Problem solving in the Middle East

Department of Defence

If there’s an issue on the airfield, Air Force Corporal John Chapman can get it done.

The ground support equipment technician, deployed to Australia’s main operating base in the Middle East on Operation Accordion, has become the person coalition forces turn to in a bind.

That’s what happened on April 1 when the mechanic from Muswellbrook, NSW, received a late-night call for help.

A large Egyptian military cargo plane was stuck on the runway and needed an air start before it could take off.

For more than two decades, international partner nations have been guests on the Emirati base. Corporal Chapman, the only Air Force technician deployed on Operation Accordion, was the only person on the base with the right tools and experience to get the job done.

The right tools in this case was an air-start cart – a turbine compressor on wheels that pumps pressurised air into a jet engine to ‘jump start’ the turbines.

It was well after midnight and the phone was ringing off the hook.

“Our partners requested help, I was pretty sure I could make it happen but I wasn’t 100 per cent sure it was going to work,” Corporal Chapman said.

Luckily, the Egyptian aeroplane was similar to the Australian C-130 Hercules and the equipment could be attached to the Antonov without issue.

“[The Egyptians] were all smiles when we got the prop started and they got on their way,” he said.

It wasn’t the first time the Australian has been called on to help partner militaries.

Over his eight-month deployment to the Middle East, he has helped United States generals and become mates with the British.

When a US general visited the base, they needed equipment to power their plane when it was on the runway.

Then there was the time the British blew a tire and needed compressed nitrogen.

Luckily, the Australian workshop was able to help.

“That’s how it is between the international countries here,” Corporal Chapman said.

“We just call each other up if we need a hand – there’s a lot of favours for favours.”

With less than a month until he returns to Australia, Corporal Chapman will look back on his deployment as a career highlight.

“I’m operating by myself and I’ve used every workshop and airside skill I’ve been taught,” he said.

“I love getting asked, ‘how do I solve this?’ Mechanics love to solve problems.”

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