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Inside the Archive: F/A-18A/B Classic Hornet

In November 1981, the Australian government placed an order for 75 Classic Hornets, consisting of 57 single-seat F/A-18As and 18 two-seat F/A-18Bs. It was, at the time, one of the biggest leaps in technology RAAF had seen. The fleet went on to become a backbone of our Air Force for close to 30 years, and is only now being progressively retired as Australia’s 72 F-35A Joint Strike Fighters begin to be introduced into service.

“The F/A-18A/B Hornet entered RAAF service in 1986 having been chosen as the multirole strike fighter to replace its ageing fleet of Mirage fighters,” says Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, speaking to Australian Aviation.

“Early on the Hornet proved both lethal and survivable in all-weather by day and by night, enabling a generational leap forward in air combat capability. Over the years the Australian government approved several significant upgrades to the Hornet to ensure that it remained credible against the pacing threat.”

The Hornet was initially developed for the US Navy and Marine Corps, and has been a very successful aircraft globally, used by countries as diverse as Canada, Finland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Spain and Switzerland. The remarkably versatile aircraft can undertake air interception, air combat, close air support of ground troops and interception of enemy supply lines, including shipping. Significantly, it’s also capable of air-to-air refuelling from the KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport.

In December 2020, after a distinguished career, the first F/A-18A was officially handed over to the Australian War Memorial. A21-022, which was deployed on three Middle East operations, was partially disassembled and then put back together in order to make the trip to Canberra from RAAF Base Williamtown. Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price called its placing there a “fitting tribute” to the aircraft. A second F/A-18, A21-040, will also make the trip to the memorial in mid-2022.

“Despite the Hornet fielding capabilities from several nations, the Hornet of 2021 strongly reflects the technology transfer associated with the strong strategic alliance shared between the USN and the RAAF,” says Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld. “Through a capable suite of weapons, sensors and communications, the F/A-18 Hornet has been a remarkable and agile fighter aircraft that retires proudly as one of most capable all-round fourth generation platforms globally.”

43 Comments

  • Bill

    says:

    It was mentiond earlier in this piece by, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, that the FA-18 Hornet replaced the Mirage fighters. I thought the F-111 ‘Ardvark’ replaced the Mirage jets around 1967 till 1999 such as the Raaf 6th squadron. If my memory serves me correct the aircraft served our country well until they were superseded by the Hornets, which by the way are an exceptional fighter also.

    • Andrew

      says:

      You’re not getting confused by 6SQN RAAF using the new E/A-18 Growler version of the Super Hornet are you?

      The F-111 replaced the Canberra bombers. Except for the brief period that F4 Phantoms replaced the Canberra as the F-111 was delayed.

      The F/A-18A&Bs were indeed the replacement to the Mirage fighters in ’86.
      The Mirage replaced the CAC Avon Sabre, they replaced the Meteor and that replaced the CAC Mustang.

      That’s the RAAF post war fighter lineage. ^

      I’m such nerd it now occurs to me.

    • Nick

      says:

      Not quite Bill. Mirage was replaced in Tactical Fighter Group by the Hornet, in No’s 3, 75 and 77 Squadrons. F-111’s replaced Canberra’s in Strike and Reconnaissance Group, consisting of No 1 and 6 SQNs, which have since been replaced by Super Hornet and Growler respectively. Tactical Fighter Group and Strike and Reconnaissance Group have since merged into Air Combat Group.

    • Paul

      says:

      The Mirage was in service with the RAAF until 1988. The FA18 was introduced around 1984 to replace the Mirage.
      I was an Air Traffic Controller at Williamtown 87 to 90 and controlled both Mirage and FA18.
      The F111s were operated from 1973 until about 2010 when the Super Hornets were introduced and replaced them.

    • Micheal

      says:

      The FA -18 replaced the Mirage around 1985/6. The F111 replaced the Phantom F4 (which we were leasing), and the replacement for the F111 was the Super Hornet. The reason I know, I was an armourer on Mirage aircraft based at Williamtown when the Hornets arrived.

    • Rocket

      says:

      @ Bill.
      Incorrect.
      The Hornet was a replacement for the Mirage III (we had 130 of them I think). The long-range strike platform was the English Electric Canberra.
      The F/A-18As were built at Fisherman’s Bend and there were only 75 of them because the long range strike and many other capabilities (or the balance) had been taken over by the prodigiously capable F-111C which is arguably the best air force equipment Australia has ever had. It was updatable and it still outstrips anything we have now for speed and for long range strike.
      The F-15SEs operated by Singapore still fall short in range and speed and bomb load compared to the F-111C.

