Flying on an RAAF Spartan aircraft out of the Kangaroo Island bushfire while reflecting on the US Hercules water bomber loss

As the sole journalist at The Islander newspaper, I have been covering the Kangaroo Island bushfire crisis for the last month.

It was a real privilege and honour to be invited into the flight deck of a Royal Australian Air Force Spartan transport aircraft for a return flight between Kingscote and Mt Gambier.

This once-in-a-lifetime experience was made bittersweet because upon landing, I learned my old home of 12 years at Narooma on the NSW South Coast was coming under fire attack again,

And eerily and shocking for all of us on the flight was the breaking news that during our time aloft, the Coulson's water bombing Hercules had crashed near Canberra, not far from my old home.

The crew became aware of the tragic event just as Spartan landed at Kingscote, ready to take another contingent of relieving CFS firefighters back to Edinburgh Air Force Base.

Landing at Mt Gambier

The Spartan flight to Mt Gambier flew with call-sign Wallaby 15 with Flight Lieutenant Luke Georgeson and Flying Officer Oran Harden the on the flight deck.

The Spartan C-27J transport aircraft, not dissimilar to a Hercules and sharing some parts although with only two engines, is a rugged heavy lift aircraft based out of RAAF Base Amberley near Brisbane.

No. 35 Squadron that now flies the Spartans has been transporting troops and material around the world since 1942.

The mission on Thursday was to take back a dozen Country Fire Service firefighters from the State's South East back home to Mt Gambier and then return to Kingscote to take another outgoing firefighting contingent back to Adelaide.

We flew over at 19,000 feet with the trip taking about 50 minutes each way with a 15-minute turn-around on the ground.

This flight also just happened to be my first time to touch mainland soil for 383 days, even though it was only for about two minutes outside the aircraft while Wallaby 15 left her engines running.

Not leaving the Island for the whole year was my New Year's resolution in January 2019. I may have accomplished that goal, but I still don't feel like leaving as there is so much to report in this the Island's time of crisis.

The flight back to Kingscote, I was back in the hold relaxing with the load master and ADF personnel between their drops.

The Japanese and RAAF crew from the visiting Hercules from the 401st Tactical Airlift Squadron of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) at Kangaroo Island Airport.

The Japanese and RAAF crew from the visiting Hercules from the 401st Tactical Airlift Squadron of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) at Kangaroo Island Airport.

I am forever grateful to the Australian Defence Department public affairs unit for making the flight possible.

Operation Bushfire Assist and its Army, Air Force and Navy presence has been a real boost for Kangaroo Island morale, never mind all the valuable work being done from treating water to burying stock to cleaning up burned out farms.

As of Thursday, January 23, there were now 667 ADF personnel on Kangaroo Island.

It is great to see that they have been given clearance to now get out and spend money and enjoy the sights, businesses and amenities on the Island, and with an absence of tourism they are helping our economy along.

The ADF is getting involved in upcoming events including Australia Day at Parndana and also a celebration planned there for February 8.

Today on the other side of the Island at Penneshaw, departing New Zealand soldiers were to present a NZ flag to the KI mayor to replace the Kiwi flag flown on ANZAC Day.

Hercules, like the one lost in NSW, meanwhile have been regular visitors to Kangaroo Island during its bushfire crisis.

Only last week I was lucky enough to get up close to these magnificent aircraft.

Missing out on a Hercules flight to Adelaide when the return trip was cancelled last minute, I was still fortunate to see two C-130s on the tarmac at the Kangaroo Island Airport.

I got to meet a Japanese air crew from the 401st Tactical Airlift Squadron of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) based at Komaki Air Base in Aichi Prefecture, Japan.

They delivered a new contingent Army reservists all the way from Launceston, Tasmania to Kingscote.

It was just handshakes and smiles above the drone of the auxilliary power unit left on during the stop, although I did get a some Japanese instant noodles handed to me.

On the Spartan flight to Mt Gambier, lunch was Bega Cheese on crackers and a Cherry Ripe chocolate bar.

Earlier in the week, I was able to get close to and film a Royal Australian Air Force Hercules out of Richmond delivering relief CFS firefighters.

Japanese C-130 Hercules at Kangaroo Island

Heavy lift aircraft and large air tankers, as well as smaller water bombing aircraft, have played an important role in Kangaroo Island's bushfire battle.

The biggest aircraft we have had land at the airport has been the RAAF's massive C-17 Globemaster heavy lifter, Spartans from RAAF and the NZ air force, as well as the Hercules.

C-17 Globemaster heavy lifter at the Kangaroo Island Airport at Kingscote, while inset are Chinook helicopters also at the airport.

C-17 Globemaster heavy lifter at the Kangaroo Island Airport at Kingscote, while inset are Chinook helicopters also at the airport.

The NSW RFS Large Air Tanker 737 'Marie Bashir' drops retardant at Vivonne Bay on Kangaroo Island. Photo Chad Addington

The NSW RFS Large Air Tanker 737 'Marie Bashir' drops retardant at Vivonne Bay on Kangaroo Island. Photo Chad Addington

'Ellie' the Erickson Skycrane helicopter in action over Kangaroo Island. Photo Steve Harrison

'Ellie' the Erickson Skycrane helicopter in action over Kangaroo Island. Photo Steve Harrison

Erickson MD-87 large water bombing aircraft drops retardant near the Kangaroo Island Airport at Cygnet River.

Erickson MD-87 large water bombing aircraft drops retardant near the Kangaroo Island Airport at Cygnet River.

A couple of Army Chinook heavy lift helicopters also spent time on the Island, delivering hay to outlying properties, up to five bales at a time.

While in fighting the fires in the skies we have had 'Ellie' the Erickson Skycrane helicopter, the NSW RFS Large Air Tanker 737 'Marie Bashir', Coulson's Avro RJ85 and most recently the Erickson MD-87 now leased to the South Australian government.

There has also been a fleet of up to five small, fixed wing water bombers belong to SA's main water bombing contractor Aerotech, which have all done a magnificent job operating out of the Turkey Lane airstrip near Parndana.

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