May 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 1 
Integrated Defense Systems
Still buzzing Still buzzing
Still buzzing Still buzzing

Still buzzing

F/A-18 Hornet marks 20 years of service in Australian air force



In the Hornet's nest

Some facts about the Hornets of the Royal Australian Air Force:

  • Australia purchased 75 Hornets in total—57 single-seat A models and 18 two-seat B models for training.
  • The first two Hornets, A21-101 and A21-102, were built in St Louis. They were flown nonstop from U.S. Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., to RAAF Base Williamtown on May 17, 1985. The 7,854-mile (12,640-kilometer) flight took 15 hours. Each aircraft required 13 refuelings from a U.S. Air Force KC-10 tanker. More than 100,000 pounds (45,540 kilograms, or 14,800 U.S. gallons) of fuel were used during the flight.
  • The first two Australian-built Hornets, A21-103 and A21-104, were assembled at the Government Aircraft Factory in Victoria. GAF later became Aerospace Technologies of Australia which, through acquisitions, eventually became part of Boeing Australia. These two aircraft were built in the United States but were disassembled and transported for reassembly.
  • Aircraft A21-103, considered the first Australian-built Hornet, was formally rolled out on Nov. 16, 1984, in front of dignitaries including Bob Hawke, then prime minister of Australia.
  • The Hornets officially entered Royal Australian Air Force service on May 4, 1985, when A21-103 was handed over to the RAAF.
  • The RAAF's Hornets are operated by the three operational squadrons of 81 Wing – 3 and 77 at RAAF Williamtown and 75 at the RAAF Tindal air base. Training is carried out by No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit, which is part of 78 Wing and also based at Williamtown.
  • Boeing is currently the prime contractor for the Hornet Upgrade Program and is the lead industry partner of the Hornet Industry Coalition. With the upgrades, the coalition will have provided a significantly enhanced RAAF F/A-18 Hornet fleet, allowing it to maintain regional superiority through improved lethality, survivability and interoperability with allied air forces.


A page turner

Australian Aviation magazine has released a new book that tells the history of the F/A-18 Hornet in Royal Australian Air Force service. The book, Hornets Down Under: Celebrating 20 Years of F/A-18 Service with the Royal Australian Air Force, was written by Andrew McLaughlin, a leading Australian aviation journalist. It offers a comprehensive history of Australia’s Hornet fleet, from its selection as the replacement for the Mirage IIIO in 1981 to its most recent operational deployments.

For more information, visit the Australian Aviation’s Web site.

On Oct. 20, 1981, Sir James Killen, then defense minister of Australia, heralded a new era in Australian defense when he announced to Federal Parliament, "The government has selected, as Australia's new tactical fighter, the F/A-18."

Hornets were selected as the replacement for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Dassault Mirage IIIO fighter. At the time, the program was one of the largest and most important peacetime defense acquisitions in Australian history, valued then at 2.79 billion American dollars.

The order, for 75 Hornets—57 single-seat A models and 18 two-seat B models—was to provide Australia with an unmatched regional air defense capability. It would also give the RAAF a leap forward in technology, flexibility and versatility.

On May 17, 1985, then–RAAF Wing Commander Brian Robinson led Operation Coronet, the historic delivery of the first two Hornets to Australia. Departing U.S. Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., the 7,854 mile (12,640 kilometers) flight took 15 hours, with each aircraft requiring 13 refuelings from U.S. Air Force KC-10 tankers.

This month marks the 20th anniversary of Australia flying the Hornet. During this span, the aircraft has proven to be highly reliable and has earned the respect and admiration of aircrew and maintainers. The Hornet has been at the core of Australia's frontline defense, deploying as part of Australia's support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Persian Gulf. These were the first wartime deployments of Australian fighter aircraft since the Korean War, and the first strike missions flown by Australian pilots since the Vietnam conflict.

Twenty years after their delivery, Robinson—now the manager of Boeing Australia's Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Division—has nothing but praise for the aircraft.

"The F/A-18 is a superbly designed aircraft," Robinson said. "Its advanced systems, high performance and elegant human-machine interface make it a pleasure to fly."

As a tribute to the milestone, Boeing Australia sponsored the centerpiece of the "Year of the Hornet" celebrations: the painting of a single-seat Hornet in a color scheme symbolizing the Australian flag. The aircraft, painted at the Boeing Aerospace Support Centre at Amberley, Australia, was a highlight of the recent Australian International Airshow and is expected to appear at other RAAF Year of the Hornet and public events during 2005.

"The Hornet's operational record with the U.S. Navy and seven international countries, including Australia, is a testament to its versatility, capability and supportability," said Chris Chadwick, vice president of F/A-18 programs for Boeing, at the "Year of the Hornet" aircraft's official public unveiling in March.

For more information on the Year of the Hornet, visit


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