  • Pete

    says:

    Qantas will probably put a 789 on the Cooma route, just to make sure Rex never comes back.

  • Steve Wilson

    says:

    Bill, you are incorrect here, and AM Hupfield statement is spot on. The F/A-18 replaced the Mirage III in service as front line fighters, whilst the F-111 replaced the Canberra in the Strike/Bomber, and later in Recce, roles.

    • Gordon Mackinlay

      says:

      Actually the F-111 replaced the leased force of 23 USAF F-4 Phantoms (there were 24, but, one crashed at Evans Head), they had replaced the Canberra strike force (they still remained in other roles, for quite some years).

  • John

    says:

    Bill, the original 24 F111’s were ordered to replace the Canberra bomber in the late 60’s &, because of a delay in the F111 development, 24 F4E Phantoms were operated as a stopgap for a few years (1 & 6 Squadrons)

    The 75 F/A18A’s were selected as a Mirage replacement circa 1980 and have served the fighter role ever since – a significant jump in capability over the Mirage, just as the F35 will be over the F/A18A. (3, 75 & 77 Squadrons as well as 2 OCU)

  • Gunno

    says:

    The Air Staff Requirement that was produced and resulted in the procurement of the F-111C was to replace the Canberra – the requirement was an aircraft that could take off from Darwin, strike targets in SE Asia and return. Note Australia never called the F-111 the Ardvark, that was a US term. For many, like myself, who spent much of their lives with the F-111 the preferred term was “The Pig”, though not everyone liked it. The F-111C was manufactured in late 60s (most had USAF original registrations from 67) but delays due to the Wing Carry through Box rework program saw them delivered in the early 70’s. The Pigs retired in 2010 in a spectacular and very moving ceremony at RAAF Amberley.

  • The F-111 may have been ordered in 1967 but they didn’t arrive until the 1970s and I think they replaced the Canberra bomber not the Mirage.

  • graeme

    says:

    More angry comments from REX because their so precious monopoly is being broken, MtGambier to Adelaide / Melbourne is poorly patronised because Rex has fares at such a high price point no one can afford them, if Rex doesn’t like it they can take their bat and ball and go sulk about it elsewhere, while we get affordable realistic fares from competition in the marketplace.

  • Trevor

    says:

    Hi Bill,

    The F/A-18A/B replaced the Mirage. The F-111C replaced the Canberra (with the Phantom being an interim aircraft with delays to the F-111C). The F/A-18F Super Hornet replaced the F-111C/G. At this stage, the F-35A is only replacing the F/A-18A/B fleet.

  • Trevor

    says:

    Sharp’s just snarky about QANTAS making a probable profit on routes’ he failed at.
    This guy’s a real piece of work.
    Let’s see if he’s still flying main eastern trunk routes come end of year.
    He hasn’t even started flying to BNE yet, to complete the ‘triangle’.

  • Paul

    says:

    The travelling public, particularly the country people see through this short term bullish tactic as they know that if the original carrier isn’t supported there will be no service in 8 months time when Qantas pull out as there isn’t enough business for a 70 seat aircraft.

  • Michael

    says:

    John Sharp is disingenuous in his argument re numbers on particular routes.
    Rex monopoly on many destinations meant price gouging at the extreme.
    Many fare, on these routes, are in excess of $500 for a one hour flight, one way!.
    That, along with all the inconveniences for traveller’s and then a return fare, no wonder there were so few willing to fly.

  • Warwick J Henry

    says:

    The F-111s replaced Canberra bombers, not Mirage III fighters! Mirages were replaced by F/A-18s

  • Brent

    says:

    The unions’ & their bosses’ aren’t happy because it means that subscriptions’ dollars’ won’t be coming into their coffers’ from workers’, to fund expensive lawyers’ hired by unions’, in court cases’ against QANTAS, like next month’s one.
    The unions’ are just beyond the pale, & the sooner they disappear from the workplace environment, the better everybody will be.
    Their outmoded, selfish thinking belongs back in the dark ages of unionism, ie 1970’s.

