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Top Gun truckie pilots Caribou on final mission

Even after all these years hauling monster loads, Brad Imber admits that jobs like this still get the adrenaline pumping.

Imber, 61, is reflecting on the honour and privilege of being tasked with moving a giant de Havilland Canada DHC-4 Caribou aircraft from the Australian Army Flying Museum in Oakey on its final journey to Air Force History and Heritage, RAAF Base Amberley.

The Caribou A4-195 holds a special place in Australia’s military history, having been on countless operations since first delivered to the RAAF in 1964, including serving with International Force East Timor in 1999/2000 and in Operation ANODE in the Solomon Islands in 2003/04.

And if you want to safely transport one of these popular aircraft – affectionately known as the ‘Gravel Truck’ – by road for future generations to enjoy, then Imber is your guy to call at Brisbane-based Edge Heavy Logistics.

Heavy haulage specialists Brad Imber and wife Karen have been busier than ever.

The former star of 2012’s hit reality show MegaTruckers has moved everything from an 850 tonne offshore drill rig compressor, to the Gold Coast light rail trams.

As a preferred carrier for over-dimensional loads for Linfox, Imber is also no stranger to hauling valuable military machinery, having successfully trucked a Mirage jet 1800km from Amberley to Townsville over three days in 2020, and more recently a platform low-loader stacked with tank equipment to the RAAF Base Richmond near Sydney.

But Imber says every job of this magnitude, when so much could go wrong, requires painstaking preparation, and the 140km from Oakey down the Warrego Highway to Amberley presented its own unique set of challenges when he first began to nut out the logistics back in February.

“You walk into the paddock, and you stand beside it with your tape measure and height stick you go, ‘holy crap, this is going to be a mammoth effort’,” laughed Imber.

“But what we do is break it down, nuts and bolts. We measure it, get the height/length and what we can legally travel with and what permits we can achieve to make that happen, and just go through the process as what we do in this industry.

“It’s a real honour and privilege to be part of moving these old heritage girls, it’s part of history. 

One of the biggest tests was how to get the massive fuselage and wings on to just two trucks, Imber’s flagship Kenworth K200 Fat Cab and the other Edge Heavy Logistics support truck, the Western Star 4800 Series driven by Des Seymour.

The original plan was to take the 10m wide wings off the plane, along with the rear stabiliser, and the rear part of the fuselage, but then the goalposts changed again.

“The [RAAF] heritage guys realised that she’s an old girl and it’d be a lot easier to leave the rear part of the fuselage on and just take the rear stabiliser and the rear elevator off,” said Imber.

“That added another eight or nine metres on to the length of the plane so then we had to tear all the permits up and resubmit again because we were longer and higher.

“We ended up being 9.6m wide [with the wings off] so that was the biggest hurdle. We ended up being 30m long and we got the height down to 5.1m.”

Imber solved the logistics puzzle after a visit to a mate at MWF General Engineering in Brisbane.

“We sat there for a couple of hours with the CAD [computer-aided design] drawing and got all the dimensions of the plane and trailer, lifted it at the front and back, stretched the trailer out a bit and put the belly of the plane down on the extendable part of the trailer to get the height down.

“Then I confidently rang them back that afternoon and said, ‘hell yes, we can do this’.”

Imber says a similar shift had been successfully completed before so he also drew confidence from the notes he got from the Air Force team from Static Display Aircraft Support Section (SDASS).

“The RAAF guys had a few ideas so they ran them by me and I thought that sounds very logical to me, let’s engineer that and let’s make that happen.”

Imber says working out how to successfully transport the wings on the back of a conventional drop-deck trailer with a 10.4m bottom deck, a configuration they use every other day, was the most complex puzzle to solve.

The wings were the hardest to get in because they were laying flat on the ground, and they had lifting points about two thirds of the way up the wings,” added Imber.

“So, when they lift them, they’re actually hanging on about a 60-degree angle. 

“To bring them down vertically into position we had to virtually manhandle them and push them in and put car tyres and tubes in between them so they didn’t get damaged in any way as they went down between the bollards and the bolsters.

