They call themselves ramp rats. Plane chasers. Self-professed total aviation nerds.

“For me, the passion is the big transport aircraft,” said old-time ramp rat Andrew Burnett.

“So something like this that is huge, excites me. This is special, this is magic.”

And on Tuesday, they were out in full force, cameras and coffees in hand at Victoria’s International Airport, waiting for a big one.

“This will be cool to see,” said another onlooker.

“I mean I looked at pictures online and it looks huge, so I think it’ll be exciting.”

Just after midday in she came, gliding into the Victoria airport with a grace that belied her size. And with a soft landing, the Russian-built heavy transport aircraft, the Ilyushin-76, touched down.

And she’s big.

The long-haul freighter, built and designed in the former Soviet Union, carries four engines and measures over 50 metres (165 feet) from wingtip to wingtip.

And the behemoth aircraft is here in Victoria to give a piggyback ride to an island-based helicopter.

For a price tag of a little over a million dollars, a VIH Aviation Group helicopter has been hired by Chile’s Ministry of Agriculture for three months to help fight the country’s forest fires.

The VIH helicopter would usually make the long journey through the United States to Santiago, Chile, alone, but the widespread American government shutdown provided a big roadblock.

“It’s just they’re not working. If you can’t have anyone to talk to, you can not work, so we cannot go through the States,” said Didier Moinier, VIH Aviation Group’s senior vice president for international business development.

And the Ilyushin Il-76 provided the perfect way around the shutdown.

“Flight permits to go through the states takes about two days, and about four landings for refuelling, so we couldn’t have the authorization to do that,” said Moinier.

The helicopter will be dismantled Wednesday morning before it’s loaded into the four-engine strategic plane.

And just like that, the Ilyushin Il-76 will take to the skies once again Wednesday afternoon, with the ramp rats likely not far behind.

Kori Sidaway