  • David

    says:

    The argument itself is illogical on many points. As the author notes, Sharp is using statistics incorrectly by not taking into account Covid lockouts. Also, if the routes are so tiny, how does Rex loose by just closing the routes? If it were the case as he suggests, Rex should exit the routes as unfixable regardless of Qantas and then let Qantas bleed cash there. This is a silly argument from a company that wants to compete on mainline routes will keeping an effective monopoly on regional. Bring competition on. We aren’t in a state run communist economy dear sir.

  • Garry LEE

    says:

    Reply to Bill
    The F18 did in fact replace the Mirage in the Attack Fighter role, as Mel Hupfeld flew both the Mirage and F18 I’m sure he is not mistaken. The F-111 was a bomber aircraft with 1 SQN and 6 SQN performing reconnaissance role

  • Max

    says:

    So where do the Phantoms fit in?

  • Brian

    says:

    I think the F-111 replaced the Canberra.

  • Bryan

    says:

    Says the bloke that took government funding to ‘stop Rex from going under’ to expand the airline onto capital city routes.

  • Paul Robson

    says:

    Rex and Mr Sharp have made an art form of Whinging!
    Interest to note many of the chosen destinations are marginal seats!

  • Andrew

    says:

    Every story I hear about Rex in the media is that it is a nasty company that cries poor when it does not get its way but uses stand over tactics when it is in a position to do so. While we may not always like what Qantas is doing, Rex is coming across as an opportunistic operator and one I don’t want to have nothing to do with.

  • AgentGerko

    says:

    It is truly a Qantas and Queensland package. Particularly as the travel period is over winter, not exactly the best time to visit Launceston. Merimbula is a daily Dash 8 from Melbourne so hardly a prime route and nobody wants to go to Avalon at any time. Waste of taxpayer money that will not stimulate anything except Mr Joyce and Ms Palacechook.

  • Vannus

    says:

    Sharp’s never satisfied, with his whinging constantly about QANTAS.
    REx isn’t this Country’s National Airline, QANTAS is, which he, & many others’ conveniently forget.

    Sharp will be getting funds through the Regional Support Package, which the Fed Govt has extended until Oct 2021.

    He does his airline harm, passenger numbers’ wise, every time he opens his big mouth, putting his foot in it.

  • Josh

    says:

    Was it not the case that the Mirage was replaced as a stop gap by Phantoms (leased from the USAF?) until the F18s became available and the F111 replaced the Canberras?

  • Ben

    says:

    Rex: It’s predatory and we are pulling out of a bunch of routes you don’t even compete with us on.
    Qantas: Umm ok… hey commercial, should we jump on any of these?

    I’m sure the people of Cooma will appreciate the upgrade to the Q400 and a non-stop to Brissy! Wonder when Rex will realise they have cut off their nose to spite their face?

  • Ben

    says:

    Standard LNP garbage. Borders should not be closed… except that one time we did it. Also three weeks in is not even out of first gear for vaccinations. Gladys should go talk to her health advisors again and listen this time. Not all high risk groups have even had a first dose yet, let alone the second. Sounds like Sydney is gearing up for another outbreak.

  • John Phillips

    says:

    REX – will they ever stop complaining?

  • Rocket

    says:

    The absolute arrogance of this man is beyond belief.
    His company bleats repeatedly to the Commonwealth Government begging for money for regional aviation to support it through COVID, lest it shut down it’s operation and then gets gifted something like $150M by his mates in the National Party.
    Having collected the cheque, they then proceed to spend it on Boeing 737-800s ex VA to compete with VA and QF on major trunk routes, something they’ve never done before.
    Then they whinge about QF entering markets they operate in!!!!!!!
    Now he thinks this package is a “Qantas and Virgin” package……. WELL, MISTER, YOU GOT YOUR HANDOUT and just because you chose to waste it on a jet operation folly is no reason to complain.
    90-95% of overall traffic is carried by QF and VA so they get the lions share….
    As usual, no one in government is prepared to speak some truth to this grandstander!!!!!!!

  • AJ

    says:

    Pic # 3 is of a Super not a classic

  • John Phillips

    says:

    “Talking to NCA Newswire on Thursday, Sharp said, “They’ll get 70 per cent of all the money and we’ll get the scraps.”

    Based on market share, REX shouldn’t even get that much.

    Perennial complainers.

