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.”
The F/A-18A/B Classic Hornet was retired from the RAAF on Monday, 29 November 2021, after 35 years of service. The aircraft was honoured in a ceremony held at RAAF Base Williamtown, attended by Minister for Defence Peter Dutton and nearly 500 people.