As some may have seen on our facebook page, I recently had the amazing opportunity to cover the Paul Bennet Airshows team’s appearances during the South Korean part of their latest overseas tour.
The first show was the 2019 Aerospace & Defence Exhibition (ADEX) at Seongnam airbase in Seoul. This is a major, week-long trade show held every two years to showcase the latest technology and industry developments with a public show across the weekend. Much like Australia’s own Avalon Airshow.
2019 is the ROKAF’s 70th anniversary so the static this year was filled with examples of many front-line types currently in service with the ROKAF as well as a P-51 Mustang and F-86 Sabre from their earliest days. The ROKAF aerobatic team, the Black Eagles, have also adopted a new tail marking on their KAI T-50Bs to mark the occasion.
There was a particular focus on drone technology this year with some locally developed types on show as well as a U.S.Army MQ-1 Predator in the static line-up.
The Republic Of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) had one of their brand new F-35s on display and local manufacturer, Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) unveiled a mockup of their planned next generation fighter, the KF-X.
Other types on static display included, from the U.S.Air Force (USAF), an A-10 from the 51st Fighter Wing at Osan, and an E-3 from the 18th Wing at Kadena, Japan, a KC-135 from the Hawaii Air National Guard (ANG), a P-8 Poseidon and an MH-60 from the U.S Navy’s VP-10 and HSM-51, a CH-47 from the U.S.Army’s 3-2 General Support Aviation Battalion (GSAB), a P-3 Orion from the ROK Navy and one each of HH-60, KUH-1 (a locally built utility helicopter), Apache and CH-47 from the ROK Army.
In the air there were daily displays by the ROKAF’s Black Eagles (see more about them HERE), KAI KT-1 and T-50 solos, a USAF / USANG C-17 from Hawaii, combined drops by the ROKAF & USAF Parachute Display Teams and, of course, Paul Bennet and Glenn Graham from Paul Bennet Airshows (PBA), Australia; the only civilian performers at the show.
Having flown around 18 displays at two different shows in China during the two weeks prior to Seoul, the PBA team had packed up their aircraft in China (two Pitts S1s and a Pitts S1-11X) immediately after their final show before flying to Korea and test-flying the bright yellow Wolf Pits Pro and radial engined Pitts Model 12 at Seoul the following day. Following a well-earned rest day, Paul flew his solo routine in the Wolf Pitts each day while he and Glenn performed their formation display several times during the week as well.
With private aviation still being very limited in Korea, the high energy and skilful flying by Paul and Glenn is always well received by the crowds when the team has performed there over the years, with lots of audible gasps and loud applause during the show, and there’s always a queue for autographs and photos when the guys meet the audience afterwards.
In addition to these regular displays, there were several other routines on different days. On the Tuesday of the trade show, as part of the ROKAF’s 70th anniversary celebrations, there was a fly-over by a formation of KT-1 trainers in the form of the number “70” followed by several formations of ROKAF types as well as some USAF F-16s from the 51st FW at Osan, in Korea. This was an amazing sight with some of the last formations also trailing purple, yellow and red smoke with a surprise appearance at the end by 3 of the ROKAF’s 4 recently delivered F-35s (the one on show in the static was the 4th). This theme was repeated for the public audience on the Saturday afternoon, but with C-130s and KA-1s rather than the A330-MRTT /F-15K / KF-16 formation, and no F-35s.
KAI debuted the prototype of the KAH-1 Light Attack Helicopter in a flying display on Tuesday as well.
The USAF Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) F-16 Viper Demonstration team from the 35thFW, Misawa Japan, was also present during the trade show and put on an incredible display on the Thursday and Friday mornings, highlighting the speed, power and agility of the F-16 to great effect .
Unfortunately though, they had to depart on Friday afternoon, but were replaced by a pair of EA-18G Growlers from the U.S.Navy’s VAQ-138 which remained on static display over the weekend.
On the Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the ROKAF performed a Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR) demonstration with a KA-1, a pair of FA-50s and a pair of HH-60s. The scenario being that the KA-1 locates a downed pilot and calls in the FA-50s to “clear the area” of enemy forces before the HH-60s arrive to deposit a rescue team, provide cover and pick up the team and pilot before departing the area. A very busy routine with lots going on.
And, as always at Seoul, there’s the added opportunity to catch various locally based and visiting types going about their business outside of the display slots during the week too.
Paul and Glenn wrapped up the show with a final formation display on Sunday in lovely afternoon light, followed by a farewell fly-over by the Black Eagles as they headed back to their home base.
The Royal Australian Air Force’s 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2OCU) put on an event for the unit’s family and friends on Friday 27th of September and, as part of this, they also put up a formation and solo handling display of their F/A-18A&B Classic Hornets.
As 2OCU nears the end of its Classic Hornet operations later this year, there won’t be too many more opportunities to catch displays such as this, so it was not to be missed.
The weather was great and the pilots put on a great show. Fil (XO), Shtor, Hawk and Woody (CO) began with several formation passes, including one with all four jets in “Dirty” configuration (gear, flaps and hooks down) before finishing up with a bomb-burst.
Once the others had landed, Fil then carried out a high-performance, solo handling display, which is always a treat to watch.
Our thanks to Everyone involved for the opportunity to capture this great display.
