The crew of HMAS Newcastle found their recent Sea Qualification Trials demanding, testing weapons and engineering systems after a lengthy maintenance period.
Added to this hive of activity was the embarkation of the Aircraft Maintenance and Flight Trials Unit and the Navy Unmanned Aviation Systems Unit teams who joined Newcastle to conduct first-of-class flight trials – flight operations to assess the operability of the ScanEagle system from a guided missile frigate.
The ScanEagle system is a medium-range, endurance unmanned air vehicle, powered by a 1.9 horse power engine using either heavy fuel or petrol.
It is 1.5 metres long, with a 3 metre wingspan, can fly as fast as 70 knots and has an endurance of more than 20 hours.
ScanEagle can carry a wide variety of payloads including cameras, sensors, and measuring equipment to assist the controlling ship in building a recognised maritime picture.
It is capable of operating by day and night, and in a variety of meteorological conditions.
In addition to the ScanEagle, a universal Skyhook recovery system was embarked. Both are controlled from the ground control station, where new antennas and interconnections have been installed for this purpose.
Testing was conducted over several days, which included electronic interference detection, deck operations, as well as validation of the ship operating limits.
Flight operations consisted of launching ScanEagle and conducting multiple approaches to the ship at various relative winds in order to validate a safe flight envelope for the aircraft. The extreme weather and associated high winds off the east coast assisted in testing the highest of these limits.
To top off the two successful weeks of trials, the crew took great pleasure in hoisting flag Foxtrot, the international signal flag for flight operations under way on aircraft carriers.
It is believed that was the first time the flag had flown from non-aircraft carrier vessel of the Royal Australian Navy since the Second World War veteran HMAS Australia (II) did so to launch her seaplanes.