Military flying

Military aircraft play a critical role in combat, peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. To ensure military pilots and air crews are trained and ready to respond, military flying operations are exempt from the Civil Aviation Regulations 1988.

There are key differences between military and civil flying related to aircraft engines, flight paths, low-level flying and night flying, that are described below.

Aircraft engines

Military fighter jets are powerful aircraft, built for speed and manoeuvrability. Their low-bypass, turbo-jet engines enable supersonic flight and can create a noise called a sonic boom. Sonic booms can be heard up to 50km away in certain weather conditions.

Condensation trails

Jet aircraft emit a range of gasses in flight, including water vapour and sulphur particles. At high altitudes water vapour, from the aircraft and in the air, will quickly condense into droplets around sulphur particles. The droplets form ice particles, that are sometimes visible behind a jet aircraft. They look like cloud streams and are called 'condensation trails'.

Flight paths

All aircraft, whether commercial or military, fly within an air corridor known as a flight path. Flight paths do not follow a straight line and can change route based on wind speed and direction, weather conditions, and the type and weight of aircraft. Air traffic control direct aircraft within specific safety parameters.

When training military aircraft practise landing and take-off by making a number of circuits around the airfield. Training or display can also include multiple aircraft flying and landing in formation.

Defence works closely with Air services Australia to ensure civil and military flight paths are complementary, although military traffic patterns can differ from civilian aircraft.

Initial and pitch arrivals

Military fast jets perform an arrival procedure known as an initial and pitch. The aircraft performs several tight turns as it approaches the runway rather than taking a direct approach, which is the safest way to reduce speed and prepare for landing.

Low-level flying

Low-level flying can be conducted at a height of 150m or less. It is used by military aircraft to avoid detection or if weather conditions are poor. Training in low-level flying is an essential requirement for military aircraft operators.

Night flying

All military pilots and aircrew are trained to fly in all conditions, day or night.


Weapons are not released from aircraft at Defence bases. Defence pilots can only release weapons on targets in the confines of gazetted Defence Weapons Ranges where public safety exclusion zones are established.