As the last switch was thrown, the final engine shut down and silence finally spread across the base once again, it was time to reflect on the fact that we had just had the privilege of watching history in the making for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
In the crisp early morning of Friday 31st of May, wave after wave of aircraft roared low over RAAF Base Williamtown, just north of Newcastle in NSW, as they returned at the conclusion of the biennial “Dawn Strike” mission which, this year, marks the culmination of the 2019 Air Warfare Instructors Course (AWIC2019).
Previously known as the Fighter Combat Instructor’s course (FCI) conducted by 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2 OCU), which saw the best of the best fighter pilots trained to become the leaders and teachers of the RAAF’s air combat capability; as the Air Force’s roles and technologies have expanded to encompass a wider range of air combat elements in recent times, so has the need to integrate these aspects into an overall and cohesive doctrine of battle-space management.
The six month long course has been conducted in conjunction with the “Diamond” series of exercises, such as Diamond Shield back in March which saw the F-16s of the 18th Aggressor Squadron, Alaska, deploy to Williamtown for a few weeks (see that article HERE) and has culminated with the large Diamond Storm exercise held across Australia’s north in recent weeks.
During an interview in Darwin recently, while exercise Diamond Storm was underway, Commanding Officer of 2 OCU, Wing Commander Scott “Woody” Woodland explained; “Diamond Storm is the culmination of the Air Warfare Instructors Course that is being run at the moment. Traditionally, previously it was known as the Fighter Instructors Course which involved the Classic Hornets and F-111’s to begin with and then involved the Super Hornet later on.”
“Now the AWIC construct has brought all domains together, so we have the fast jet community as well as the E-7A (Wedgetail), AP-3C (Orion), C-130J (Hercules), C-17A (Globemaster III) and control based elements from both ground and air Intelligence, all working together in a high end training exercise, to exercise all components of the Air Force together, integrating them to effect the maximum effect against a notional enemy force.”
In this final element of the course, Classic and Super Hornets, EF-18G Growlers, F-35 JSFs a C-130J and an E-7 Wedgetail from 2 OCU, 1, 2, 3, 6, 37 and 77 squadrons took part in a mock-attack towards (and from) RAAF Williamtown with various elements tasked as either offensive or counter-offensive forces.
At the crack of Dawn, Hornets tasked with defending the base departed with their afterburners blazing in the dim, early light, along with a pair of F-35s from 3 Squadron, to do battle with the AWIC students as they made their way towards Williamtown.
At the conclusion of the battle (as was the tradition during the former FCI course), all the participating aircraft recover to Williamtown in a series of low level, high speed approaches, just as the sun crept over the horizon, including a very impressive pass by the C-130J from 37 Squadron and an E-7 from 2 Squadron.
The historic aspect of this year’s Dawn Strike was that, after 34 years and 15 FCI courses, it marks the last time that 2 OCU will conduct an FCI / AWIC on the venerable F/A-18 Classic Hornet. It was also the last time we are ever likely to see so many RAAF Classic Hornets in the air together.
In Darwin, WGCDR Woodland said; “This will be the last AWIC 2OCU conducts, we will have Classic Hornets participating in 2021 as 75Sqn still operates them at that stage. As for 2OCU, we have run FCI from 1954 until now and to retire the Classic Hornet is bitter-sweet as she’s a great jet [which has] served very well. Takes a bit more maintenance than she used to but our team has been achieving really good results up here. We’re just maximising the capabilities of the jet when integrated with other assets. That’s where we still have a big role to play; we’ve integrated with the Super Hornets, Growler, E7, and other capabilities that we’ve got, so she’s still going strong.”
When asked about the F- 35’s role in future AWICs, WGCDR Woodland offered; “So at this stage the F-35 is currently planned for 2025 AWIC, however post 2019 exercise and depending on the progression of the current 35’s at 3 Squadron etc, there will be a decision made as to whether they will be integrated into the 2021 AWIC as well, be that potentially as a Red Air role or participating with Blue Air with students from the course as well. As I said, that’s yet to be confirmed or decided”
While a fantastic chance for those of us on the ground to get a rare glimpse of the RAAF in action as well as to see so many Classic Hornets in full flight for one of the last times, this was really about the people involved and the culmination of several months of the most intense study and stress that they have probably ever experienced, in order to become the future of Australia’s air combat capability. Our sincere congratulations to all the Graduates of the 2019 Air Warfare Instructor’s Course and our thanks to the Royal Australian Air Force for allowing us to cover it for you.
Sunday the 19th of May saw the Rathmines Catalina Memorial Park Association hold their 12th Rathmines Catalina Festival after a hiatus last year to allow the Association to reorganize and move the event to May, rather than the original October when it has been held previously.
The festival is held to promote the history of the former RAAF flying boat base on Lake Maquarie, just south of Newcastle, Australia, as well as provide a great day out with rides, food stalls, displays and entertainment for the whole family.
The funds raised from these events go to the Rathmines Catalina Memorial Park Association which uses the money for various projects, including the restoration of a PBY Catalina for static display and the aim of constructing a hangar to house and protect it as well as a museum to commemorate the history of the base and the personnel and aircraft which served there.
