The people watching gasp with delight as the first aircraft ignites its excess fuel, emitting a swooshing sound and etching a blazing trail across the night sky. Soon, another F-111 approaches from the opposite direction, leaving a similarly beautiful streak of light in its wake. With baited breath, the crowd awaits the inevitable crossing of the streams. Soon, as expected, the burning trails intersect, though both planes fly away unscathed. A few sighs of relief can be heard among those watching. We’ve got 20 stunning images of dump-and-burns for your perusal – each as amazing as the next!
If pigs could fly, is this what they might look like? We’d certainly wish it so. The General Dynamics F-111 ‘Aardvarks’, as they’re officially known, have lovingly been dubbed ‘pigs’ by their pilots. Due to a design quirk (more on which later), they’re perfect for creating the spectacular ‘dump-and-burns’ before your eyes. What’s a dump-and-burn? Kind of what it sounds like: the dumping of fuel that’s ignited by the aircraft’s afterburners. The images best illustrate what happens next…
Riverfestival, where most of the photographs collected here were taken, is an important annual event in Brisbane, Australia. Its purpose is to promote and celebrate the Brisbane River – and it does so in some style! Held for the first time in 1996, when it was known as ‘Down by the River’, the festival was renamed ‘Brisbane River Festival’ in 1998, and finally ‘Riverfestival’ in 1999. Names notwithstanding, the festival was soon attracting visitors from far and wide, and since 2009 it has been merged with the annual Brisbane Festival.
One of the genuine highlights of Riverfestival over the years has been Riverfire, a 30-minute pyrotechnic show that sets the sky above Brisbane literally ablaze with light. The fireworks and dump-and-burns have long been favorites with the crowds that gather – and we can see why!
As we can see in this next photograph, apart from the three main bridges involved in the festival – the Victoria Bridge, Story Bridge and Goodwill Bridge – the fireworks are also set off from Brisbane’s boats and buildings, making the river appear awash with light. Magical.
Aside from the fireworks, the main stars of the Riverfire show have of course been the one or more participating F-111s – medium-range strike aircraft and strategic bombers based at the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base in Amberley, about 31 miles (50 km) southwest of Brisbane.
Apparently, any aircraft that carries a significant amount of fuel needs to have the capacity to lighten its load by dumping the juice that keeps it up in the air. So far, so normal-sounding. But, as we mentioned earlier, the spectacular displays by our ‘Aardvarks’ that are dump-and-burns are actually the result of a design quirk.
Wing Commander Micka Gray, who has piloted F-111s for 22 years and oversaw proceedings during Riverfire 2010, explains more about what makes the Aardvarks special: “With the F-111, the dump port where the fuel comes out is actually between the engines,” he says. “And because we are an after-burner aircraft, which gives us more power, we basically inject fuel into the exhaust.”
What Wing Commander Gray is saying equates to this: while in other aircraft dumped fuel would appear simply as a vapor stream, when the F-111 has its afterburners on, the fuel is close enough to ignite – resulting in the stunning displays seen here.
Further proof of the somewhat arbitrary characteristic of dump-and-burns is suggested by the comment of an Australian F-111 enthusiast posted on a forum: “There is nothing in the flight manual with the specifics of the dump-and-burn,” writes Andrea, “just fuel dumping.” So, clearly someone, somewhere along the line, had a bright idea…