Amberley: A Base in the Making

26 August 2008 (Last Updated August 26th, 2008 18:30)

Australia's Amberley airbase is going through rapid redevelopment in all aspects. From infrastructure to services and new technologies such as the KC-30B MRTT simulator, Darren Baguley takes a look at the evolving base and how it will strengthen Australia's forces in years to come.

Amberley: A Base in the Making

New aircraft procurements generate column inches and television coverage but the essential infrastructure and services that are the foundation of a nation's air defences seldom get much attention. This is certainly the case with Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Amberley, a facility that is currently in the midst of a A$285.6m infrastructure upgrade designed to take the base into the 21st century.

Amberley has a long history. The RAAF was formed in 1921 from the Australian Flying Corps which was established in 1912 and in 1938 the decision was made to establish a base at Amberley, three miles west of the town of Ipswich, Queensland.

Construction was completed in 1940 and with the advent of war with Japan in late-1941 it rapidly became an important staging, assembly, maintenance and salvage centre for both the RAAF and the United States Army Air Force (USAAF).

Following the end of World War II, Amberley became the base for Number 1 Squadron's Avro / GAF Lincoln heavy bombers which marked the beginning of its post-war role as the permanent base for the RAAF's strike operations. Jets quickly made piston engine bombers obsolete and the Avro Lancaster-based Lincoln was replaced by the English Electric Canberra mk20 in the 1950s.

After long delays – the aircraft were ordered in 1965 - the Canberra's replacement, the General Dynamics F-111C, entered service with Number 1 and Number 6 Squadron in 1973. The F-111 is due to be phased out by 2010, when it will be replaced by Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornets, but 35 years' service and counting has made Amberley synonymous with this aircraft.

Reconstructing Amberley

Amberley is one of the RAAF's biggest bases – once the upgrade is complete it will employ over 3,000 Australian Defence Force (ADF) and civilian personnel. While the World War II era infrastructure was extensively redeveloped in the 1950s and 1970s, by the end of the 20th century it was badly in need of a major upgrade. Stage one began in 2000 with the construction of a new combat support unit headquarters as well as Number 82 Wing Headquarters. Stage two began in 2005 and stage three
commenced in 2008.

The major construction component of the stage two upgrade has been the construction of facilities for the 33 Squadron RAAF's five new Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transports (MRTT). Designated KC-30B, the MRTT is an aerial refuelling tanker aircraft based on the civilian A330-200 which doubles as a transport and medical evacuation aircraft.

33 Squadron's new facilities are extensive. There's a new large hangar between Number 38 Squadron and the base's parallel taxiway with the usual variety of annexes required for modern aircraft operations. There is also a hardstand for the KC-30Bs and a concrete parking apron in front of the hangar with static large aircraft wash area.

"Once the upgrade is complete, Amberley will employ over 3,000 Australian Defence Force (ADF) and civilian personnel."

Special considerations – a sign of the times

With all of the new facilities, building design has focused on energy minimisation in the interests of reducing power consumption. One method has been to use heavyweight materials toward the inner skin of building walls to provide thermal storage. The Logistics Management Unit (LMU) building has also been provided with an earthen bund around the perimeter of the building to minimise solar gain and increase thermal storage.

Acoustics were another important consideration in the building design. Building façades have been designed to control external noise intrusion from military aircraft manoeuvres outside the building; and the inter-office partitions have been designed to provide high levels of speech privacy where required.

One of the most important buildings, the KC-30B MRTT simulator, won't be fully operational until 2010. With the ever increasing cost of purchasing, running and maintaining modern aircraft affecting air forces and airlines alike, operators have for decades been steadily increasing the amount of time crews spend in ever more realistic simulators.

When completed, Amberley's MRTT simulator will be a full mission and full motion simulator to CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) Level D which fully represents the flight deck of the KC-30B. "It's a full representation of the aircraft," says air-to-air refuelling project director, Ewan Ward.

The simulator will become an intrinsic part of 33 Squadron's capabilities adds RAAF KC-30B transition team director, Group Captain Noel Derwort. "Air-to-air refuelling puts two aircraft relatively close together and joins them via some form of refuel hose. It's a very dynamic environment and trying to develop the crew co-ordination skills to do that is a significant effort, also the specific skills of the ARO are quite a challenge.

"The Amberley airbase building design has focused on energy minimisation in the interests of reducing power consumption."

"Because it's not just about flying it's about using the capability, it's a full mission simulator so we can simulate an entire mission from the moment the crew walk out to the aircraft, get into the cockpit they can run an entire air-to-air refuelling sortie doing all they things they need to do, the refuelling, any emergencies that might come up and then bring the aircraft home.

By having a level D simulator we're able to reduce risking the aircraft, because we don't have to do emergency training in the aircraft, we're able reduce training time in the aircraft which saves us money but it also gives us very effective training because being level D it is a true representation of the actual aircraft itself."

The personnel of 33 Squadron moved into the new facilities even though it will be some time before the aircraft begin to arrive – one airframe is currently being converted from the base civilian aircraft at EADS CASA's Spanish facility, while another is being converted in Australia – and the crews are enthusiastic about the new facilities.

"They absolutely love it, our people are really impressed with the new facility," says Derwort. "Because the building was designed with the K-30B aircraft and the mature operation in mind all the appropriate workflow assessments and everything have been done and the building has been tailor-made for the job they're going to do. So instead of being shoehorned into another kind of facility these people have got it exactly as they need to do the job and do it well. Being in a brand new building
makes people feel good and they can actually see the engineering effort that's gone into making it functional."

Amberley – beyond the buildings

Other major components of the upgrade include completely relaying the concrete of runway 33, widening of taxiways to accommodate the KC-30B and new facilities to house the Australian Army's 9th Force Support Battalion (FSB). The 9th FSB previously had units located at Randwick, Moorebank, Puckapunyal and Townsville. To consolidate the battalion in one location, new facilities were built as part of Amberley's stage two upgrade.

The 9FSB precinct is located on the edge of the main RAAF Base and includes large paved compound areas for 26 Transport Squadron and 37 Force Supply Company. There is also a battalion HQ, squadron and company HQ buildings, Q stores, a vehicle workshop, troop vehicles, vehicle shelters and driver maintenance facilities as well as an area fuel and wash point.

"The KC-30B MRTT simulator won't be fully operational until 2010."

With concern about global warming and the environment high on the ADF agenda, ecologically sustainable development has been a watchword of the Amberley upgrade. Key initiatives include careful positioning of buildings to minimise solar heat gain and glare and maximise access to breezes, mixed mode ventilation, selection of low emission materials and finishes, harvesting and reuse of all roof and pavement stormwater, and solar hot water.

A further environmental factor was the existence of a substantial koala population on the air base. The construction of the 9FSB facilities required the clearing of bushland and to compensate the RAAF spent approximately A$1m creating a koala corridor between two areas of remnant vegetation and revegetating other parts of the base.

The majority of stage two was completed by late-2007, however, more work is required on Australia's 'mega base'. At a cost of A$331.5m, stage three will include medical and dental facilities, fuel farm works, and accommodation, mess and office facilities and a further A$117.1m will be spent on modifying the facilities to service the F/A-18F Super Hornets due to arrive in 2010.