Australian International Airshow 2011 - Avalon / Australia

The Australian International Air Show (AIAS) and Aerospace & Defence Exposition is without doubt the penultimate aviation event within the Asia-Pacific region. The AIAS is also the largest display of aviation and defense related technology within the southern hemisphere and as such has become a true Mecca for the many aviation and business professionals that attend from around the world. While the first four days were solely devoted to aviation industry and trade professionals, general admission days (from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon allowed members of the general public to witness a diverse and thrilling range of aviation related displays and demonstrations, it was on these days that the bulk of the flying displays were conducted. The AIAS 2011 lived up to its key thyme of “Feel the Power” with this year’s show providing all who attended the opportunity to get up close and personal with the very latest in military, commercial and general aviation.

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While Victoria’s weather was kinder than previous years, any inclement weather did little to deter the 190,000 people who attended over the six days of 1-6 March 2011. Two important milestones marked this show in particular as being very special indeed. Firstly, the commemoration of the 90th Anniversary of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), and secondly, the 20th Anniversary of the Australian International Air Show itself. The key attraction of this year’s air show, and a first for the AIAS, was the appearance of what is considered as the most lethal combat aircraft operating in the world today, the Lockheed-Martin/Boeing F-22A RAPTOR. The RAPTOR is an advanced fifth-generation, air-dominance fighter that reflects the current state of the art in modern fighter design and technology. Development of the RAPTOR was the result of the 1991 ATF (Advanced Tactical Fighter) competition that pitted the Raptor against the equally futuristic looking Northrop/McDonnell Douglas YF-23. Both contenders utilized unique stealth technologies featuring composite construction incorporating angles optimized to deflect radar returns. As one would expect, the RAPTOR`s offensive systems are also state being based on the APG-82 AESA (Airborne Electronically Scanned Array) radar system featuring an advanced look down-shoot down capability while allowing for Beyond Visual Range (BVR) engagement.
RAPTOR`s standard weapons fit includes a single 20mm M-61 VULCAN canon and AIM-9 SIDEWINDER and AIM-120 air-to-air missiles. RaAPTOR also maintains a limited air to ground capability utilizing Joint Directed Attack Munitions (JDAM) and/or the new Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) which is presently being developed. All weapons are carried within three internal bays further reducing the RAPTOR`s already minimal radar signature. External weapons and/or external fuel tanks can also be carried on under wing pylons, albeit with a reduction of stealth capabilities. The RAPTOR is powered by two Pratt & Whitney F117-PW-100 turbofan engines each producing 35,000 lbs of thrust allowing the RAPTOR to “supercruise” at above Mach speeds without the use of afterburner. RAPTOR’s maximum speed is Mach 2.5 to a ceiling of 19,812 meters. Thrust vectoring nozzles are also employed providing an unprecedented level of handling and agility. As one would expect, the RAPTOR is very sort after by foreign air forces with the governments of Australia, Israel and Japan all expressing a strong interest in acquiring this extremely formidable warplane. However, and quite understandably, the US government is keen to keep the RAPTOR as a non-export item at least for the foreseeable future. Cost of this kind of technology is not cheap with a unit price of over $150m USD (2009 dollars).

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While the very appearance of the RAPTOR was wonderful to see and no doubt a real coup for the organisers, the unprecedented level of security at the show highlighted just how special these aircraft really are. Two RAPTOR`s of the 525th Fighter Squadron, 11th Air Force, USAF, based at Elmendorf Air Force Base (AFB) Alaska USA were in attendance along with RAAF F-22 exchange pilot, Squadron Leader Matthew Harper. While these aircraft were on static display only, hopefully we will see them in their natural element at Avalon 2013. Another first for the AIAS was participation of fast jets from one of Australia’s closest neighbors. Three Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Lockheed-Martin (LM) F-16C Block 52 FIGHTING FALCONS provided a very professional and polished demonstration of speed and handling. Maj. Desmond Too in particular provided a spectacular demonstration in his display optimized Falcon incorporating a centerline mounted smoke generation system. Militarily, the Republic of Singapore is a very well equipped nation for a country of its size and along with the Boeing F-15SG EAGLE and Northrop F-5E/F TIGER II, the LM F-16C/D FIGHTING FALCON provides the backbone of Singapore’s air combat capability. Training of RSAF aircrew is primarily carried out by detachments based in Australia and the USA. It was clearly evident to all that the Republic of Singapore maintains an extremely capable and professional defense force utilizing state of the art equipment and doctrine.

