Australia bids farewell to Classic Hornets, retires F/A-18A/B fleet

Royal Australian Air Force

The McDonnel Douglas F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets of A and B variants have been officially retired from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

To mark the occasion, a ceremony was organized on November 29, 2021 at RAAF Base Williamtown.

The No. 75 Squadron, which was the last to retain the type, staged an airshow that was attended by over 500 participants, including Australian military top brass.

In total, between 1985 and 1990, RAAF received 54 one-seater F/A-18As and 15 two-seater F/A-18Bs. The aircraft replaced the Mirage IIIs and served as the country’s main fighter jets for three decades and participated in numerous deployments, including the Iraq War in 2003 and the fight against ISIS in 2015.

Since 2009, the type was supplemented by 24 vastly upgraded F/A-18F Super Hornets that have continued to serve with the RAAF.

The initiative to replace the Classic Hornets started in the mid-2000s, with the purchase of fifth-generation Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fighter jets. The first batch of F/A-18As were retired and sold to Canada in 2017. In 2020, 46 aircraft of the type were sold to US Air, a private military contractor. Eight of the Classic Hornets are set to remain in Australia and will be dispersed to museums.

The retirement of the aircraft will make way for the F-35A, which Australia first began to receive in 2015. As of late 2021, the RAAF has 44 F-35s in its inventory, and the total order of 75 is scheduled to be completed by 2023.

The McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet was developed in the 1970s as a light and comparatively cheap carrier-based fighter and strike aircraft that could supplement the Grumman F-14 Tomcat in the service of the US Navy and marine Corps.

It was developed from the earlier YF-17 proposal, itself a far-flung derivative of the Northrop F-5 fighter jet from the late 1950s. The first prototype, later designated as the F-18, flew in 1978. In 1983, the production variant entered into service with the USMC.

In 1981, the aircraft won against the F-15 and the F-16 in the RAAF tender. The F-15 was discounted as it had no ground attack capability at the time, and the F-16 was deemed unreliable as it only had one engine.

The F/A-18 was originally designed to be a carrier-based jet. However, over the years, the aircraft was purchased by numerous countries for its ground-based services. Canada, Finland, Switzerland, Spain and Malaysia continue to use the F/A-18 in A or B variants, although most are in the process of replacing the type with a more modern alternative.

Classic Hornets remain in limited use by the US Navy and Marine Corps. However, they have been largely replaced by the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, a revamped version with new engines and an enlarged airframe, which was introduced in 1999.

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