Located approximately 30 km north of the City of Newcastle on the magnificent New South Wales (NSW) central coast, RAAF Base Williamtown plays a key role in the training and conversion of fast jet fighter pilots of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). On the weekend of 18/19 September 2010 over 60,000 people were treated to the latest in a series of Defense Force Air Shows this time with RAAF Base Williamtown providing two full days of nonstop aerial action. RAAF Base Williamtown base was initially established on the 15th of February 1941 in order to provide a level of protection to the strategically important Hunter Valley region of NSW. The advent of the Second World War later saw the base become home to several Empire Flying Scheme Squadrons, prior to the scheme being moved off shore in 1942. Since the end of the World War II RAAF base Williamtown had been progressively developed into a modern, fully operational tactical fighter base and as such has become home to Australia’s military fast jet community.
Presently, key base units include Surveillance and Response and Air Combat Groups incorporating No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit (OCU), Nos. 3 and 77 Squadrons (Boeing F/A-18A HORNET), No.76 Squadron (BAE HAWK Mk. 127), No. 2 Squadron (Boeing WEDGETAIL AEW&C) and the recently reformed No. 4 Squadron (Pilatus PC-9/A). Located approximately 20 km to the north-east of the base Salt Ash Weapons Range provides an area for aircrew to conduct live fire weapons training exercises. The first air show to be held at Williamtown in over 25 years, this show was quite a special occasion for a number of reasons. Sunday 19th September marked the 94th birthday of No. 3 Squadron as the oldest fighter squadron in the RAAF and indeed one of the oldest fighter squadrons still operating in the world today.
No.3 Squadron Australian Flying Corps (AFC) was originally formed at Point Cook Victoria on 19th September 1916. Following training in the United Kingdom (UK) the fledgling unit was then deployed to France operating R.E.8 Reconnaissance/General Purpose aircraft in support of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) and Empire forces. During the Second World War No.3 Squadron saw considerable active service in the Middle-East and the Mediterranean theatres of operations initially operating the Gloster GLADIATOR before converting to more modern types such as the Hawker HURRICANE, Curtiss P-40 WARHAWK and finally the superlative North American P-51D MUSTANG. No.3 Squadron was the highest scoring unit of the RAAF during World War II with a tally of 217 kills to its credit. However, this did not save the unit from being disbanded at the end of the war.
No. 3 Squadron was later reformed at RAAF Williamtown in 1956 being equipped with the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) built CA-27 SABRE and later the Dassault MIRAGE IIIO Fighter/Interceptor and has since spent the majority of its time deployed to RAAF Base Butterworth Malaysia. In 1986 No. 3 Squadron eventually returned to Australia becoming the first unit to be equipped with the Boeing F/A-18 HORNET multi-role fighter. In early 2002, No. 3 Squadron was deployed to Diego Garcia to carry out combat air defense operations in support of coalition forces as part of the Global War on Terror (GWOT). The Williamtown air show featured a wide range of both flying and static displays which included three of the types operated by No.3 Squadron, a North American P-51D MUSTANG complete with No.3 Squadron markings (Italy 1944) now owned and operated by Judy Paye of the Old Flying Machine Co, Tyabb Victoria, a CAC CA-27 SABRE of the Temora Aviation Museum, Temora NSW and finally the squadrons current mount in the form of the Boeing F/A-18 HORNET multi-role fighter.
