If you've visited Melbourne Airport in the past few months and wondered why an enormous, rust-coloured plane is sitting outside on the tarmac, wonder no more.
It's not an art installation. It's a full-sized mock-up aircraft fuselage that from mid-March will be laid with gaslines and set alight – like a giant barbecue – for use in aviation rescue and fire fighting (ARFF) training.
The structure – which is the centrepiece of a state-of-the-art training facility dubbed the Learning Academy Hot Fire Training Ground – will be quite the spectacle when alight and probably quite disturbing for those unaware that it isn't an actual plane. A spokesman for Airservices Australia, however (the government-owned corporation that provides ARFF services at 21 of Australia's airports), said passengers "shouldn't be alarmed by smoke or flames from the training facility."
"Airservices will take into account fire bans and existing wind conditions during the testing of the hot-fire training facility," he said.
Although this isn't the first aircraft mock-up that's been used for training purposes in Australia, Airservices said it's certainly the largest in the southern hemisphere, and possibly the world. At over 56 metres long, 10 metres high and 29 metres wide, it's almost three times the length of existing aircraft mock-ups currently in use in Australia.
The structure is basically a mash-up of replicated sections of aircraft including the Airbus A380, Boeing 767 and DC10 aircraft, to train crews in fighting fires on different types of aircrafts and to allow multiple training scenarios to happen at the same time. It is the first time Airservices has developed a mock-up that includes the A380.
"This facility now gives us the ability to train firefighters in responding to the largest aircraft that will land in Australian airports," the Airservices Australia spokesman said.
Depending on training requirements, the aircraft mock-up can also be lit at different levels, creating wheel fires, engine fires or complete aircraft fuselage fires. The centre of the aircraft will also have drums filled with fuel to replicate fires inside a plane.
Although it won't be used to train cabin crew as it isn't equipped with escape slides, the interior is set up like a real aircraft, complete with seating and overhead compartments.
Unfortunately for those who have been admiring the rustic burnt orange hue of the structure as they fly into Melbourne Airport, the plane will be turning black once it starts burning.