These Images Of Aussie C-17s Flying Among Skyscrapers In Brisbane Are The Best We've Ever Seen

One photographer has captured the Royal Australian Air Force's low-flying action for the Riverfire festival like no other.

C17 flies between buildings in brisbane
Mark Greenmantle

Like clockwork, every year around September images and videos of military aircraft maneuvering incredibly low through dense urban terrain emerge out of Brisbane, Australia, and hit social media with viral velocity. In years past, the city's Riverfire spectacle was probably best known in aviation circles for showcasing the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) F-111 "Pigs" doing their iconic 'dump and burn' maneuver while ripping over the Story Bridge. Today, the F-111s are long gone, but the RAAF is still super active in this event with its Super Hornets and Growlers, and most notably, its hulking C-17 Globemaster III airlifters, taking center stage. 

These massive cargo jets, in particular, weaving just a couple hundred feet off the ground over the picturesque city is truly a sight to behold. There is really nowhere else in the world where heavy airlifters perform for audiences like this. But after seeing this display for a number of years, and writing about it, as well, the novelty wears off. That is until someone comes along with a new perspective or a piece of media that showcases just how unique the flyover is like never before. Two years ago, this was cockpit footage from inside the display C-17. This year it is the stunning images of Mark Greemantle.

To put it bluntly, I have never seen images like his from one of the most heavily photographed aviation displays of the year. Case in point, check out Mark's images of the C-17 going through its paces for Riverfire 2021:

Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle

The War Zone asked Mark how he captured these incredible photos and he was kind enough to lay it all out for us:

To achieve these images, I have found an ideal perch upon the railing of the 39th floor of Riparian Plaza in Brisbane. For two years pre-COVID, I have hosted the RAAF media teams with me to ensure they can make the most of this vantage point.

From the vantage point of Riparian Plaza's 39th-floor balcony, the jets pass about 30-80ft below the balcony. The balcony, with its 360-degree views, allows for coverage of the air display from above most of the central business district buildings. This year's images were shot on a Nikon D850 with a Nikkor 200-500mm telephoto lens so the close passes meant I was stuck with close-up crops of the C-17 Globemasters.

The general flight path of the display was known from previous years and had only been slightly altered for 2021. What was known for certain was that the pilots from RAAF Amberley Base had flown many hours in the simulator to prepare for the low-level passes (250-300ft above ground level) over the river and bridges. Despite many publications pushing alarmist rhetoric about "dangerous display flights" being too much like 9/11... they hide that the aircraft have a very broad river below their low-level passes and that at no point is any building occupant at any risk of harm. 

Previous years have included more passes by either 1Sqn RAAF's F/A-18F Superhornets or 6Sqn's EA-18G Growlers, as well as the 36Sqn Globemasters, and we've also enjoyed displays from Australian Army aviation corps with the MH-90 Taipans and the ARH Tigers buzzing the large number of boats crowding the river ahead of the fireworks displays. 

Check out some additional images from Mark of Taipan and Tiger helicopters showing off at this year's Riverfire:

Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle

A bit more about Mark and how he became so passionate about aviation photography: 

My work with defense interests began nearly a decade back when I commenced fundraising efforts for verified Veteran organizations in Australia and the US shooting mostly warbirds and pinups in WWII-themed calendars. It grew from calendars to touring with warbird crews to shoot air-to-air work and eventually led me to include a major in aviation management to my degree in counterterrorism and intelligence. Australia has been slow to recommence airshows since COVID, so the RAAF displays for Riverfire have been a small preview of what was normalcy for many of us.  

A huge thanks to Mark for sharing his amazing images and thoughts with us. Make sure to follow him on Instagram and here are also a couple of bonus images from Riverfire 2019 that Mark passed along for good measure for you to enjoy:

Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle
Mark Greenmantle

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com