The Royal Australian Navy's Laser Airborne Depth Sounder (LADS) Flight has completed a successful deployment to Alotau, Papua New Guinea (PNG). During the deployment, LADS flew aerial hydrographic surveys of the Conflict Group atoll, Deboyne Islands and Bouganville.
The weather during the deployment varied, with continual rain at Alotau during the first two weeks resulting in some cancelled sorties and others being dramatically reduced in time on task. This was a result of the Cobham pilots having to have a visual sighting of the runway at 650ft to attempt a landing. The Cobham company policy allows for only two aborted approaches at a runway before the aircraft needs to proceed to its alternative airport, in LADS case this was Port Moresby (PM). Therefore sufficient fuel was required for two attempted landings at Alotau (30 minutes), transit to Port Moresby (1 hour) and generally 30 minutes holding at Port Moresby, reducing sorties to five hours duration.
For the second half of the deployment, the weather improved significantly, resulting in longer sorties of five and a half hours. As a result, LADS programmed flights during the weekends to maximize the number of sorties in the favourable weather.
Operations were also conducted in Bouganville. The first Bouganville sortie was conducted on Monday the 14th, and a total of six flights were dedicated to this task. Six sorties were enough for LADS to complete the assigned priority tasking, even though time on task was limited to one-and-a-half to two hours per sortie.
LADS Flight Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Reg Sowter said his team enjoyed discovering the cultural differences in Papua New Guinea.
"The period in Alotau proved interesting and 'eye opening' for the naval personnel involved and the eight civilian support staff. Personnel quickly adapted to the differing pace of life in Papua New Guinea and the limited services available, the most noticeable differences being the food and lack of recreational amenities," LCDR Reg Sowter said.
"Of note though, was the excellent mobile phone coverage and internet speed which would put some Australian based carriers to shame," he said.