Number 77 Squadron – the second last RAAF McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A/B ‘classic’ Hornet operating unit, and the last Hornet unit based at Williamtown near Newcastle – has completed flying operations with the jet.
A week of single and multiple-aircraft farewell displays in and around the Newcastle area culminated on December 11 with an eight-ship formation display by 77SQN.
After they landed, the aircraft lined up at the eastern end of the runway for the pilots to salute the large crowd which had gathered on the side of the road and at the Fighter World museum and café to witness the event, before taxiing back to the hard stands and into retirement.
The classic Hornet entered service with the RAAF in 1985, with the first two jets – A21-101 and 102 – arriving at Williamtown after an epic non-stop trans-Pacific flight from NAS Lemoore in California. The two/ jets were escorted and refuelled enroute by two USAF KC-10 tankers, and four RAAF Mirage IIIOs flew out from Williamtown to escort them in on the final leg.
A total of 75 Hornets have have served with the RAAF, comprising 18 F/A-18B two-seater ‘tubs’, and 57 F/A-18A single-seaters, the last of which was delivered in 1990. All but four of the jets were assembled at Avalon in Victoria with increasing levels of Australian-manufactured content.
In the 35 years they have been in service with the RAAF, just four Hornets have been lost in accidents, a remarkably low attrition rate which reflects the aircraft’s ease of handling, robust design, and systems redundancy.
The aircraft were progressively upgraded with new weapons and upgraded operational flight programs over the years, and underwent the multi-phased Air 5376 Hornet Upgrade Program which added a new radar and targeting pod, enhanced communications, an improved electronic warfare system, enhanced cockpit displays, a helmet mounted display, and structural upgrades.
The jet served with 3SQN and 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2OCU) at Williamtown, both of which relinquished their Hornets – in 2017 and 2019 respectively – for the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, 30 of which are now in service. And with the retirement of its Hornets, 77SQN will convert to the F-35A in early 2021.
The RAAF’s final classic Hornet operating unit is 75SQN which is based at Tindal in the Northern Territory, and that squadron will retire its Hornets at the end of 2021 and convert to the F-35A in early 2022.
The RAAF also operates 24 F/A-18F Hornets with 1SQN at RAAF Amberley in Queensland. Operations of these aircraft are currently suspended pending an investigation after a takeoff mishap on December 8.