Well, today saw a sad but significant event at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Williamtown, with the official ceremony to mark the end of Classic Hornet operations with the RAAF, and ASO was fortunate to be allowed the opportunity to record this momentous occasion.
With the first two Hornets arriving in Australia after a record breaking, 15 hour ferry flight from the USA on the 17th of May, 1985, the F/A-18 Hornet (which gained the “Classic” prefix after the introduction of the Super Hornet) has accrued more than 408,000 flying hours in its 36 years with the RAAF.
Flown by No 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2OCU) and three operational squadrons (3, 75 and 77) as well as the Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU), RAAF Classic Hornets have seen active service in several conflicts, including Operation Slipper in Guam, and Operations Falconer and OKRA in the Middle East.
Classic Hornet operations have been gradually winding down since December 2018 as the RAAF began the transition to the F-35 Lightning II. First 3 Sqn, then 2OCU followed by 77 Sqn who flew their last sorties at the end of last year, which also marked the end of permanent Hornet operations at RAAF Base Williamtown, which had been the main Hornet base for the RAAF. 75 Sqn has seen out the final year of operations at RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territory, and will now be the last Hornet unit to transition to the new F-35.
Today’s events began with Group Captian Anthony Stainton, Commanding Officer RAAF Base Williamtown, welcoming the dignitaries and guests before introducing Uncle Neville Lilley who gave a Welcome to Country to us all. Uncle Neville is an Elder of the Worimi People on whose land RAAF Base Williamtown is situated. Fittingly, A21-23, which was painted in a special scheme to represent and acknowledge the Worimi people, was included as a backdrop for today’s event.
Speeches were given by Air Commodore Tim Alsop; Commander Air Combat Group, the Honorable Peter Dutton MP; Minister for Defence, Air Marshall Mel Hupfeld AO, DSC; Chief of Air Force and Dr Brendan Nelson AO; President of Boeing Defence Australia, covering the history and operations of the Classic Hornet in RAAF service as well as, most importantly, acknowledging the years of hard work, dedication and sacrifice of all the people (and their families) who have been at the core of ensuring the Hornet’s capability over the years.
With the speeches done, we were ushered outside for one last hurrah as Group Captain Jason Easthope (universally known as “Easty”) put on the last ever Classic Hornet handling display. Many of us had just spent the weekend at the Wings Over Illawarra airshow where Easty had performed two such displays each day, in less than ideal weather conditions, so it seemed fitting that he should do the last ever show too.
After demonstrating that, even on it’s last flight, the Hornet is still a powerful and maneuverable combat machine, Easty brought the jet in one last time (the landing was a “greaser” too 😉 ), through a water cannon salute and shut down in front of the crowd.
As the engines gradually wound down and this once great combat machine finally fell silent, one can only imagine the range of emotions felt by Group Captain Easthope and those in the crowd for whom the F/A-18 Classic Hornet has been such a major part of their professional lives over the past 36 years.
The Classic Hornet has served the RAAF and Australia well in its time, but, unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.
Farewell Old Friend.