The Royal Australian Air Force has responded to the limitations imposed by COVID-19 to adapt training and remote learning to ensure pilots and loadmasters from No. 35 Squadron continue their training during COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Traditionally, instructors and students travel to Pisa, Italy, to access the simulator facility but instead did local and from-home training.
This ensured they were still able to achieve course outcomes and successfully graduate aircrew from the Loadmaster Initial Qualification and Pilot Initial Qualification courses on the C-27J Spartan.
Commanding Officer No. 35 Squadron, Wing Commander Scott Egan, said it was important for students to remain flexible to maintain their knowledge and skills with limited aircraft exposure.
"Continuing these courses and graduating loadmasters and pilots has been an important contribution to No. 35 Squadron capability during these uncertain times. Developing qualified crews provides more flexibility when planning for the squadron and the ability to support more missions and operations as required," WGCDR Egan explained.
Instructors and students conducted much of the learning and planning for their flights from home, including instructional and study sessions by video call, group message conversations, directed study and instructors maintaining availability to be contacted out of work hours.
Loadmaster student Leading Aircraftman Jackson Saunders said it was about being responsive to change: "You have to maintain focus to get the most out of every practical opportunity with the aircraft and do the best you can within the circumstances."
The Pilot Initial Qualification students graduated with some restrictions on their category, with sequences still to be flown once access to the simulator is regained.
Pilot Officer Mitchell Pieper-Miels explained that although not being able to use the simulator for the tactical phase or gain exposure to international flying operations, the course was duly adapted.
"We had the opportunity of more flying hours in the actual aircraft and when unrestricted travel to NSW was allowed, we flew to Richmond to conduct live-airdrop missions, which was a highlight," PLTOFF Pieper-Miels said.
The C-27J Spartan complements the Australian Defence Force's existing air mobility fleet.
Its capabilities bridge the gap between Army helicopters, such as the CH-47F Chinook, and larger Air Force aircraft, such as the C-130J Hercules and C-17A Globemaster III.
The Spartan will provide airlift of people, equipment and supplies in Australia and our region. It can operate from unsurfaced airstrips, and support humanitarian missions in remote locations.
Much like the Hercules and Globemaster, the C-27J Spartan can:
- Airdrop cargo and paratroops in-flight;
- Airlift a variety of cargo loads; and
- Conduct aeromedical evacuation of sick or wounded personnel.
The first Spartan arrived in Australia in 2015 and the fleet of 10 Spartans, operated by No. 35 Squadron, are based in RAAF Base Amberley.