Behind the Antonov visit

Antonov An-124 at RAAF Base Williamtown

While the visiting Antonov An-124 at RAAF Base Williamtown in May became a sensation for its size and cargo, not to be forgotten is the effort by 26 Squadron members to prepare for the unusual aircraft.  

Carrying training equipment for Air Force’s future F-35A Joint Strike Fighter fighter jet capability, the arrival of the Antonov created quite a stir on the base and surrounds.

It may have seemed like business as usual for the local units, however weeks of preparation was carried out tirelessly by a small but dedicated group from 26 Squadron. 

Squadron Leader Phil Mackie (D/ABXO), Flight Lieutenant Lee Thompson, Base Air Field Engineer (BAFENG), Flight Lieutenant Naomi Holmes Base Aviation Safety Officer (BASO) and Sergeant Brendan Walsh Duty Air Movement Officer (DAMO) were part of the team that ensured the airfield was prepared for the arrival and departure of the Antonov.

Air Base Executive Officer and Commanding Officer 26 Squadron, Wing Commander Amanda Cornell, said she was proud of the team effort.

“26 Squadron personnel displayed persistence and the upmost professionalism in support of the Antonov visit to the Base,” she said

“It was a monumental effort liaising with contractors, stakeholders and emergency services to ensure all ran smoothly.”

With the planning phase commencing in February 18, freight companies DB Schenker, Antonov Airlines, Joint Logistics Unit (E) and Linfox were heavily involved to ensure a smooth operation.   

It was also a community effort, with New South Wales Police engaged and present on the day to coordinate the influx of traffic along Medowie Road, with aircraft enthusiasts and locals keen to witness the unusual arrival.

It was on the Williamtown Airfield however, that considerable planning was required with extensive consideration to the dimensions of both aircraft and of the airfield to maintain precision landing and manoeuvring of the An-124.

In the initial stages of planning, BAFENG surveyed the airfield to determine obstacles and hazards within the runway and taxi way strips and liaised with the aircraft crew to ensure a smooth and safe landing.

Overall, the 26 Squadron team marked out guide lines on the airfield, devised a marshalling plan, escorted personnel unloading the cargo and provided overall coordination to the Antonov’s visit.

The unwavering professionalism and highly developed skill sets of 26 Squadron members who worked tirelessly behind the scenes of this operation ensured Air Force capability was maintained.

“I am incredibly proud of the squadron’s support and the personnel directly involved,” said Wing Commander Cornell.  

“Well done to all.”

By Flight Lieutenant Donna Watts-Endresz