Shocking Images Show What It Is Like To Fly In Skies Turned Red By Deadly Australian Bushfires

A look into the cockpit of a C-27J Spartan flying into the red/orange colored sky last Saturday. (Image screenshot from RAAF video).

Royal Australian Air Force C-130Js and C-27Js are flying evacuation and relief missions in skies turned red above parts of southeast Australia.

The following images show the extremely challenging flying conditions faced by RAAF C-130J Super Hercules and C-27J Spartan flying missions in New South Wales and eastern Victoria, to support the firefighting and evacuation activities following the deadly bushfires that are burning across Australia.

As the fly through the heavy smoke, the cargo aircraft have their cockpit lit by the red glow of the fires. According to the RAAF, the videos were filmed on Jan. 4, 2020, as C-130Js attempted to land at Merimbula to bring Fire and Rescue crews from the Mid-North Coast while C-27J Spartan crew attempted landing at Mallacoota to carry out an evacuation. Landing at such small airfields with visibility degraded by smoke generated from bushfires is not an easy task.

Photographs coming from New South Wales, show an eerie, smoke-filled landscape illuminated by a blazing red sky. It looks like a Mars scenario.

A Royal Australian Air Force C-130J Hercules from No.37 Squadron, RAAF Base Richmond, arrives in Canberra after transporting NSW Fire and Rescue crews from the Mid-North Coast of NSW to assist in fighting the bushfires near Marimbula. (Image credit: RAAF)

A total of 146 fires are burning across NSW according to the NSW Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS). More than 5.25 million hectares (13 million acres) of land have been burnt so far in this fire season across Australia and nearly 1,500 homes have been destroyed in New South Wales alone.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has launched Operation Bushfire Assist 19-20 and has stood up Joint Task Forces in New South Wales and Victoria to enhance Defence support following devastating bushfires in the South East of Australia.

The flight deck glows orange from the bushfires below as the aircrew of a Royal Australian Air Force C-130J Hercules attempts to land at Merimbula airfield to deploy Fire and Rescue crews from the Mid-North Coast region of NSW to assist fighting the bushfires. (Image credit: RAAF).

Along with the RAAF C-27Js and C-130Js, that provide transport, MEDEVAC and other firefighting support, HMAS Choules and MV Sycamore sailed from Sydney and operate off the Southern NSW/North East Victorian coast to provide support to communities cut off due to the bushfires. MRH-90 helicopters of the Royal Australian Navy have also been dispatched to support Operation Bushfire Assist.

Lieutenant Commander Colin McLeod and Lieutenant Michael Regan flies through a smoke haze created by the Victorian bushfires in the vicinity of Omeo and Mt Hotham. Lieutenant Commander McLeod and Lieutenant Regan are piloting a Royal Australian Navy MRH-90 Maritime Support Helicopter from 808 Squadron. (Image credit: ADF)

Qantas canceled all flights to and from the country’s capital, Canberra, on Sunday due to smoke and hazardous weather conditions. In fact, the bushfires are are generating thunderstorms and fire tornadoes: in other words, they are generating their own weather.

Pyrocumulonimbus clouds (i.e. thunderstorms formed from the smoke plume of a fire) have started to appear.

Pyrocumulonimbus clouds are created by the intense heat from the fire that causes air to rise rapidly. As it ascends, the air cools and condenses causing a cloud to form.

“As the cloud climbs and then cools in the low temperatures of the upper atmosphere, the collisions of ice particles in the higher parts of the cloud build up an electrical charge, which can be released as lightning,” Melanie Burton reported for Reuters. “These can cause dangerous and unpredictable changes in fire behavior, making them harder to fight as well as causing lightning strikes that could ignite new fires. The rising air also spurs intense updrafts that suck in so much air that strong winds develop, causing a fire to burn hotter and spread further.”

The heat of bushfires can generate a localised updraft powerful enough to create its own changes in the atmosphere above. (Image credit: Victoria Bureau of Meteorology)

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.