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Classic Hornet pilots say it was ‘brilliant fun’ to fly

written by Hannah Dowling | July 14, 2022

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 F/A-18 Classic Hornet was “brilliant fun” to fly, according to Wing Commander Tim Ireland, Commanding Officer of No. 77 Squadron, who spent over 15 years of his RAAF career flying the fighter.

Speaking with Australian Aviation of his time as a Classic Hornet pilot, and in honour of the retirement of the iconic aircraft, WGCDR Ireland said, “The Hornet was renowned for its slow-speed handling in a dog fight.

“It was brilliant fun to manoeuvre as it provided you good feel and sensory feedback in the cockpit. I loved the way you could rapidly build angle of attack, or nose rotation, while still handling the jet in complete control.

“This meant you could turn tightly, skidding across the sky, and bring the gun to bear against your enemy.”

WGCDR Ireland first climbed the ladder of a Hornet as a 24-year old in 2005, as a “bograt” in 75 Squadron out of RAAF Base Tindall.


“My final Hornet tour was as Executive Officer 75 Squadron in Tindal again, and it was during this time I deployed twice to the Middle East region flying over 50 combat missions,” he said.

“So in many ways, I find it hard to separate my Classic Hornet years from my experiences in both the Northern Territory and the Middle East.”

“To me, the Classic was a pure passion that I was lucky to enjoy with my closest mates,” he added.

Like many F-18 pilots, WGCDR Ireland has moved on to today fly the F-35A Lightning II.

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

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.

To learn more about about this iconic aircraft, and to hear the rest of Wing Commander Tim Ireland’s stories about flying the aircraft, click here.

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