Navy has some seriously high flying quiet achievers, especially the sailors and officers of the Laser Airborne Depth Sounder Flight, based out of Cairns.
The Flight is a key Royal Australian Navy asset that enables the Australian Hydrographic Service to produce highly accurate nautical charts for the safety of navigation and life at sea.
Currently under the command of Lieutenant Commander Susanna Hung, Navy personnel work in conjunction with civilian contractors to provide a specialised capability operated by only a few military organisations in the world.
The team is about to embark on an eight-week deployment to Norfolk Island to support improved charting of the remote maritime spot using the latest technology from the air.
Petty Officer Hydrographic Systems Manager Russ Hinze is the Flight Survey Coordinator on board.
"A lot of the team are excited about the upcoming deployment to Norfolk Island," he said.
"It is an area of such historical significance to the settlement of Australia and it will be interesting to compare the data we collect to that collected by Captain Cook in the late 1700s."
Since 1920, the Royal Australian Navy has been responsible for surveying and charting Australian waters, with the Australian Charting Area currently covering an area of approximately one-eighth of the Earth’s surface. This includes the waters surrounding Australia and its external territories, the Australian Antarctic Territory and Papua New Guinea. In conjunction with six hydrographic survey vessels, the Laser Airborne Depth Sounder Flight enables the Navy to meet its charting obligations.
Chief Petty Officer Hydrographic Systems Manager Michael Baker is one of the most experienced members of the crew and will also deploy to Norfolk.
"It will be interesting to compare the data with the HMAS Flinders' survey circa 1993 which I undertook as a Seaman Survey Recorder – that was the first time we utilised differential GPS (dGPS) for positioning," he said.
Capable of surveying up to 40 square nautical miles per day over a seven hour sortie, utilising a modified de Havilland Dash-8-200 aircraft fitted with state of the art sensors and a bathymetric laser, the crew typically fly 140 survey sorties each year.
A record 180 sorties were flown in the last financial year—the highest achieved in their history. This resulted in over 6000 nm2 surveyed—a remarkable feat of which everyone who has contributed is deservedly proud.
"180 sorties is an amazing achievement and I'm pround of the team," said Lieutenant Commander Hung.
"They have been tirelessly flying six days a week over the months April – June to make this milestone.
"The Flight has been the survey work horse over the last financial year," she said.
The completion of a new paint scheme for the Dash-8 aircraft will complement the deployment and recent milestone—the first complete re-paint since it replaced the F27 Fokker aircraft in 2009.
The Navy logo is now in a highly visible position on the tail of the aircraft, along with a number of other changes to the layout. Unexpected efficiencies gained following the repainting work package is the reduction in weight aircraft allowing for additional endurance and greater achievable transit airspeed.
Leading Seaman Hydrographic Survey Operator Brendan Palmer is looking forward to the change of scene.
"It’s great to be apart of a unit where so much can be achieved in just eight weeks - everyone is looking forward to surveying an area vastly different to the Great Barrier Reef," he said.
Deploying to Norfolk Island will improve nautical charting in the area for the safe navigation of coastal and commercial shipping. The Flight aims to achieve in just two months what would typically take a hydrographic survey vessel over a year to complete.
Although based in Cairns for the majority of the year, the entire unit is capable of deploying for up to nine weeks (a contractual limitation) to any location in the world.