The day’s formal flying activities began with a display by Tim Dugan in Beech Adventures’ Beech-18. This classic twin-radial, in its attractive silver and red colours, looked wonderful over the waters of Lake Macquarie, and Tim put on a great routine, displaying the type’s surprising agility. (You can find out more about this machine HERE.)
While Tim headed back to Rutherford airport at Maitland to change planes (he was a very busy pilot on this day), there was the opportunity to see a unique, but very appropriate, aspect of aviation as a Grumman G-73AT Mallard from the Paspaley Pearling Company came and went several times throughout the day. Normally based in Darwin in the Northern Territory, the Mallard was offering paying passengers the unique opportunity to experience of amphibious aviation in flights from the beaching ramp and the waters surrounding the former RAAF Flying Boat base. You can read a lot more about this beautiful machine and the Paspaley Pearling company’s operations in this great article by ASO’s Sid Mitchell HERE.
About an hour later, Tim returned, this time in Paul Bennet Airshows’ T-28 Trojan. A powerful, prop-driven machine, the Trojan was originally designed as a training aircraft to give young pilots the experience of performance and handling similar to early jets. Tim showed off this performance in a great routine of loops, rolls and low passes, all of which were accompanied by that wonderful sound that the Trojan has too.
Shortly after Tim’s second departure of the day (to change planes back at Rutherford once again), the next attraction appeared in the distance as two C-47/DC3 Dakotas made their way (slowly) towards Rathmines. Flown by Don Hindle and Dick Elliott and operated by the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) at Albion Park just south of Wollongong, these two aviation classics made several passes in formation as they circled the base and the lake. Both aircraft retain the colours and markings from their original service too. VH-EAF is formerly A65-94, a C-47 which served with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) for over 50 years and VH-AES is a DC-3 (originally built as a C-47) is in the lovely, polished metal finish that it wore during its time with Trans Australia Airlines (TAA).
As the Daks headed into the distance for a leisurely fight down the coast back to Wollongong, Glenn Collins arrived in Paul Bennet Airshows’ historic CAC Wirraway (not even Tim can swap planes that fast). Entering service at the beginning of WWII, the locally-built Wirraway saw extensive use by the RAAF in various roles, including combat in New Guinea, and as a trainer post-war. This machine wears the markings of an aircraft flown by 4 Squadron RAAF in New Guinea during the war. (You can find out more about this machine HERE.)
As the sound of the Wirraway’s radial engine faded into the distance as Glenn headed back to Rutherford, a much deeper, throatier rumble could be heard approaching as Tim returned, one last time, in Paul Bennet’s huge Grumman Avenger. A carrier-based torpedo bomber built in WWII, the Avenger has the distinction of being the largest, single-engined aircraft of the war. Its size can be deceptive though as Tim displayed the bomber’s surprising maneuverability, hauling it around the sky and showing off this impressive machine.
As Tim headed back one last time (for a well-earned rest I would imagine), the Paspaley Pearls Mallard provided a continuing aviation “fix” as it went about its sightseeing flights for the rest of the afternoon.
And so came the end of another great day of flying in a beautiful setting that is the Rathmines Catalina Festival. A big congratulations and thanks to all the organisers, volunteers, pilots and supporters who helped make it such a great day.
Warbirds, Jets, aerobatics, front-line military hardware, models, rag-and-tube, flaming walls of fire and explosions, stunt bikes and a balloon; the 2019 Hunter Valley Airshow had it all.
The third Hunter Valley Airshow was held on the weekend of the 6th & 7th of April this year at Cessnock airport; a change from the previous two shows which had been held at Rutherford airport, Maitland (See our reports on the 2015 & 2017 shows HERE and HERE). This change in location, particularly to using the south-west end of the roughly north / south runway at Cessnock, had the added benefit (at least for us photographers) that the sun is behind the crowd for most of the afternoon’s flying.
Last minute display practices and aircraft arrivals were squeezed in between rain showers on the Friday afternoon but the wet weather which had beset the organisers and their preparations during the week leading up to the show, cleared on Saturday morning for a weekend of glorious sunshine and pleasant temperatures (another benefit of moving the show to later on the calendar. The previous two shows having been held in the scorching heat of January).
Each day’s flying activities began with a flag drop where a parachutist descended trailing a large Australian flag while Paul Bennet circled in his bright yellow Wolf Pitts Pro and, if the audience was in any doubt about who had put this show together, they were spectacularly reminded when the flag drop was followed by Paul making a knife-edge pass, in front of a wall of fire with the “Paul Bennet Airshows” (PBA) banner being towed above it all. A great opening for the show that was to come.
The speed and noise was then kicked up a notch with the arrival of the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF’s) FltLt Kris Sieczowski in a Hawk 127 from 76 Squadron at nearby RAAF Base Williamtown. FltLt Sieczowski really put the Hawk through its paces and displayed the high performance capability of the RAAF’s Lead-In-Fighter. Saturday’s display was particularly impressive as Kris did his best to wring the humidity out of the cool morning air, creating ecto clouds and vortices not often seen from a Hawk. To top it off, Kris (a keen sports parachutist), parachuted back into the show a bit later in the day as well.