This year’s Defense air show was very much a case of out with the old and in with the new. So on a much sadder note, the Williamtown air show provided the venue for the final public display of the venerable General Dynamics F-111 Fighter/Bomber. While so much had been written about this formidable warplane it goes without saying the PIG will be missed by many, both RAAF personnel and enthusiasts alike. A three ship formation fly past with each aircrafts wings at the fully extended, partially swept and fully swept positions provided a wonderful sight and of course no F-111`s performance would be complete without the signature trademark ‘dump and burn’ which as always was a truly spectacular sight, albeit for one final time. The commemorative tail marking displayed on one machine seemed to say it all in just a few words incorporating a stylised southern cross with the simple words: Australian F-111 1973-2010
On a brighter note, the Williamtown air show also provided the opportunity to demonstrate the newest kid on the block within the RAAF inventory, the Boeing F/A-18F SUPER HORNET. Christened the RHINO in Australian service, Williamtown was the first public appearance of the type in RAAF service, which will replace the F-111’s operated by Nos. 1 and 6 Squadrons based at RAAF Amberley Queensland. The RAAF is currently in the process of acquiring a total 24 of these state of the art multi-mission combat aircraft as an interim measure until the Lockheed Martin F-35 LIGHTNING II JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) enters full operational service in 2014. A key component of the RHINO’s lethality lies in is its advanced avionics, in particular the APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, Link 16 connectivity and Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS). Additionally, the RHINO's airframe is approximately 30% larger than that of the standard HORNET which translates to greater capability including longer range and improved weapons load. However the RHINO will in fact be replacing the F-111 in the strike/ interdiction role indeed be a very tough act to follow. Nonetheless, the RHINO will provide the RAAF with an extremely formidable 5th generation offensive capability for the near future.
Twelve RHINO airframes will be wired for and capable of conversion to Boeing EA -18G GROWLER standards in order to carry out an Electronic Warfare (EW) role, introducing a totally new capability within the Australian Defense Force (ADF) inventory. Production of the RHINO is currently underway at Boeing`s St Louis Missouri plant at a rate of one aircraft per month with full operational capability (total delivery) of the type to be achieved by late 2012. Flying displays at Williamtown featuring Boeing F/A-18 HORNET's were thrilling with close formation flying involving several passes in both “clean and dirty” configurations followed by simulated dogfights while dispensing flares, all providing a truly spectacular sight while proving this machine has still not lost its teeth. As Australia’s premier fighter base, military fast jets were of course predominant at Williamtown however their slower cousins were equally well represented. A Lockheed AP-3 ORION of 92 Wing based at RAAF Base Edinburgh South Australia provided a very spirited display of climbing and handling, making several passes with weapons bay open and one outer engine feathered, the later bring typical configuration in order to improve endurance on extend maritime patrol missions.
Non-fixed wing Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) aircraft were also well represented by a Sikorsky S-70B2 SEAHAWK of 816 Squadron Royal Australian Navy (RAN). The RAN Fleet Air Arm (FAA) based at Naval Air Station (NAS) Nowra NSW operates 16 of these extremely capable platforms primarily in the ASW role. In order to carry out this mission, the S-70 in Australian service features an AN/AQS-504 Magnetic Anomaly Detection (MAD) system, AN/SSQ-81 ‘Barra’ Sonobuoys and MEL Super Searcher X- Band radar housed under the nose. Typical armament consists of ASW torpedoes, Penguin Anti-Ship Missiles (ASM) and General Purpose Machine Guns. On both days the RAAF display team THE ROULETTES provided their usual polished aerobatic display thrilling the crown with close formation flying and no doubt providing strong encouragement to many young people towards a possible career in the RAAF.
Foreign participation was represented by a United States Air Force Reserve (USAFR) Boeing KC-135 STRATOTANKER of the 22nd Air Refuelling Wing (ARW), 931st Air Refuelling Group (ARG) based at McConnell Air Force Base (AFB) Kansas. As the latest the series of defence air shows, the Williamtown show did not disappoint and the organisers should be congratulated for providing such a marvellous and diverse show. Employing over 3,000 military and civilian staff RAAF Williamtown also contributes significantly to the local community and economy. This is evidenced by the strong support of the local community at the show, typically proud of their close association with the base while fully aware the important role the base plays in Australia’s national security. Great weather, nonstop fast jet action, formation and heritage flights and impressive ground displays all contributed to a very memorable event and one of the best defence air shows held to date. Something very much appreciated by all who attended and in particular Williamtown’s regional community.
We would like to thank Defense Public Affairs for their valuable assistance in the preparation of this report.
Rob Hynes / Editor CHK6
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