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This was the first AIAS without a display from the RAAF’s venerable DHC-4 CARIBOU light transport with the retirement of the type leaving a considerable gap in the RAAF’s tactical support capability. Under Project Air 8000 the RAAF is in the market for a new light tactical transport with one possible contender being the Alenia C-27J SPARTAN Light Tactical Transport (LTT). The C-27J demonstration at Avalon was nothing short of astounding with the flamboyant Italian crew performing everything from spectacular barrel rolls to very impressive extremely short takeoffs and full stop landings, highlighting the versatility of this very capable light tactical transport. A key marketing point of the C-27J is its considerable level of commonality with its bigger brother, the Lockheed Martin C-130J HERCULES II. Sub-systems that share this commonality include engines, propellers, avionics and the cargo/load system. The C-27J is currently in service with the US military, meaning that interoperability with one of Australia’s prime coalition partners is assured. The C-27J is powered by two Rolls-Royce AE2100-D2A-turboprop engines, each producing 4,640 HP, providing a top speed of 603 km/h. Spartan can carry a maximum of 11,500 kg of cargo or 60 troops or 46 paratroops or 36 litters and 6 medical personnel. It’s little wonder that the C-27J is referred to as a  ‘Mini Hercules’.

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Another stalwart still in Australian Defence Force (ADF) service is the Westland SEA KING MK50 Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) helicopter. The SEA KING was originally introduced into the Royal Australian Navy’s Fleet Air Arm (FAA) in 1974 as a replacement for the Westland WESSEX HAS31 anti-submarine helicopter. Over time the SEA KING has taken on a more generalist role including fleet support such as the vertical replenishment (VETREP) of RAN ships at sea.  All Westland SEA KING helicopters in RAN service were manufactured by Westland in the UK as a licensed build version of the American Sikorsky S-61. The Westland SEA KING is powered by two Rolls-Royce GNOME gas turbine engines providing a top speed of 230 km/h. All RAN SEA KING`s are operated by No 817 Squadron, Royal Australian Navy Aviation Group (formerly the Fleet Air Arm) based at Naval Air Station (NAS) Nowra, New South Wales. As the Sea King is also now coming to the end of its service life, two contenders as a possible replacement of the type were also in attendance at Avalon, the EADS MRH-90 and the Sikorsky/Lockheed-Martin MH-60R SEAHAWK. Interestingly, the USN MH-60R demonstrated at the AIAS was embarked abroad the visiting USN destroyer, USS Shoup (DDG-86), unfortunately the MRH-90 in attendance was on static display only. The MH-60R SEAHAWK is a multi-mission naval helicopter that fulfills an anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare role within the maritime environment. The MH-60R’s cockpit incorporates full color FLIR/NVG capable multi-function displays and a secure communications system. The MH-60R is powered by two General Electric T700-GE401C engines providing a maximum speed of 267km/h. Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin has delivered over 300 of a total requirement for 575 of these very capable machines to US Navy service.

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The AIAS was once again very well supported by the Australian Department of Defence with most combat aircraft in operation with all three branches of the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) being present.  There was however one particular aircraft that was very conspicuous by its absence by way of the General Dynamics F-111. This was the first Avalon air show without this marvelous airplane in attendance and it was clear that it would continue to be missed by many enthusiasts for some years to come. Nevertheless, taking center stage was the F-111’s replacement, the Boeing F-18F SUPER HORNET or RHINO as it is now known in Australian service. While bearing some visual resemblance to the ‘legacy’ or ‘classic’ F/A-18 HORNET the RHINO, at approximately 20% larger, is a totally different machine that incorporates a more contemporary level of technology. Key to this technology is the Raytheon APG-79 AESA radar system that provides the crew with an advanced look down-shoot down capability while its advanced Data Link 16 system provides the ability to operate as a node within the modern Network Centric Warfare (NCW) environment. Information from both of these systems is presented to the crew via the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) which also provides the ability perform off bore/all aspect engagement of airborne threats. The Rhino will also introduce a new capability into the RAAF, as twelve of the type will be capable of conversion to an EA-18G ‘Growler’ standard in order to perform an Electronic Warfare (EW) and Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD) role. The Rhino is powered by two General Electric F414-GE-400 turbofan engines each producing 22,000 lbs of thrust and providing a maximum speed of 1,717 km/h to an altitude in excess of 50,000 ft. Combat range is 1,750 km.
The RAAF has acquired a total of 24 Rhinos that will equip Nos. 1 and 6 Squadrons based at RAAF base Amberley Queensland.