  • Col

    says:

    Hi Bill, The mirage was still flying through the 80’s, a large number were based in Darwin and were bussing my house, F18 replaced these mid to late 80s. Not sure the exact times

  • Tony Ryan

    says:

    Without doubt, in my view, the best aircraft ever to enter RAAF service is the C130 Hercules. Having been a Flight Engineer on the C130A – C130E and C130H I am constantly disappointed at the lack of appreciation of this versatile airlifter by the majority of so called “experts”. The C130J, which as is the case in most aircraft today, does not carry a F/E. I cannot comment on the J model other than to say that I believe it is a very capable aircraft which continues in the traditions of the three models which preceded it. The C130 has been in RAAF service since 1958 and has served with distinction. It may not be as exciting as the fast pointy aircraft but it excels in the myriad of roles in which it has been used worldwide.

  • Paul

    says:

    I still feel the F 15 with its new acquisition of having the ability to intergreat with the F 35, should be looked at once again. As mention , it has the speed and range including a large pay load . Within our area
    We need an aircraft with those qualities, capable of carring advancedv weponry much like our old F111 did. It can work with the F35 including the new loyal wingman programme. Yes we would have a 3 terid airforce, but i may view it with different eyes . The F 15 would work closely with our F 35as yes they do have speed and long legs, but we need to look at what are we looking after. There micro nations that rely on us , they also need to see us that its self is important as it builds their moral knowing we are their beside them. What is the cost of freedom , is their a point we are not prepared to beyond. We are in a position in building stronger relationship and also traing our freinds in the south Pacific and also building ties with Indonesia and PNG. And i would put it , that we also bring our defence force and station patrolling aircraft such as the loyal wingman once it has met the standards requied . I believe we should train people within the south Pacific using certan drones that would also go a long way in creating better ties and up lift their abilities in a joint effort in extending maratime servalance along with there new ships. Australia , could very easily with a joint agreemeant using our OVP ships which can be used for a number of rolls, mine hunting and laying mines , hydro servalance etc with Australian officers traing also local trainishp, but i am drifting from the main subject. The point i am making is very simple, we invest a lot within the south Pacific, in simple words , this is our back yard and these pepole rely on us, in times of disaster relief and financial, they hear a lot of hot air from Canberra and if we don’t wish to see unwelcome guest we should make that effort by our presents . Increase our airforce and even setting up airports that have a double use such as Williamstown in new south wales. For example, the spartain aircrafts, these are designed for these conditions, inforstructure to help intimes of need and multy tasking. Drones and traing local people involvement, Australian jets on rotation and otheres , even a few loyal wingman operated from Australia including our F35A or even the B model could be ferried out there . The thing is New Zeland can’t afford what we are doing , but could even donate some aslavs , they should be okay on those Island nations and we need to show we are with them and if it were possible, fly a few F15s and SH as well. Its up to us to place a ffew micro bases around from PNG down through the Solomon’s our older mine hunters could go out there and as i mention even some OVP ships becausevwe need to know this toraine like the back of our hand.

  • Wes

    says:

    Regarding Miss Cottee, an ex first officer on a Boeing 717. If she can’t handle an “engine out” situation, for which all flight crew are trained, then she should never be allowed on the flight deck of any aircraft again.

  • Luke

    says:

    Now double the order four more times and we actually have the economics of scale needed for local aircraft design and manufacture to return.

  • IAN

    says:

    this mention of seat back thickness is exactly why seat pitch is not a good measurement of leg room.

  • David B

    says:

    The F-111 replaced the Canberra with the first aircraft being delivered in 1973. 1 SQN operated F-111C and 6 SQN operated F-111C RF and G. F-111s operated until retirement in 2010.

    The FA/18A replaced the Mirage IIIO primarily in in 3,75,77SQNS and 2OCU with several operated by ARDU.

  • Lance Halvorson

    says:

    Bill’s facts are a but awry – the F-111 replaced the Canberra in 1973 at Nos 1 & 6 Squadrons at Amberley -the F-111 was retired in 2010 & replaced by the Super Hornet F/A-18F. The Phantom F-4E was an interim replacement of the Canberra from SEP 1970 until the F-111s were delivered in JUN 1973.
    The Mirage was a fighter and replaced the Sabre – the Hornet F/A-18A replaced the Mirage in the early 1980s.

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