Cable crews holding the line for pilots
Underneath the runway surface of our main RAAF bases, lifesaving devices lay in wait.
Ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice, Air Force’s aircraft arrestor systems and their 3.5-tonne energy absorbers can arrest aircraft that weigh up to 90,000 pounds.
Serviced every morning by Combat Support Group’s mechanical equipment operations and maintenance sections (MEOMS) at RAAF Bases Amberley, Williamtown, Richmond, Edinburgh, Pearce, Darwin and Townsville, the systems are always ready to go whenever Air Force’s fast jets are in the air.
“When we come into work each day, the first thing we do is a daily service at each end of the runway to make sure that the arrestor systems are serviceable for the next 24 hours,” said Sergeant Alan Gill, Crew Chief of No. 23 Squadron’s Barrier Crew at RAAF Base Amberley.
“Once they’re deemed serviceable, we let the air traffic control tower and air base command post know that the arrestor systems are good to go.”
In the event that a fast jet pilot issues a ‘pan-pan’ for urgent assistance and requests use of the aircraft arrestor system, air traffic controllers release the cable.
The arrestor cable raises from below the runway surface to about 5cm above, where it waits for the fast jet’s hook to engage the cable as the aircraft lands and passes over the top.
Once the hook engages the cable, the arrestor system’s brakes rapidly decelerate the fast jet as it travels along the runway.
“We basically staff our section in support of the fast jet flying program,” Sergeant Gill said.
“If a pilot calls a ‘pan-pan’, air traffic control set off the central emergency alarm at MEOMS, the fire section and medical and we all scramble to an emergency form-up point.
“If there’s an issue with the landing gear on a fast jet or another issue that may affect the aircraft’s ability to land safely, the aircraft arrestor system is there to help pull the aircraft up.
“It’s primarily a lifesaving device for fast jet pilots and helps to preserve the aircraft in the event of an emergency.”
With a system near each end of the runway, the second cable can be utilised in the event that an aircraft aborts take off or where, upon landing, an aircraft’s hook misses the first cable and is unable to take off.
If the cable is raised by the air traffic controllers but isn’t used by the fast jet as it lands, the cable can be lowered back down below the runway, ready to spring back into action when required.