Australian International Airshow and Aerospace & Defense Exposition 2017

From 28th February to 3rd March 2017 the Australian International Airshow and Aerospace & Defence Exposition 2017 (AIAADE17) once again showcased the latest and greatest in both military and commercial aviation technologies from around the world. Held bi-annually at Avalon Airport, located approximately 60 km southwest of Melbourne, this years show more than adequately lived up to its thyme of “Air Power in Action” attracting one of its largest crowds in the events 25 year history. As with previous events, the first three and a half days were primarily dedicated to the trade aspects of military, commercial and general aviation with the general public being admitted to the airshow component from midday on the Friday. This years event showcased a series of major platform acquisitions currently being undertaken under Plan Jericho by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) with the Australian Government investing considerably in the update of key RAAF capabilities through the replacement of several of its major platforms.

A significant element of this multibillion dollar capability upgrade and without doubt the highlight of this year’s show was the official presentation of the first two Australian Lockheed-Martin F-35A LIGHTNING II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft to the RAAF. This was also the first time these aircraft have seen within Australia with both aircraft (AU-001 and AU-002) being flown (supported by an RAAF KC-30 MRTT) from the US to Australia via Hawaii and Guam specifically for the event.  The two aircraft presented at AIAADE17 currently contribute to the international training pool located at Luke AFB Arizona and will eventually be permanently based in Australia from 2018, the reminding aircraft will begin to arrive from 2020.

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Another highlight, also flown directly from the US, were the first two Boeing EF-18G GROWLER Electronic Warfare (EW) aircraft to be delivered to the RAAF. GROWLER will provide a relatively new capability to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) with 12 of the type to be delivered by the middle of this year. While GROWLER maintains 90% commonality with the standard production F-18F SUPER HORNET airframe, the RAAF is currently the only air force outside the US to operate the type and its advanced electronic warfare systems. RAAF Growlers will be operated by 6 Sqn based at RAAF Amberley Queensland. Replacing the Lockheed-Martin AP-3 ORION in RAAF service will be the Boeing P-8A POSEIDON multi-mission maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, the first of which arrived in Australia in November of last year. Twelve of the type are on order with another three due to be delivered within this decade. POSEIDON is a militarized version of the Boeing 737-800ERX commercial airliner and has been in US Navy service since March 2012. POSEIDON will equip 10 and 11 Sqn based at RAAF Edinburgh in South Australia.

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The RAAF has also replaced its fleet of venerable De Havilland DH-4 CARIBOU tactical transport aircraft with the Leonardo (formally Alenia) C-27J SPARTAN tactical airlifter. SPARTAN is a state of the art light tactical transport aircraft that shares a level of commonality with the in-service Lockheed-Martin C-130J HERCULES transport particularly in regard to engines, flight controls and load/pallet management systems. Ten SPARTAN aircraft have been acquired equipping 35 Sqn based at RAAF Richmond in New South Wales. It hasn’t only been the RAAF than has benefited from recent major equipment updates. The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) was also keen to show off their latest aviation asset in the form of the Sikorsky MH-60R (Romeo) SEAHAWK. Twenty four of these advanced multi-mission helicopters are being acquired replacing the existing fleet of Sikorsky S70B2 SEAHAWK helicopters currently in RAN service. These aircraft will be operated by 725 Sqn RAN based at Nowra New South Wales.

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ADF participation at AIAADE17 was once again considerable and included a showcase that featured very impressive Boeing F/A-18 HORNET and F-18F SUPER HORNET four ship and solo handling displays. These displays included demonstrations of air-to-air refuelling at relatively low level between a RAAF KC-30 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) and two F/A-18C HORNET. Interestingly and unlike previous shows, these demonstrations were not at all simulated with actual connection being made between the tanker and recipient. The audience were also provided with a one hour air-land battle scenario involving fictional “enemy” forces holding ground to the east of the main runway. Assistance from “friendly” forces came in the form of RAAF Boeing C-17 GLOBEMASTER III and Lockheed-Martin C-130J HERCULES transports carrying troops mounted in BUSHMASTER infantry mobility vehicles and on quad bikes. These operations were conducted with supporting Boeing F/A-18 HORNET, F-18F SUPER HORNET, Eurocopter TIGER armed reconnaissance helicopters and MRH-90 TAIPAN multirole helicopters circling overhead providing top cover. Needless to say all enemy forces were quickly dislodged and routed in a very efficient and professional military manner.