From one extreme of aviation to the other, Levi Wagner, Jeff Sparkes and Sam Unicomb then put on a show with their incredible, large scale RC models. It takes a second look to tell some of these models from the real thing in photos and the skilful flying by the pilots added to the effect as well. One thing the show organisers aim to do is display the many different ways and means that people can find enjoyment in aviation in all its forms and RC models like these have been the inspiration for many a successful career in aviation, and a popular hobby for others to enjoy the fun and skill of flying too.
Also along these lines, Craig Gunther then displayed the Breezy from nearby Luskintyre. Possibly one of the most unusual machines you are ever likely to see, it’s literally a basic tubular frame upon which the pilot (and a brave passenger at times) sit very exposed at the front, with the wing from a Piper Cub on top and a pusher-prop at the back. Open cockpit flying at its absolute best and reminiscent of the very earliest forms of aviation.
Tim Dugan flew Chris and Haley Tibbetts’ Beech-18, showing of the type’s classic lines and surprising agility (you can see more about this classic twin in our previous article; HERE) followed by Ben Lappin in Paul Bennet’s CAC Wirraway, the iconic Australian-built trainer of WWII (you can see more of this machine HERE).
In keeping with the trainer theme, next up was the RAAF Trainer formation team with Matt Henderson in his CAC Winjeel (the successor to the Wirraway) and Murray Wallace, Matt Denning and Ben Thompson in their NZA CT-4s (themselves successors to the Winjeel). The team made some passes in formation before Matt Denning broke away to give a solo demonstration in his lovely yellow and green CT-4, followed by Matt Henderson in the much larger Winjeel.
Paul Bennet then flew Ross Pay’s beautiful silver CAC Mustang, one of the Second World War’s most significant fighters, before James Crockett painted the sky with some amazing smoke trails thanks to the generators mounted on the wingtips of his incredible, modified Yak-3 racer, “Steadfast”. (You can see more of Ross Pay’s Mustang HERE)
Aerohunter’s Yak-52 was put through a very crisp routine at the hands of Glenn Graham, the bright yellow machine trailing its plume of smoke made for a colourful display against the clear blue sky. At one point, Glenn even managed a wave to the crowd while inverted!
Ben Lappin put on a handling display in Paul Bennet’s T-28 Trojan and, on Sunday, was joined by Ross Parker in his machine for some formation passes giving us a double-dose of that awesome sound.
The jet-noise returned when Mark Pracy appeared in Jetride Australia’s L-39 to put on another smooth display of this popular jet warbird (although it’s actually a surprisingly quiet machine).
Paul Bennet was then back at it as he performed an incredible solo routine in his Wolf Pitts Pro. One of only two in the world, the Wolf is a unique and very powerful version of the diminutive Pitts Special which has been designed for speed and manoeuvrability, both of which Paul exploits to the fullest in his display. As if Paul’s display wasn’t impressive enough, the crowd was treated to the added spectacle of motocross rider Kain Saul performing a backflip above Paul as he performed a very low side-slip below.
Not all the attractions were in the sky either, with plenty to see and do on the ground. The RAAF Balloon offered tethered flights and the Royal Australian Navy had Virtual Reality helicopter simulators available for future pilots to test their skills. There were several static aircraft to view including some of Luskintyre Aircraft Restorations quality rebuilds, Hunter Valley Vintage Aviation’s fleet and other locally based machines. In Addition to their incredible stunts as part of Paul Bennet’s routine, the team from Australian Ramp Designs put on a great show of jumps, backflips and riding skills for the crowds across the weekend and there was also a great display of historic military vehicles thanks to the Australian ex-military vehicle collectors society and various local clubs had some beautifully restored cars on display too.
We also had the rare opportunity to do some evening and night shoots of some of the aircraft on the Saturday evening. Nice, mostly clear skies left the stars on show for a great backdrop.
Back in the air (or nearly), we were treated to the rare sight of two very different types from the Vietnam period sharing the runway as Ben Lappin lined up in Paul Bennet’s Cessna O-2 ahead of the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society’s (HARS’) Caribou. It was even better on Sunday when both the O-2s at the show lined up and took off together as Andy Bishop headed back to Temora in his machine.
Once the O-2(s) had departed, Richard Elliot, David Dredge and Chris Joyson displayed HARS’ mighty Caribou. Never a fast routine, but always impressive to see such a large machine still being well displayed for the public, thanks to the hard work and efforts of the team at Illawarra. They departed later on Sunday to head home, giving us another nice pass as they headed on their way (You can see more on this impressive machine in our previous article HERE).
After the ‘Bou had landed (and was performing its “trick” of reversing on the runway) Ben returned to display the O-2. A type not often seen at Australian airshows, Ben displayed the nice lines and surprising agility of this unusual machine to great effect. Sunday’s routine was particularly impressive.
On Saturday, the diminutive O-2’s display was followed by the RAAF’s much larger P-8 Poseidon, the replacement for the P-3 Orion in the maritime role, flown by FltLt Joshua Brown and crew from 11 sqn, all the way from Adelaide in South Australia. FltLt Brown and the crew put on a great show for such a large machine. It’s not often that you get to see a type that is more often associated with passenger-carrying airlines maneuverer like that, so close to the ground. Although the pass with the weapons bay open highlighted the fact that this machine is a very different beast to your average 737.
