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‘Top Gun’ Hornet instructor new Chief of Air Force

written by Adam Thorn | June 28, 2022

A pilot from 2OCU completes his last flight in the F/A-18A Hornet A21-035. CPL Melina Young

A former Hornet fighter jet pilot and instructor has been appointed as the new Chief of Air Force.

Air Vice-Marshal Robert Chipman will be promoted to Air Marshal and replace the outgoing head of the RAAF, Mel Hupfeld, when he steps down next month.

According to the Williams Foundation, Chipman joined the RAAF in 1989 and has enjoyed an extraordinary career that saw him initially posted to No 25 and then No 76 squadron flying the Macchi MB326H, a light military jet trainer. He then completed a F/A-18 Hornet Operational Conversion in 1995. 

After a tour as a Hornet instructor at No 2 Operational Conversion Unit, he returned to No 75 SQN as its fighter combat instructor and flight commander.

Other roles have included helping to oversee the Hornet Upgrade Program in 2004, returning to be commander of No 75 Squadron and assuming command of No 81 Wing. He’s currently the head of military strategic commitments at the RAAF.

His predecessor AIRMSHL Hupfeld’s tenure began in 2019 and is due to end next month, with a change of command ceremony set down for July 11. He will be leaving his post alongside outgoing Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Michael Noonan and Chief of Army Lieutenant General Rick Burr.

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“These officers have served our nation with great distinction during a period of significant cultural change and modernisation of military capabilities,” said Defence on Tuesday.

“The Governor-General has accepted these recommendations for appointment of the ADF’s senior leadership positions.”

Air Marshal Hupfeld appeared on the Australian Aviation podcast in 2020, which you can listen to above. He said the RAAF was “far more professional” now than when he joined the organisation four decades ago.

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“I’d compare it to the discussions I would have with World War II veterans when I was a young pilot,” said AIRMSHL Hupfeld. “They’d all say, ‘My god. Your Air Forces, you’re far more professional than we ever were.’

“I look back to when I first started flying airplanes in the Air Force compared to what we do now, and I’d say the same thing.”

He first joined the Royal Australian Air Force as a RAAF Academy Cadet in January 1980. His distinguished career included being awarded a Distinguished Service Cross in recognition of his performance as Commanding Officer during the Iraq War.

After over three decades of service, the ADF in November last year officially retired its fleet of single-seat F/A-18A and two-seat F/A-18B Classic Hornets.

Since first entering into service with the Royal Australian Air Force in 1986, Air Force has welcomed 75 Classic Hornets, operated by No. 75 Squadron at RAAF Base Tindal, and No. 3 and 77 Squadrons at RAAF Base Williamtown.

In its 35 years of service, the Classic Hornet multi-role fighter fleet has completed more than 400,000 flight hours across thousands of missions.

Read our feature on how the aircraft handled here. 

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