Eyes in the sky with boots firmly on the ground: How a Phantom is helping out at RAAF Base Amberley

Royal Australian Air Force No. 36 Squadron have trialled the use of the Australian Army’s DJI Phantom Pro Plus drone to look at the paintwork on the RAAF’s massive C-17A Globemaster.

Instead of maintenance workers standing on an elevated platform, or having to climb through a small tunnel inside the aircraft’s vertical stabilisert o check the tail section, the Phantom has been used instead.

The drone’s value is being demonstrated during the Home Station Check, a routine servicing conducted on each C-17A every 180 days.

Part of the check includes inspecting any paint or other surface damage on the aircraft, including the tail section which sits nearly 17 metres above ground.

Squadron Leader Smith said the drone can be used to conduct these surveys in as little as 30 minutes during a Home Station Check.

“This helps the Aircraft Surface Finishers to identify and track paint degradation on the upper surface of the C-17A, triage paint defects and plan remediation work,” Squadron Leader Smith said.

Imagery is shot in high-resolution stills and video, and can be provided to agencies including the Heavy Airlift Systems Program Office, Boeing, and the Defence Science and Technology Group.

By archiving this imagery, it can chart an airframe’s history of paint degradation or surface damage, or compare across the fleet.

Squadron Leader Evan Smith, Senior Engineering Officer for No. 36 Squadron, said the drone was introduced with help from Royal Australian Artillery’s 20th Surveillance and Target Acquisition Regiment.

“The Army has extensive experience using this particular model, and managing the information downloaded from it,” Squadron Leader Smith said.

“We manage the drone through a standalone laptop, and have been able to adapt Army’s practices to suit our needs.”

Air Commodore William Kourelakos, Commander Air Mobility Group, said the genesis of the idea came from within the unit.

“This is an excellent example of bottom-led innovation from No. 36 Squadron in response to the Air Force Safety Always Program (ASAP),” Air Commodore Kourelakos said.

“Introducing this drone and these procedures goes further to reducing Workplace Health and Safety risks to so far as reasonably practicable

“Air Mobility Group is investigating its applicability across the Air Mobility fleet.”

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