Ross Pay’s beautiful P-40E was then displayed by Paul Bennet. This machine wears the makings, nose art and even signature of the late Robert (Bobby) Gibbes, OAM, DSO, DFC and Bar, from his time as Commanding Officer of 3 Squadron RAAF, in North Africa during WWII.
Glenn Graham showed off his aerobatic skills once again, this time in the Rebel 300. The Rebel is a bit of an odd-one-out in the PBA aerobatic fleet as it is the only monoplane amongst all those Pitts biplanes. Glenn showed that it doesn’t matter how many wings it has though, he’s still going to try and turn it inside-out.
Changing pace (and size) again, Glenn was followed by Tim Dugan displaying the surprising manoeuvrability and throaty rumble of Paul Bennet’s large Grumman Avenger, the largest single-engined aircraft of WWII, which included a few “bombing runs” accompanied by pyrotechnics.
Paul Bennet and Doug Hamilton then took up the Hawker Hurricane and Temora Aviation Museum’s (TAM’s) Mk VIII Spitfire respectively and made some passes in formation to give the crowds a rare chance to see and hear these two iconic fighters from WWII together once again. Paul and Doug then separated to give individual handling displays of each machine.
Interestingly, Temora’s Spitfire also wears the markings of the late Robert (Bobby) Gibbes, OAM, DSO, DFC and Bar; This time from when he was Wing Commander of 80 Wing in the Pacific Theater, while the Hurricane, restored and operated by Vintage Fighter Restorations at Scone, is painted up as the aircraft flown by Pilot Officer John Crossman, an Australian pilot who fought in the Battle of Britain until being shot down and killed in September 1940.(You can see more about the Hurricane’s story HERE).
On Saturday afternoon, Tim Dugan put on a great aerobatic display in Paul Bennet’s Pitts Model 12, a larger, radial-engined version of the Pitts family. This gives it a distinctly different look to its more common and diminutive, in-line-engined cousins. Something of a curious cross between a classic 1930s biplane and a modern, high performance aerobatic machine. And then there’s that “sound of round” too.
For the final civilian performance of the day, Paul Bennet, Glenn Graham and Ben Lappin took their Pitts’ up for a formation display as the PBA Sky Aces Team with a skilled combination of graceful manoeuvres and high energy aerobatics. The routine was rounded off in dramatic style as Paul made low and slow pass against the backdrop of a huge wall of fire.
Next on scene was FltLt Darren Wong from the RAAF Roulettes aerobatic team with a solo display in the brand new PC-21. The Roulettes had performed their final displays in the venerable PC-9s at the Australian International Airshow at Avalon just a few weeks earlier, so the PC-21 is still very much the “new kid on the block” for the team and this was a great chance to get a look at the new machine. The increase in performance over the PC-9 is quite apparent and the sound is something else as well. It will be interesting to see the whole team display one day.
And the RAAF ended the show with a bang each day (or at least a whole lot of noise) with a roaring performance from FltLt Michael Keightley in an F/A-18 Classic Hornet from 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2 OCU) at RAAF Base Williamtown. Always a crowd favourite, the ground shook as FltLt Keightley showed that, while it may be in the twilight of its service with the RAAF, the Hornet is still a front-line machine of brute power and manoeuvrability and it was a fantastic way to end a great show and a brilliant weekend.
This show has only improved since the first event back in 2015 (and it was good then too) and I believe that the change in venue to Cessnock, with the support of the local Council, has been another great step forward which will benefit future shows as well. The ability to bring together such a varied range of types and displays, thanks to great support from the likes of the RAAF, HARS, Temora, Pay’s Air Services, Team Steadfast and others in the air as well as the great variety of attractions on the ground to entertain the whole family, is a testament to the hard work and professionalism of the organisers. This is definitely one to mark on your calendars in the future.
My sincere thanks to the team at Paul Bennet Airshows for the opportunity to capture the weekend’s events and to the Royal Australian Air Force, all the aircraft owners and operators and all the sponsors for making such a great airshow possible.
Exercise Diamond Shield is in full swing at RAAF Bases Williamtown and Amberly this week.
The exercise is a part of the second biennial Air Warfare Instructor Course (AWIC), a six-month program that integrates warfighting functions across a range of specialisations within the Royal Australian Air Force and brings together a wide range of participants.
Aircraft taking part (at Williamtown) include Super Hornets and Growlers from Amberley’s 1 and 6 Squadrons, C-130Js from 37 Squadron in Richmond, Classic Hornets from locally based 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2OCU) and 77 Squadron, 2 Squadron’s E-7 Wedgetails, and Hawk 127s from 76 Squadron.
Also taking part are F-16s from the United States Air Force’s 18th Aggressor Squadron which has deployed to Williamtown from their home base in Alaska for the exercise.
ASO was granted an opportunity to capture just a small part of this very complex exercise during the first wave of sorties from Williamtown on Wednesday morning. The number of aircraft involved was very impressive and gave an insight into the complex co-ordination which goes into a large exercise like this.
Our sincere thanks to the Royal Australian Air Force and United States Air Force for the opportunity to bring you these images.