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While the General Dynamics F-111’s AARDVARK`s trademark, the spectacular dump and burn will be missed, the RHINO's demonstration at Avalon was truly impressive to say the least. Soon after the aircraft became airborne it proceed immediately into an aggressive right turn with its undercarriage still down. It was clear that 1 Squadron has done a lot to perfect its demonstration of the type since the ADF Williamtown show in October of last year. While modern state of the art aircraft were in abundance at Avalon 2011, their older cousins of yesteryear were as equally well represented. Notably, the Temora collections marvelous Supermarine SPITFIRE MK VII and Hawker SEA FURY provided a wonderful display of fighters of a bygone era. The Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) Consolidated PBY-5 CATALINA and Lockheed P2V-7 NEPTUNE represented heavier metal from our aviation past. Both aircraft having been painstakingly resorted to flying condition with coincidentally both aircraft having maintained similar anti-submarine roles, with the former carrying out its important work under wartime conditions. A novel feature of the NEPTUNE is that it incorporates two jet engines outboard of its two reciprocating radial engines. Interestingly, and a rare sight, were the NEPTUNE’s two outer jet engines running during takeoff producing the unique sound of ‘two turning and two burning’.

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Matt Hall Racing provided a spectacular display of hi-g aerobatics. As a former RAAF fighter pilot and fighter combat instructor, Matt Hall was the first Australians to fly in a Red Bull Air Race and was the only rookie ever to complete a full Red Bull racing season. Flying his high performance MSX-R, Matt thrilled the crowd with a stunning display of handling and precision that commenced as soon as his wheels left the ground. Matt’s aeroplane of choice is the US built MSX-R, a high performance, fully aerobatic/race aeroplane built to withstand a rigors +/- 14 g load. More information is available from matthallracing.com Friday night alight gave all those who braved the cold the opportunity to witness a spectacular dusk and night display that included everything from gliders and ultra lights with pyrotechnics to flair dropping RAAF F/A-18 HORNET fighters and a USAF Rockwell B-1B LANCER strategic bomber. In closing, a massive wall of fire provided a spectacular if not loud and thankfully very warm finale to the night’s activities.

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No Avalon airshow would be complete without the ADF Air-Land battle. While enemy forces advanced past the audience along the fence line, some on foot and others behind the protection of their Bushmaster Infantry Mobility Vehicle (IMV), their moves were kept in check by opposing infantry elements inserted on to the runway by army Sikorsky S-70 BLACKHAWK battlefield helicopters. The air-assault troops then commenced their attack under the protection of RAAF F/A-18 HORNET`s providing Close Air Support (CAS), all simulated by the detonation of explosive charges on the far side of the runway. Within a few moments all enemy activity was neutralized with friendly forces being extracted from the area of operations once again under the cover of RAAF Hornet fighters performing simulated bombing and strafing runs.

Verdict: The Australian International Air Show (AIAS) and Aerospace & Defence Exposition was a marvelous event that once again failed to disappoint. Fast jets, historical military and civilian aircraft, air-land battles and spectacular aerobatic stunts provided something for everyone. The broad range of overseas participants in attendance also added a great level of variety that made for a very successful show. The only bad thing is that we’ll have to wait so long to see the next one.

Special thanks go to AIAS Media, in particular Laureen Deale and Camilla Lucas for providing their usual outstanding level of media support during the show.

Rob Hynes / CHK6 Asia & Pacific Region

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