Air Force and Army form winning combination in Operation Papua New Guinea Assist

Aid is unloaded from Royal Australian Air Force C-130J Hercules transport aircraft

RAAF platforms and crews have combined with Australian Army CH-47F Chinooks to deliver thousands of pounds of essential aid to remote villages in Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the wake of the recent earthquake.

On February 26, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake devastated villages across PNG, cutting off many roads.

With food, water and essential medicines running low, C-130J Hercules, from RAAF Base Richmond, began flying essential relief supplies as part of Operation PNG Assist 2018.

“At the moment our tasking is pretty much leaving Port Moresby, loading and unloading passengers and supplies at Moro and Mount Hagen,” said C-130J Pilot FLTLT Andreas Constantinou.

From these airstrips and others in Central PNG, aid has been delivered to remote villages via Army CH-47F Chinook.

The RAAF have had to contend with short, unpaved air strips while carrying around 8000 kilograms each flight.

These conditions posed no problems for the C-130J aircraft from Number 37 Squadron.

"The Hercules is doing its job as a tactical transport airlift aircraft and landing on dirt strips.

“Taking heavy loads into short unpaved strips, it's pretty much our bread and butter. We train for this stuff out in western New South Wales,” FLTLT Constantinou said.

The conditions facing RAAF loadmasters during Operation PNG Assist is also less than ideal.

“There's been a lot of hand loading, which is laborious and slow. There's only so much you can get done in one day,” said Loadmaster WOFF Greig Skevington.

“We’ve positioned a fork lift at Moro airfield to speed things up, instead of spending two hours there we can spend 20 minutes there,” WOFF Skevington added.

With its mountainous terrain and inclement weather, PNG is also a challenging place to fly.

Thankfully it’s not an unfamiliar environment for many RAAF pilots.

“I’ve spent quite a bit of time flying in PNG, we train quite a bit with the PNG Defence Force,” FLTLT Constantinou said.

RAAF C17-A Globemaster and KA350 King Air platforms have also made valuable contributions to Operation PNG Assist.

Commanding officer of Joint Task Element (JTE) 635, LTCOL Mark Stone is proud of the successful combination of RAAF and Army platforms to deliver tonnes of badly needed aid to those who affected.

“The RAAF was here a day after the disaster occurred, the CH-47F Chinooks were here a day after they were asked to get ready and depart.

“From notice to move through to effect on the ground in both instances would have been less than 72 hours,” LTCOL Stone said.

The long days, unpaved air strips and hand loading are taken in good nature by the RAAF crews.

"Humanitarian disaster relief is one of the reasons why I wanted to come to C-130J aircraft and it's extremely rewarding work,” FLTLT Constantinou said.

Operation PNG Assist 2018 is the ADF contribution to the DFAT led, Whole of Australian-Government response to the earthquake.