Ahh, Phantom spotting at Hyakuri. Looking down on operational F-4s taxiing by just meters away, often with a friendly wave from the aircrew as they head out to, or return from their missions, and catching their take-offs on the runway not much further away, all in beautiful morning light. It doesn’t get much better for spotters than this, does it?
The Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) base at Hyakuri, about an hour’s drive north of Tokyo’s Narita international airport, must surely rate among the top, must-visit places in the world for spotters. Especially if, like me, you are a fan of McDonnell Douglas’ iconic F-4 Phantom II. I have been fortunate enough to be able to visit Japan a few times over the years and I made this most recent trip at the end of 2018.
Japan is a great country to visit and, as Dave’s articles on Iruma, Hammamatsu and Atsugi have shown, it’s a great place to go spotting too. They have a very tolerant attitude to the hobby and both local and international spotters can be found at various places along the fence-lines of most military bases, with their ladders, wherever access is possible. Indeed the hobby is so commonplace that some bases even have dedicated viewing areas provided.
Hyakuri is no different, with numerous locations available along the western side of its roughly north/south runway (although these are really most suitable for afternoon photography). What makes it truly amazing though, is the area known as “the towers” on the eastern side; a small plot of privately owned land inside the base perimeter containing some family shrines. This land is completely surrounded by the base, with the taxiway out to the southern end of the runway actually being diverted to go around it. The owners have taken advantage of this unique location over over time by allowing aircraft spotters access to it (for a fee) and have actually provided specific viewing access by building a series of towers and viewing platforms which give an incredible view of the base’s daily operations.
JASDF squadrons have been moved around over the years as requirements and aircraft types change, and a re-shuffle in 2016 meant that all three of the JASDF’s remaining F-4 Phantom units (301, 302 & 501 Hikotai [Squadrons]) were now all based at Hyakuri (301 Sqn was, most recently, based at Nyutabaru in southern Japan), making it an absolute heaven for Phantom Phans (the Air Development and Test Wing at Gifu also flies a handful of F-4EJ and F-4EJ Kai airframes for test duties).
Since this move, 301 & 302 Sqns have operated under the command of the 7th Air wing, also headquartered at Hyakuri, to provide air defence for the Tokyo region, with 301 also carrying out the operational conversion courses for new F-4 aircrew. 302 will, however, be wrapping up their phantom operations and transferring to Misawa air base in the near future as they are slated to become the JASDF’s first F-35 squadron in the next few months. One of the reasons for my trip was to hopefully catch a few 302 Sqn aircraft one last time, before they disband.
As the JASDF’s only tactical reconnaissance squadron, 501 currently flies a mix of RF-4E Kai and RF-4EJ Kai Phantoms, the latter being gun-nosed F-4EJs which were modified to carry a range of external camera and sensor pods to supplement the original, camera-nosed RF-4E fleet (the Kai designation roughly means “change” or “modify” and was applied to the JASDF F-4s which went through a mid-life upgrade program in the early 1990s).
Another aspect of JASDF operations which adds to the variety when spotting is that each of the fast-jet units also operate a small number of locally made Kawasaki T-4 trainers for various duties such as currency training, liaison, dissimilar combat and so-on. It seems that at least one T-4 precedes just about every sortie made by each of the units.
One of the many things about JASDF aircraft that makes them so appealing to spotters, is their tendency to apply interesting and attractive markings and colour schemes at almost any opportunity. So an occasion like the retirement of one of the last (and longest serving) F-4 units was definitely going to be marked in style with not just one, but two airframes fully painted up in special schemes. The first, a predominantly white scheme, based around 302 Sqn’s eagle unit marking was painted up earlier in 2018 and appeared at many airshows around Japan that year while a second, black version of the same scheme was unveiled at Hyakuri’s own show in early December, where the two schemes were flown together for the huge crowds.
My trip to Hyakuri was later in December, a couple of weeks after that airshow, and word at the time was that the white airframe may have flown it’s final hours and been retired by then, so my best hope was that I might at least catch the black one out-and-about, if I was lucky. Imagine my surprise and delight then when, on my first morning at the towers viewing spot, both of these specially marked Phantoms headed out towards us for a mission! (I should have realised something was up when I arrived at the viewing compound to find it absolutely packed with local spotters, which is quite unusual).
As it turned out, it was a photo sortie to capture the two together as the T-4 which preceded them had a (very lucky) photographer in the back seat. After the T-4 had taken off to reposition itself, the two Phantoms took off together and disappeared into the distance, returning about an hour later when they performed a go-around in formation before breaking off and landing individually.
501 Sqn also operate three RF-4E Kais in a very attractive, two-tone blue, maritime camouflage scheme, similar to that worn by the Mitsubishi F-2 fleet and also worn by 8 Sqn Phantoms based at Misawa before they transferred to the F-2 in 2009. Another of my hopes for this trip was that I might be able to capture at least one of these colourful jets out-and-about in some good light. On my second morning at the towers I was very happy to catch two of them, along with one of the Sqn’s RF-4EJ Kais.
As Dave also mentioned in his articles, the Air Rescue Wing, Headquartered at Iruma air base, provides detachments for Search and Rescue to most JASDf Bases, with Hyakuri having a pair each of UH-60J helicopters and U-125 fixed-wing aircraft. These will usually be seen heading out to and returning from various training sorties or, in the case of the UH-60s, conducting training flights in an area of the base just to the south of the viewing towers. We were treated to a great view as one of these hover-taxied past the towers, at eye level, on its way back to the lines.
