9 February 2024
Sergeant Andrew Noordhuis was on an unaccompanied posting to RAAF Base Learmonth and knew something was up when his wife arrived at the airport unannounced.
His suspicions were fueled by a supervisor who “couldn’t keep a secret”, and his hunch confirmed when the Commanding Officer of 25 Squadron presented him with a bronze commendation.
“I thought it might have been some award but didn’t realise what it was until it was read aloud,” Sergeant Noordhuis said.
His technical knowledge and commitment to supporting the maintenance and delivery of aviation fuel and service equipment was recognised at a small ceremony watched by his wife, daughter, incoming and outgoing commanding officers, and eight uniformed personnel that form the base.
Sergeant Noordhuis, from Newcastle, is now posted to RAAF Base Amberley. He has been a ground support equipment technician for 27 years and said he didn’t think he was doing any more than what he should’ve been doing during his previous posting.
However, the complications of working with an older fuel farm, and the remoteness of the area required forward thinking.
“We couldn’t get civilian support quickly and we had issues with unreliable power from the town, so anytime we had a problem and needed support we had to fly it in, which was often the next day,” Sergeant Noordhuis said.
Despite the challenges, the forward operating base still had to maintain air operations during those critical vulnerabilities.
“The heat did nothing to help us – it’s often up to 53 degrees outside and you’re standing in front of a stainless-steel box that’s reflecting heat and light in your face while trying to fix an electrical problem that has been caused by multiple blackouts and power losses from town,” Sergeant Noordhuis said.
Dedicated to supporting the fuel farm, Sergeant Noordhuis and his team implemented complex technical fixes so several million litres of fuel could continue to be delivered to aircraft.
“The fuel farm would not operate without power, water and air, so when one source was lost [at one point], taking out all three, a plan was developed to allow fuel to flow under gravity through the pipework from the fuel storage tanks to the fuel trucks,” he said.
The unit also installed portable auxiliary pumps as an alternative when the base lost water pressure that allows safety showers and eyewash stations to function.
Furthermore, the crew obtained alternate air sources in the event the main air compressor goes offline, and bypass procedures were developed if electronic controls fail due to the heat.
“Regardless of what issues were happening on the base we ensured the delivery of fuel to our jets, and knowing we could provide this support was very satisfying,” he said.
Sergeant Noordhuis said RAAF Base Learmonth was a bucket-list location for him that provided an opportunity to work outside the confines of a big base, where he’s responsible for supporting aircraft all hours of the day, and in a nice spot of the world.
In his two-year posting he worked alongside numerous aircraft including the P-8A Poseidon, F-35A Lightning II, the various aircraft transiting through Cocos Island and the Middle East, and Qantas jets arriving and departing Exmouth.