Remote piloted aircraft to take historic flight in Rocky air
THERE'S not many people who can say they've taken to the skies with their feet planted firmly on the ground - but not many have a job like Flight Lieutenant Joel Mortimer.
But it's this unique set of skills which will give the RAAF air vehicle operator, who has two tours of Afghanistan under his belt, the chance to make history on Monday.
Flt Lt Mortimer and fellow Flight Lieutenant Janelle Sheridan will be the first pair to fly the RAAF's Heron remotely piloted Unmanned Aircraft System in civilian airspace when it takes off from Rockhampton Airport.
The aircraft has already clocked up 27,000 hours assisting in missions in Afghanistan and has also been flown in South Australia's military airspace at the Woomera Test Range.
It is in Rockhampton to take part in Talisman Sabre military operations in Shoalwater Bay for the next month.
Wing Commander Jonathan McMullan, Commanding Officer of Number 5 Flight, said the aircraft gave Australian troops an "eye in the sky" which enhanced battle space awareness for those on the ground.
"In the five years in Afghanistan, the aircraft provided intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for the commanders on the ground that saved numerous lives," he said.
"If you look at the successes, particularly that of our special forces, over in Afghanistan in the last five years, Heron would have been involved in a lot of those missions.
"With the introduction of Heron back into Australia... it allows us to fully integrate and train with the soldiers on the ground prior to them deploying."
In Afghanistan, pilots would often have as little as 90 seconds to take off or land on what was the world's busiest airport in Kandahar.
The aircraft is operated by a two-person team, one acting as a pilot and one as a sensor operator for the camera underneath.
Flt Lt Sheridan, who has clocked up more than 500 hours with the aircraft, said getting a chance to support Australian troops by warning them of upcoming dangers was the most rewarding things she's done.
Flt Lt Mortimer said it was very different to flying a normal aircraft.
"We do everything like we'd do on a normal aircraft the same way, it's just you do not get to feel that sensation from the aircraft moving around," he said.
"You really have to change the way you think about flying and reacting with the aircraft, but it's a great experience and raises a great challenge as pilot."