When spotting at any airbase, anywhere, there is always the hope that you might also get to catch some interesting visitors from other areas. During my visit we were treated to a few different T-4s from the 32nd Training Sqn at Hamamatsu, Central Air Command Support Squadron at Iruma , and one from the 13th Flying Training Wing at Ayisha, in the attractive red and white training scheme. There was also a KC-767 from 404th Tactical Airlift Tanker Sqn at Komaki and a Blackhawk and A UH-1 from the Japan Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF).
On the second full day of my visit, spotters were also treated to visits by two different batches of F-15J Eagles from 203 Sqn at Chitose Air Base, in Hokaido, which came down to conduct training with 301 Sqn throughout the day before heading back home that afternoon. Hyakuri has been home to a number of F-15 units in the past, before the Phantoms came back to roost (not this Sqn though), so it was great to see some back again, even just for a day.
As part of their air defence responsibilities, 301 and 302 Sqns maintain armed aircraft on Quick reaction Alert (QRA) in a set of hangars to the south of the field. Part of this process seems to be regular “practice” scrambles where, early in the morning, before flying has begun, two jets will start up, taxi to the runway and power up as to take of (and even start rolling) before quickly throttling back and returning to the hangars. There is also a regular change-over of airframes from each of the Sqns so there is a chance to see the ground crews taking fully armed replacement jets down to the QRA then returning with (also fully armed) aircraft back to the lines where they are disarmed and returned to regular squadron use.
There was no flying for the final two days of my visit, but that didn’t mean there were no aircraft to be seen. The JASDF put all their aircraft into hangars overnight (at least their fast-jets anyway) and wheel them all out again in the morning. Even on what would turn out to be the non-flying days, it seemed like the whole squadron was brought out and parked on the flight line as usual. Some jets had maintenance carried out, engine runs performed and some aircraft were configed or de-configed for QRA duties. others were even sent out to perform “mock take-offs”, like the QRA jets, for some maintenance purposes. Some just sat there all day and got put away again that afternoon. If you’re into collecting numbers, these non-flying days can also be a chance to see extra airframes that may not have flown at other times (I managed to catch the third of the blue RF-4Es on these days).
It’s even possible to see some of the maintenance activities in and around the hangar areas from the fence just near where you access the towers area. I was very surprised to catch one of the RF-4Es being set up for engine runs in the “hush-house”, which was just meters away from the fence.
As mentioned, 302 Sqn is due to transfer onto the F-35 within the next few months (the F-35 unit is already working up), 301 Sqn will also convert to the F-35 in either late 2019 or early 2020, and 501 Sqn will retire it’s jets around the same time. it’s interesting to note that 301 & 302 Sqns were the first two JASDF units to convert onto the phantom back in the early 1970s, so they will have clocked up around 45 years of F-4 operations before, once again, becoming the premier units for Japan’s next major fighter for the coming decades.
When the jets are flying and the weather and light are in your favor, Hyakuri is one of those locations which reminds you of the sheer fun and enjoyment that aircraft spotting and photography can be.
It will be a sad day for Phantom Phans everywhere when the phinal F-4 lands at Hyakuri for the last time, but there will always be lots of other cool JASDF types to see.
My thanks to Leroy Simpson for his help and advice when planning this trip.
If you haven’t already, don’t forget to check out Dave Soderstrom’s articles on visiting other Japanese bases, airshows and museums here;
Here is a brief gallery of images of 2OCU’s 2019 Special Hornet Scheme during it’s delivery flight from RAAF Base Amberly, where it was painted, back to its home base at RAAF Base Williamtown in NSW.
The aircraft is painted in distinctive colours to celebrate the unit’s final year of Classic Hornet operations, primarily training pilots to fly the F/A-18A/B aircraft.
In December 2019, the final course of 2OCU pilots trained to fly F/A-18 Classic Hornets will graduate and, in 2020, the next group of fighter pilots to graduate from 2OCU will do so on the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter.
Congratulations to the men and women at 2OCU for this great scheme and thanks to the Royal Australian Air Force for allowing us a chance to capture it.
Yesterday (December 10th 2018) saw the official delivery of the Royal Australian Air Force’s first two Lockheed Martin F-35 JSFs (also known at the Lightning II), at RAAF Base Williamtown, just north of Newcastle. While 10 aircraft have been delivered to the RAAF so far, they are currently used in the United States as part of the F-35A Pilot Training Center at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and, although two of these aircraft appeared in Australia previously at the 2017 Avalon International Airshow, they returned to the training unit at Luke immediately after the show, whereas the aircraft which arrived yesterday are the first to be permanently based here in Australia.
Known as a 5th Generation Fighter, the Lockheed Martin F-35 represents a quantum leap in technology and capability for the Air Force in replacing its classic F/A-18 Hornets so the RAAF were keen to mark the delivery of this new platform in suitable style. So, to ensure that as many people as possible had the chance to witness this momentous occasion, the RAAF arranged for a formation of F/A-18 Hornets to escort the two JSFs over Port Stephens and along the coast to Newcastle, passing major landmarks and viewing areas, before moving inland over the towns of Raymond Terrace and Medowie, which both have a long association with the base at Williamtown, before their scheduled arrival at Williamtown at 10:10 (on the 10th).
