Bombing on the range
In mid-June Auckland media were alive with rumours and stories of Auckland being under attack — or was it a meteorite or a sonic boom from a fast-moving fighter jet?
Nothing so dramatic. It was simply the RNZAF undertaking live weapons training, with a P-3K2 Orion dropping high-explosive bombs on the Kaipara Air Weapons Range on South Kaipara Head, north of Auckland. Late one afternoon the combination of low cloud, wind direction and other atmospheric conditions meant the sound travelled further than expected, to the alarm of Auckland citizens.
Over several weeks 5 Squadron’s Orions dropped a total of 36 Mk 82 (500lb) bombs as part of an exercise intended to ensure all personnel, from pilots and air crew to ground crew and armament specialists, maintain the skills necessary for the operation, preparation, release and accurate delivery of ordnance. RNZAF Orions can be armed with either bombs or torpedoes.
The Defence Force (NZDF) has been utilising the weapons range at South Kaipara Head since 1961 for the firing of weapons systems and the detonation of high-explosive munitions. For all that time the range has been formally gazetted through an Act of Parliament as an air weapons range.
The site is also designated under Section 168 of the Resource Management Act 1991 as Defence Purposes — Bombing Range within the Rodney District Plan. The designation essentially provides for military land use of the area and also gives the NZDF a right to control incompatible activities on the land. The northern tip of the South Head peninsula, adjacent to the Kaipara Harbour entrance, is designated Military Areas M103 and M106.
After the June alarm and publicity, media representatives were invited to watch the last day of the training exercise. The bombing runs over the Kaipara Range began earlier in the day at Whenuapai when the P-3K2 was readied with three BDU-48s (bomb dummy unit) per wing, attached to the three-point rack hard point under each outer wing.
The BDU-48 is an airdropped, impact-inertia-fired signal-generating practice bomb (simulating Mk 82 retarded), used to train the aircrews in the bombing of surface targets. The steel bombs contain no hazardous components themselves, any such components merely comprising the signal cartridge, spotting charge and fuse. The spotting charge releases a cloud of smoke on impact.
The BDU-48s are used by the crews, each a full tactical complement of 12, on practice runs for the live runs later in the day, after heading down to Ohakea to have the real units loaded.
At Ohakea six live Mk 82 high explosive bombs are loaded by the armourers, important training for everyone as they are dealing with live ordinance. Four bombs are loaded into the Orion’s bomb bay and one on each of the wing hard points. The Mk 82 500lb bomb contains 193lb of high explosive and is configured with a high drag tail assembly and a mechanical nose fuse for its air-to-ground use. This bomb is also ideal for use in shallow water against submarines, a technique developed by the RNZAF.
Once the Orion is armed and readied, it flies north again for its bombing mission, in this case the last for this exercise series which saw all six operational flight crews being qualified for live ordinance missions. It also completed the annual bombing camp and training flights for 2014.
During the Orion’s flight north from Ohakea, a group of media drove out to the live bombing range north of Helensville. After arriving at the RNZAF camp we were escorted out to the vantage point, overlooking the bombing range in the Woodhill Forest. Here the RNZAF has a large control tower from which the whole operation is monitored, particularly checking that the exclusion zone is observed. Safety is now the chief concern of everyone.
After taking up a position overlooking the sand hills we awaited the arrival of the Orion. The weather was not good, and in the rain the cloud base was below 6000ft, the worst day the RNZAF said had been encountered on this exercise.
The Orion arrived and did a fly around and a practice run, then headed north to position for its run. The bombing run was into the southwest, to a point known as the NE North Target, three raised pointers in the dunes, followed by a turn out over the Tasman Sea.
It was great to hear the four Allison T56-A14 engines running at near full power, and then out of the mist the Orion appeared, at around 1200ft and travelling at 325kt. Just visible to the eye, the bomb was away and heading down to the target, with a close hit a few hundred metres from the mark and the explosion very obvious and heard several seconds later.
All six runs were completed and this crew was now on line for missions when required. This is important training for the RNZAF, just as was the flying completed out of Western Australia looking for MH370. Crews and aircraft head to the Gulf region later in the year to play New Zealand’s part in air patrols looking for pirates and for the safety of shipping in this volatile area.
- Report and photographs by Peter Clark
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