“Loading the wings actually took longer than loading the plane.”

The only potential hurdle for expert permit specialists BSF Permits came when Imber went to apply for access to the Toowoomba Range Bypass section of the 140km haul.

He was initially told a load of that width wouldn’t be allowed because of roadworks still taking place in the area after a landslide there about 12 months earlier.

At the time of applying only 5.5m was allowed go down the range and Imber initially received a “full-stop no” from authorities.

Their biggest concern was that Imber would have the right-hand wing 3.5m into the west-bound lane for oncoming trucks to run into.

“Once I sold him that it wouldn’t be a drama, we don’t have any wide clearances low to the trailer so we can straddle the concrete wall okay and the signs but we just had to manage traffic control with the pilots and QPS to ensure that the inside lane on the westbound traffic was notified and warned and stopped while I traversed past the working area.”

“He was happy with that – he said let’s fly.” 

After a few false starts through the year due to the inclement weather savaging the state, Imber and his support crew, which included East Coast Cranes, began loading the plane onto the two trailers on September 27, a day before they were due to head out.

With rain again threatening on the day, Imber made the call to back the plane and wing trailer out on to the road about 20 minutes earlier than the scheduled 10pm start time to avoid getting bogged on the grass.

When the Queensland Police arrived, along with the team from Working iT Pilots, Imber was quickly given the all-clear to get underway.

The only real issue along the whole route came just 10-minutes into the haul when the convoy had only just hit the Warrego Highway.

“Where we had the rear part of the fuselage attached to the trailer by a retaining bolt and clip on the aircraft it actually snapped.

“That was basically the only drama that we had during the whole trip, but luckily it happened just as we turned on to the Warrego and we were going ever-so slow.

“Nothing moved. It was probably the roll of the trailer as we were turning left on the Warrego. 

“Due to the camber of the road, the trailer twisted a little bit and gave it a bit more of a tug than it should have.”

The only other moment that gave Imber cause for concern was when the trucks finally arrived at the Amberley base at about 3.30am the next morning.

A plane of this width is normally taken down the “live” side of the airport, but roadworks at the base meant Imber was instead asked to enter via a gate that’s not square to the road.

He was told the entrance was on a “bit of an angle” but he’d still have a “whopping” 25mm clearance on either side.

“The concentration levels were pretty high,” said Imber, relieved to safely deliver the Caribou unscathed, the widest load of his distinguished heavy haulage career.

As for the Department of Defence’s reaction to the move by Imber and the support team, we got the below response from a spokesperson via email.

“The Air Force team from Static Display Aircraft Support Section (SDASS) are all Reservists, each of the highest calibre in their individual trades.

“Brad Imber from Edge Heavy Logistics has carried out similar work for SDASS in recent years with a high level of professionalism, and played an important role in facilitating wide-load permits (10 metres from engine to engine), wide-load escort pilots, as well as Queensland Police escorts and planning the travel route.”

The spokesperson also added that since the transfer of ownership of the aircraft from Army back to Air Force, it is the intent for Air Force to carry out restoration and refurbishment for future display in an Air Force Aviation Heritage Centre.

The unflappable Imber concedes that playing his part in piloting the Caribou to its final landing zone will definitely go down as a career highlight.

“Even my wife [Karen] said to me two days before, ‘Are you getting butterflies yet?’,” said Imber, who is still enjoying driving as much as he did when he first started.

“I said, yeah, not butterflies, but it’s on the front of my mind. Your mind’s going flat out. You’re driving the route, you’re thinking about things you measured yesterday.

“It certainly does liven your excitement levels up a bit and gets you really thinking. 

“After we loaded the plane and we were sitting outside ready to go, my wife said, ‘Are you nervous?’, but I said, ‘No, bring it on’.

“Because everything that you can possibly do has been done, and there’s not another thing you can do that’s going to prevent what’s about to happen.

“So, you just deal with it as it comes.”


The post Top Gun truckie pilots Caribou on final mission appeared first on Big Rigs.

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