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Classic Hornet retired after over 30 years of service

written by Hannah Dowling | November 29, 2021
Aircraft A21-02 flown by Group Captain Jason Easthope, Chief of Staff, Air Combat Group taxis through a farewell water canon at RAAF Base Williamtown. (Defence / CPL Craig Barrett)

The Royal Australian Air Force has celebrated the retirement of its fleet of single-seat F/A-18A and two-seat F/A-18B Classic Hornets, after over 35 years of service to Australia.

Since entering into service with the RAAF in 1986, Air Force has welcomed 75 Classic Hornets, operated by Number 75 Squadron at RAAF Base Tindal, and Number 3 and 77 Squadron at RAAF Base Williamtown.

In its over three decades of service, the Classic Hornet multirole fighter fleet has completed more than 400,000 flight hours across thousands of missions.

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To honour the occasion, the RAAF hosted a ceremony on Monday at RAAF Base Williamtown, attended by Minister for Defence Peter Dutton and nearly 500 people.

“Today, after taking to the sky for more than 30 years, after serving our nation with great distinction for more than three decades, after being an icon of Australia’s leading-edge air combat capability for a third of a century, we say farewell to the Classic Hornet – to the formidable F/A- 18,” said Minister Dutton.

The entry of the Hornet into the RAAF fleet, at the time, marked one of the biggest leaps in technology RAAF had seen.

The first two fighters were delivered nonstop from California to Williamtown in May 1985, after a 15-hour flight spanning over 12,000 kilometres. Each Hornet was refuelled 13 times throughout the flight by accompanying US Air Force tankers.

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In the 36 years since then, the fleet has been deployed on a number of key military operations, most notably the NATO-led mission following the 9/11 terrorist attack in the US.

Missions included the safeguarding of the US air base in Diego Garcia from where operations in Afghanistan were launched, and its deployment in Iraq, where it attacked enemy targets and provided air cover for the SAS.

“While the Classic Hornet will no longer take to our skies, the fighter and attack aircraft will remain in the memories of those who flew and maintained it,” Minister Dutton said.

“The distinct, pencil-like nose and cockpit. The unmistakable roar of its F404 engines and the way it nimbly rolled and banked.

“Unquestionably, the Hornet has been an exceptional aircraft. Exceptional in its own right, but all the more exceptional because it’s been crewed and cared for by exceptional people.”

Meanwhile, RAAF chief Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, said the aircraft will be an important piece of Australian aviation history.

“It is quite fitting that in Air Force’s centenary year we say goodbye to the Classic Hornet, a fighter jet that has been an integral part of Australia’s defence capability for more than three decades,” he said.

Air Marshal Hupfeld personally commanded the contingent of 14 Hornets and personnel from No. 75 Squadron, which deployed to Iraq under Operation Falconer in February 2013.

“This was the first operational combat deployment of Australian fighters since the Korean War, and our aviators and aircraft performed above expectations,” he noted.

Air Commander Australia AVM Joe Iervasi, AM, CSC, also an experienced F/A-18A/B pilot, reflected on the Classic Hornet’s most recent operational deployment against Daesh forces.

“Once again, performing above expectations, on Okra the Classic Hornets flew 1937 missions, accumulating 14,780 flying hours, and delivering approximately 1,600 munitions,” AVM Iervasi said.

The multirole fighter aircraft are being replaced by a fleet of 72 Lockheed Martin-built F-35A Lightning II aircraft.

“While I’m sad to see this incredible aircraft end its role as a sentinel of Australian skies, it’s an exciting time for Air Force as we enter our second century with the F-35A delivering combat air power as part of a networked joint force, to assure the ADF’s ability to deter or defeat threats to Australia’s interests,” AVM Iervasi added.

Many of those who previously worked on the Classic Hornet will now move on to the F-35A, or the F/A-18F Super Hornet.

The RAAF recently received three new F-35 jets, taking the total size of the existing fleet to 44.

The new aircraft touched down at RAAF Base Williamtown, where these were accepted by No. 77 Squadron.

This was the last delivery for the 2021 calendar year.

The Commonwealth government has ordered 72 F-35A aircraft under the Joint Strike Fighter program.

All 72 jets are expected to be fully operational by 2023, with an option to expand the fleet to a maximum of 100 aircraft.

In honour of the Classic Hornet’s retirement, you can check out Australian Aviation’s gallery of the iconic multirole fighter here.

Additional reporting by Charbel Kadib.

8 Comments

  • Gerald Casimatis

    says:

    In the short term I hope enough F18’s are kept in reserve or semi operational and updated. This would help in case we have problems with our rear defense particularly in the South Pacific including and the cost of maintaining and operating F35’s from sub optimum and remote air bases. In addition training hours on f35’s would be reduced until a suitably advanced replacement is found for the Hawks.

    • phil

      says:

      Gerald Casimatis:- I hope you are aware that Canada’s Department of National Defence – or its agency are purchasing some of the RAAF’s F/A-18 A/B’s(Classics) to bolster their Hornet assets, prior to being replaced by an as yet undecided successor; whether the SAAB Gripen JAS39; or the Boeing [Bong] F-18 E/F Super Hornet, or the Lockheed Martin -35 ‘Lightning 2 {which imo Australia has mistakenly purchased..}

  • Harldin

    says:

    To all the Pilots and Ground Crew who flew and maintained the Classics in both peacetime and conflicts a huge round of applause for a job well done.
    👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍

  • Rocket

    says:

    Slow, no payload hardly anc a pathetic combat radius. Good riddance.
    Of course, we did buy the F model too on a whim with no advance analysis and it suffers too from pathetic range. Buying the F/A-18F is analogous to digging up copper wire and replacing it with copper instead of fibre so not a surprise in the recent government playbook.

    Congratulations and thanks to those who flew them however. It wouldn’t have achieved anything if it wasn’t for their skill.

  • PJ

    says:

    With the China challenge about to hit would make sense to do a refurbishment and store at least for a few years? Keep reserve pilots qualified ?
    Same with our ships, M113, M1A1 etc replaced on a 1 for 1 only. Reserve mothball fleet an option?

  • Neil

    says:

    I hope we get to see a Static Classic FA/18 Hornet stored inside under cover of the RAAF Museum Williams Point Cook. I will never forget the times when I visited Darwin when I would see the Classic FA/18 Hornets roaring across Darwin Harbour backwards and forwards to Tindal NT along the coast during the Pitch Black exercises!

  • Brian Jago

    says:

    Are any earmarked for museums?

  • Gerald Casimatis

    says:

    Thanks Phil. I believe 25 were earmarked for Canada, 8 for exhibition and some to go to a training school in the USA. The rest will probably be refurbished for sale. If retained even for a relatively short period of time one operational flight is better than nothing. Its also worth considering due to the depth of expertise we have in these aircraft and the assumed accumulated equipment and spares availability. Dare I mention the need to enlarge our defense capabilities quickly!

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