Keeping Australia’s advanced fighter planes in the air is a demanding and complex job at the best of times, but adding some Middle East Region heat into the mix, makes it even more complex.
Air Task Group aircraft maintainers and armament technicians all say in two words what it means to work on the flight line in the Middle East.
“Everything you touch is hot,” said armaments technician Flight Sergeant Jason Morgan.
“We mitigate the effects of the extreme heat through the wearing of gloves and other personal protective equipment, but perspiration, glare and temperature are still there.
“I have never experienced this level of perspiration before.
“When it gets really hot, like in the fifties (Celsius) we have had here, we make extensive use of the wet bulb temperature equipment to monitor the heat and thus the workload.
“When it is really hot we drink a lot of water and increase rest periods to keep a safe balance between working and accommodating the heat,” he said.
Working night shifts is not much different with heat and humidity remaining.
“Depending on the flying program we also work at night, and when we do, it is a little easier than during the day,” said Flight Sergeant Morgan.
“It reminds me a bit of RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territory where the heat and humidity are very similar.”
Aircraft Technician Warrant Officer Tony Collie says planning is critical to working in the Middle East heat.
“We work with a Planning, Briefing, Execution and Debriefing model, which includes knowledge of heat tables, and whenever possible ensure we choose optimal locations and times to work,” Warrant Officer Collie said.
“We monitor hydration, exposure and exhaustion to ensure crews are staying within the guidelines of working safely.”
“But it’s not just about people. We also need to monitor temperature effects on our ground support equipment during extreme temperatures to avoid possible damage.”
A new canvas aircraft shelter which provides 4000 square feet (372 square metres) of floor space for maintenance activity, large enough to comfortably fit a fighter aircraft and maintenance equipment, has been constructed at the main air operating base.
“The addition of a new maintenance shelter has expanded our ability to perform aircraft maintenance in optimal conditions and because it is cooled and shaded our work output has increased, improving our already excellent record in keeping aircraft mission ready,” Warrant Officer Collie said.
On his third deployment with his F/A-18A Squadron, Flight Sergeant Morgan says the rewards of working on such a critical mission outweigh the oppressive heat.
“I love my job, enjoy doing what I do and never get bored.
“It makes me proud and really impressed when our pilots show their exceptional professionalism in how they conduct their operations and they always take the time to ensure we know how much they appreciate what we do to keep them airborne and safe,” he said.
The Air Task Group has an enviable mission success rate since deploying in late 2014, and continues to make a significant contribution to the United States led multinational coalition providing support to the Iraqi Security Forces as they restore security to Iraq and defeat Daesh terrorists.