Remarks at the F/A-18 Classic Hornet farewell, RAAF Base Williamtown

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The Hon Peter Dutton MP

Minister for Defence

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29 November 2021

Tim, thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honour to be here with you today. Can I firstly say Uncle thank you very much for your Welcome to Country and for your contribution here to the men and women at Williamtown. 

I’m very pleased to be here in the presence of the Chief of the Air Force Mel Hupfeld, thank you very much for your leadership. To our Air Commodore, Tim thank you for your words this morning and to Group Captain Anthony Stainton. To all of the distinguished guests here, including of course my distinguished predecessor Brendan Nelson who is now with Boeing, and also Mark Binskin as well for your extraordinary leadership which still continues today Mark, so thank you very much. 

Most importantly to all of you today who have a very special role to play here. It’s a very significant day and it’s a mixed emotion, as Tim pointed out. The Royal Australian Air Force’s 100 year history is a story of people, of places and of course of aircraft.

One aircraft which has played a pivotal role in that story is the Classic Hornet fighter jet. Today, after taking to the sky for more than 30 years, after serving our nation with great distinction for more than three decades, after being an icon of Australia’s leading-edge air combat capability for a third of a century, we say farewell to the Classic Hornet – to the formidable F/A- 18.

The origins of the Hornet of course date back to 1984. It’s a story of two sets of twins.  One set built in the United States. The other set assembled in Australia. Fresh out of the McDonnell Douglas factory in Saint Louis, Missouri, Hornets ‘one’ and ‘two’ were part of something remarkable and record breaking.

They were flown non-stop from California to Williamtown in May 1985. A flight of 15 hours, covering more than 12,000 kilometres, with each Hornet being refuelled 13 times by accompanying US Air Force tankers.

The second set of twins – Hornets ‘three’ and ‘four’ – had been flown earlier to Australia, disassembled inside a US military transport aircraft.

Arriving at Avalon, in June 1984, they were put together by the Government Aircraft Factories – as would be the case for 71 Hornets which would follow.

On the 16th of November 1984, Hornet ‘three’ was rolled out and Bob Hawke was there for the occasion and he said this:

“The versatility of the F/A-18s, as a tactical fighter, in all weather conditions, its manoeuvrability and its ease of maintenance all make it particularly suited to our needs. This aircraft is also in the forefront of technology and, because of its advanced design, will be assured of long service with the RAAF.”

Well Mr Hawke was not wrong by any stretch of the imagination, and as we can see from the Hornet’s record 37 years on, it’s served our country in a way that very few airframes have. 

Since 1985, RAAF has operated 75 Classic Hornets from its bases here in Williamtown and in Tindal in the Northern Territory. It obviously includes both the single seat F/A-18As. And the dual seat F/A-18Bs. The multi-role fighters have seen service far beyond our shores. 

I was speaking before with some of the crew and pilots. We were talking about the efforts that they had led, including the NATO-led mission following the terrorism attack in the United States on September 11 20 years ago.

The Hornets safeguarded the US air base in Diego Garcia from where operations in Afghanistan were launched and the Hornets deployed to Iraq to attack enemy targets and to provide air cover to our SAS on the ground.

The Hornets flew more than 1,900 missions against Daesh and RAAF Wing Commander Paul Simmons, fondly remembers piloting the Classic Hornet as a Squadron Leader. He described the aircraft aptly as a ‘40,000 pound, fire- breathing war chariot.’

Within our borders, the Hornets have patrolled our skies helping to protect those on our soil below. When President Bush 43 came in 2003 and President Obama in 2011, the dignitaries taking part in APEC in 2007, Heads of State attending CHOGM in 2002, as well as Her Majesty’s visit in 2011; thousands of spectators flocking to the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, would have seen the spectacle of the Hornets flying, but they wouldn’t have appreciated the ability that they had and the protection that they were providing to the Australians who attended that game.   

While the Classic Hornet will no longer take to our skies, the fighter and attack aircraft will remain in the memories of those who flew and maintained it. The distinct, pencil-like nose and cockpit. The unmistakable roar of its F404 engines and the way it nimbly rolled and banked.

Unquestionably, the Hornet has been an exceptional aircraft. Exceptional in its own right, but all the more exceptional because it’s been crewed and cared for by exceptional people: By the men and women of the Royal Australian Air Force, by pilots, engineers, technicians, logisticians, and many other support personnel…

By those who proudly wear the patches of Tindal’s 75 Squadron, and Williamtown’s 3 and 77 Squadrons, as well as the Number 2 Operational Conversion Unit…

And by partners from industry who modified and sustained the aircraft, ensuring it maintained a capability edge.

In flying and fixing the F/A-18 Hornet, these men and women – past and present – contributed to mission success, time and again.

And with every successful mission, they have contributed to the most purposeful, noble and righteous goals:

Standing against evil… Preserving peace…Keeping Australia safe and secure. We know that these goals will never change and that the values that you adhere to will be those that are adhered to for generations to come. 

Thank you very much to all of you today. Thank you for your families being here and I’m particularly proud and honoured to be here in the presence of so many fine men and women of the Royal Australian Air Force and I wish you continued success and safety as your fly the F-35 now and many others who are here to support the operations of the RAAF in an effort to keep our country safe. 

Thank you very much.


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