For those at Williamtown itself, the day’s events began with the departure of these Hornets (along with a camera-ship) under low cloud as they headed out to rendezvous with the F-35s as they made their way down from Amberly in Queensland, where they had spent the weekend after actually arriving on Australian soil last week. Given the significance of the occasion, it’s no surprise that the Hornet pilots involved weren’t just your run-of-the-mill Squadron pilots either. The formation was led by the Commanding Officer (CO) of 77SQN, WGCDR Jason Easthope (Easty) accompanied by CO 2OCU, WGCDR Scott Woodland, CO 75SQN, WGCDR Mick Grant, and XO 77SQN, SQNLDR Ben Sawley, ensuring an appropriate escort for the F-35s which will operated by 3 Squadron at Williamtown.
As we eagerly awaited the first glimpses of the combined formation off the coast, we were treated to a Classic Hornet handling display by FLTLT Matthew Trayling (Traylz), the current Air Force Hornet Display pilot and an experienced instructor at 2OCU. The low clouds from earlier in the morning had begun to clear but there was still plenty of moisture in the air which Traylz did his best to wring out with his energetic maneuvers, showing that the Hornet is still a machine to be reckoned with in the combat arena.
Finally it was time and just as Traylz was touching down at the end of his display, the formation could be seen approaching from the north-west, with the four Hornets in a diamond formation, escorting the two F-35s (A35-009 & -010) on either side. After passing overhead, they continued in a wide orbit and re-formed into an echelon formation for the initial-and-pitch for landing. After the Hornets had all touched down, the F-35s, flown by CO 3SQN, WGCDR Darren Clare, and A Flight Commander 3SQN, SQNLDR Red Borrman, each performed a missed approach, which gave us another chance to get a look at these new machines in the air, before finally touching down for the first time at their new home (for the record, WGCDR Darren Clare was the first to touch down in A35-009).
After landing, the aircraft were taxied to the brand new 3 Squadron flight-line facilities within the JSF precinct at Williamtown, a major investment which has seen dramatic changes made to the base in recent years, before finally shutting down.
Once the aircraft were safely parked, WGCDR Clare, SQNLDR Borrman, and the 3 Sqn F-35 ground crews were welcomed by a party of VVIPs which included The Governor General His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove & Lady Lynne Cosgrove; The Governor of New South Wales, His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley, AC, DSC retd & Mrs Linda Hurley; the Minister for Defence, Christopher Pyne; the Minister for Defence Industries, Steven Ciobo; Secretary of Defence, Mr Greg Moriarty; Chairman, President and CEO of Lockheed Martin, Ms Marillyn Hewson; Program Executive Director F-35 Joint Project Office, Vice Admiral Mat Winter and Chief of Defence Force, General Angus Campbell.
The formal ceremony was hosted by Air Vice Marshal Leigh Gordon, Head of Joint Strike Fighter Division, and began with a traditional Welcome to Country Smoking Ceremony presented by Uncle Neville Lilley of the local Worimi people, traditional owners of the land at Williamtown. Speeches were given by Mr Christopher Pyne, Mr Steven Ciobo, Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Gavin “Leo” Davies, Ms Marillyn Hewson and Vice Admiral Mat Winter, laying out the commitment to the future of Australia’s Defence and the massive leap in capability which the F-35 represents, the employment and industry opportunities it provides, Australia’s key involvement in the global program and the project’s future goals, followed by a press opportunity in front of the aircraft.
It will be a little while before we see some more, with the next couple of F-35s due to be delivered around April next year, but from then-on deliveries will increase, with 10 due to be in service by the end of 2019 and all 72 due to be delivered by 2023. It’s a sight we can look forward to for many years to come.
On a personal note, having been present when the first two F/A-18s arrived at Williamtown all those years ago, I can still remember when the Hornet was “the best thing since sliced bread” and was a massive leap in capability over the ageing (but well-loved) Mirages which it replaced (aren’t the Hornets still the “new kids on the block?”). It is amazing to see just how far aviation and technology has progressed in the years since.
Our congratulations to the Royal Australian Air Force on this great milestone and sincere thanks to the PA team and all involved for the opportunity to witness it first-hand.
For more technical information on the Royal Australian Air Force’s F-35 please follow this link HERE
Last weekend saw some end of year celebrations at the beautiful little private airfield out at Luskintyre in the Hunter Valley, NSW.
As is often the case, it was a great opportunity to see some rare and unusual types turn up for the day. Of particular interest this year was Roy Fox’s lovely Klemm. An unusual looking machine that was recently restored by the dedicated team at Luskintyre Aircraft Restorations.
Based just down the road at Maitland, the team from Paul Bennet Airshows are always regular visitors and can be relied upon to put on some great displays.
Also locally based, Beech Adventures were there too, with their beautifully restored Beech 18.
There were, of course, a few Tigermoths and other types around for the afternoon and Santa Claus even made an appearance in a Stearman with a bag of goodies for the kids.
A great way to round out the year at this lovely little airfield. Thanks to all involved for a great afternoon.