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Interestingly, throughout the trade days a single Boeing AH-64 APACHE Attack Helicopter was available providing ADF personnel with demonstration flights and no doubt to providing them with a valuable insight into the capabilities of this very formidable platform. Maybe an option as a possible replacement of the Australian Army’s TIGER ARH? US participation was once again very strong as highlighted by a stunning display of the Lockheed-Martin F-22A RAPTOR by the USAF F-22 Demonstration Team with no less that three F-22A aircraft in attendance. RAPTOR is a 4th generation air dominance fighter is arguably without peer and a spectacular demonstration of speed, power and handling was provided to the audience by lead demonstration pilot Major Dan “Rock” Dickinson. The USAF F-16 Pacific Demonstration Team also thrilled the crowd with a superb display of speed and agility in their older but still very formidable Lockheed-Martin F-16C FIGHTING FALCON multirole fighter.

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One very welcome visitor from “across the pond” was a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) C-130H (NZ) HERCULES of 40 Sqn based at RNZAF base Whenaupai located on New Zealand’s north island. Our Kiwi cousins provided a great display of the short field capabilities of this extremely capable and versatile transport aircraft. The Royal Air Force (RAF) was also well represented at AIAADE17 by an Airbus Industries A400M ATLAS transport aircraft. Airbus Industries is currently marketing ATLAS to the government of New Zealand as a possible replacement for their fleet of Lockheed C-130H HERCULES and Boeing 757 multirole transport aircraft. The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) provided two Boeing F-15SG STRIKE EAGLES and a Boeing KC-135 Tanker for AIAADE17 but sadly these aircraft were on static display only. Fans of warbirds of yesteryear did not miss out at AIAADEI17. A heritage formation consisting of a replica Sopwith Snipe and Pup along with a Tiger Moth were beautifully flown. The Temora Aviation Museum presented their wonderful CAC-13 BOOMERANG, CA16 Wirraway, Supermarine SPITFIRE MK VIII, Lockheed HUDSON and Gloster Meteor F.8 along with the beautifully restored Curtis P-40N Warhawk belonging to Doug Hamilton based at Wangaratta Victoria.

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Thrilling aerobatics were provided by stunt pilot Paul Bennett and his aerobatic team along with the famous ORIS “Tin Sticks of Dynamite” duo consisting of Skip Stewart in his Modified Pitts S2S “Prometheus” and Jurgis Kairys in his Sukhoi Su31. All stunned the crowd with colourful, vibrant and at times very low flying displays culminating in an extremely low flypast against a background of multiple explosions and a huge wall of fire. The Friday night show was very impressive with the Coulson Lockheed-Martin EC-130Q HERCULES and BAe AVRO RJ85 fire suppression aircraft demonstrating their fire fighting capabilities. The night show later culminated with a flair drop carried out by RAAF Lockheed C-130J HERCULES aircraft. It was wonderful to see two aircraft employed to drop flares while actually flying towards the crowd line, brilliant !

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To say the Australian International Airshow 2017 was a success would be an understatement. The latest in military aviation, very strong ADF and foreign military participation, great warbirds of yesteryear and death defying stunts performed by the worlds best to a very well choreographed show ensured  there was little to be wanted and something for everyone. With new aircraft and capabilities now entering RAAF service, there are sure to be very exiting times ahead at the next Australian International Airshow and Aerospace & Defence Exposition in 2019 !

Checksix-Online would like to thank Peta Richards, Tom Bennett and the AIAADE17 media team for their usual wonderful level of support during the event.

Rob Hynes / CHK6

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