There are two surefire ways to gather a crowd and get them looking at the sky: one’s an air show and the other is fireworks. Unless you’re the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), that is–they’ve combined both into one hell of a light show.
On January 26th, as the nation gathered to celebrate Australia Day, the RAAF sent a massive C-130J Super Hercules over Sydney Harbor in a flyby that expertly coordinated with the playing of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” at the Sydney Opera House. As the song reached its dramatic culmination, the C-130J punctuated its well-timed flyover by launching a massive display of flares.
Here’s the same flyover from another angle:
These flares serve a greater purpose than putting on a spectacular show, of course. The C-130’s legendary “angel wing” countermeasures serve a valuable role in helping to keep the aircraft airborne while operating in contested airspace. With a top speed of only a bit more than 400 miles per hour and plenty of aircraft to aim at, the C-130J Super Hercules isn’t exactly a deep-penetration bomber. More often than not, you’ll find these big planes delivering heavy payloads within airspace that’s not too ripe with anti-aircraft assets for that very reason–but if a wayward SAM site (or enemy aircraft) were to lock onto this hulking aircraft, these flares would serve as a part of the pilot’s countermeasure response aimed at making inbound infrared-guided munitions miss.
Flares serve as a countermeasure for IR-guided missiles, which unlike radar-guided weapons, don’t give off an active radar signature as they fly your way. This makes IR-guided weapons particularly dangerous for military aviators who have to rely largely on situational awareness and regular old vision to spot an inbound weapon and deploy countermeasures. This is where two-seater aircraft maintain a thin advantage over single-seater planes: having a second set of eyes scanning the horizon for screaming hate moving at Mach 3.
Most military flares are pyrophoric, meaning, they ignite and burn the moment they come into contact with air. Combine the complex IR signature produced by the flares and and messy radar return many aircraft produce by deploying chaff–which tends to be small bits of aluminum or even plastic that produce a plume behind the aircraft that can trick some radar-guided munitions–and you’ve got yourself a recipe for surviving just long enough to high-tail it back to friendly airspace once engaged (or at least, that’s the plan).
But as the video above shows, sometimes tools built for a life-or-death struggle can have a beauty all their own.
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