workforce provides scheduled maintenance servicing down to routine maintenance required before and after flights. This often calls on maintenance personnel to be carried with the C-17A when the aircraft deploys away from home.
The C-17A first flew in 1991 and was produced for the United States Air Force as a strategic transport with some tactical capability. Countries including Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and India have purchased the C-17A to supplement their existing transport fleet with a strategic-level transport.
The C-17A can be operated by a crew of three, but additional crew supplements can be carried depending on the mission. Two pilots fly the aircraft from the cockpit, while a loadmaster – responsible for the safe carriage of all cargo and passengers – has their own station in the cargo hold.
The C-17A’s cargo bay can accommodate up to 70 tonnes of cargo. Up to 18 military pallets can be carried, or helicopters including three Black Hawk helicopters, or a single Chinook helicopter. The C-17A’s cargo ramp allows easy loading of vehicles including up to five Bushmaster protected mobility vehicles. The cargo bay is optimally designed for loadmasters, allowing them to quickly change configurations or control airdrop and environmental functions from their own station.
A C-17A can accommodate up to 134 passengers or up to 36 aero-medical evacuation patients, with a further option to carry up to six high-dependency patients. The aircraft can support the airdrop of paratroops or cargo.
The crew of the C-17A control the aircraft through ‘fly-by-wire’, where the pilot’s inputs are fed in to a computer before translating into movements of the aircraft’s control surfaces. This means that despite the C-17A’s physical size, it is considered a responsive and ‘light’ aircraft to fly. These large control surfaces and rugged landing gear allow the C-17A Globemaster to fly from short, semi-prepared airstrips with minimal support when required
Recent operations of Australian C-17As demonstrate the importance of the capability to Australia. The fleet has routinely supported Australian forces engaged in Afghanistan, transporting equipment between the two countries. Alternatively, No. 36 Squadron is frequently called to support Coalition partners for transport out of Afghanistan to bases in the immediate region.
No. 36 Squadron has made a significant contribution to humanitarian operations, often while simultaneously supporting other Defence tasks. Such was the case in January, when C-17As transported groceries and supplies from New South Wales to northern Queensland, resupplying flood-affected towns. In February, C-17As evacuated approximately 100 patients from Cairns-area hospitals, ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Yasi.
Later that month, No. 36 Squadron transported state-based Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) workers to New Zealand following the Christchurch earthquake. The following month, a C-17A took more USAR teams to Japan following that countries earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis. In the week’s that followed, a C-17A transported Japanese Self Defense Force equipment, vehicles and supplies throughout the country; another two No. 36 Squadron C-17As flew to Japan with a remote water cannon to use on the Fukushima nuclear plant.
The wide expanse of the Asia Pacific region routinely calls for No. 36 Squadron to support deployments of other Defence assets. This has included exercises for the Five Powers Defence Agreement in Malaysia, Exercise Red Flag in the United States, delivery flights of F/A-18F Super Hornets across the Pacific, and transporting home a Navy submersible rescue vehicle from Britain to Western Australia.
Formed at Laverton, Victoria on 11 March 1942, No 36 Squadron was equipped with an odd assortment of ex-airliners for its first year. Its fleet included Douglas DC-2s, De Havilland DH-86s, a Ford Tri-Motor, a Junkers G.31, and a Beechcraft Staggerwing, amongst other types.
After moving to Townsville in December 1942, the Squadron's aircraft were gradually replaced with the C-47 Dakota, although a detachment of DC-2s at RAAF Base Richmond provided paratroop training. The squadron flew troops and cargo from Australia to the frontline, dropping cargo over difficult terrain and in treacherous weather conditions.
Following the war, No. 36 Squadron began flying courier runs between Australia and Japan to support the Australian component of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force. In 1948, half the Squadron’s aircrew participated in Operation Pelican, Australia’s contribution to the Berlin Airlift.
In March 1953, No. 36 Squadron Dakotas provided airlift support for Australian forces engaged in Korea, carrying freight, passengers and casualties to Japan. Following the ceasefire, No 36 Squadron remained in Japan supporting a continued United Nations presence in the Korean peninsula.
In 1958, No. 36 Squadron was re-established at RAAF Base Richmond with the C-130A Hercules, making Australia the first non-American operate of the type. The new fleet of Hercules supported Australian deployments to Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam, in the latter case supporting the increase of Australian forces deployed there.
In 1978, No. 36 Squadron re-equipped with the C-130H Hercules, delivering an increased focus on tactical operations. This would pay off with deployments in support of Afghanistan, Iraq and East Timor in the late 1990s and 2000s.
The decision to acquire four C-17As in 2006 saw No. 36 Squadron handover its C-130Hs to No. 37 Squadron and relocate to RAAF Base Amberley. Here, the Squadron has continued to support operations in Afghanistan and the Asia-Pacific region, as well as providing an important humanitarian capability.