NARRATIVE & IMAGES BY KEDAR KARMARKAR
“THUNDER DOWN UNDER” – a report from Kedar Karmakar at this year’s Avalon airshow
It was 1988 that Australia hosted an international air show to celebrate the Australian Bicentenary. That air show featured a lot of international presence with the F-15 Eagle, Tornado F3, Harrier, the Royal New Zealand Air Force “Kiwi Red” aerobatic team and even featured a flypast of the famous B-52 Stratofortress bomber. Then the next time they would have an air show was 1991 to celebrate the Royal Australian Air Force’s 70th anniversary. Both times it was hosted at Richmond air base in New South Wales. In 1992, the air show location was moved to Avalon Airpot, near Geelong, approximately an hour south of Melbourne. Since 1995 however the airshow has been regularly scheduled every two years.
The 2017 edition was held between February 28th and ended on March 5th. There was active participation from almost all the types in the RAAF, and the Army and Navy as well. It featured two new aircraft: the RAAF F-35A Lightning II and the EA-18G Growler. It also featured the C-27J Spartan transport aircraft, the P-8A Poseidon scheduled to replace the AP-3C Orions, and the PC-21 advanced trainer aircraft. The US had a sizable presence this time as well with its B-1B Lancer supersonic bomber, two F-16 fighters, and marked the second time of the F-22 Raptor that flew an impressive demo at the show. The Republic of Singapore Air Force had sent a C-130 Hercules aircraft as well as two F-15SE Strike Eagle strike-fighters. The RNZAF also flew the C-130 Hercules aircraft in a tactical demo during the air show days.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday were the public days while the other days were a mix of media and trade show days. All the major players like Airbus, Boeing, Lockheed Martin were there with their chalets for the attendees. The transportation was efficiently planned with the local agencies coordinating train and bus shuttles to and from the venue. The Friday show was a late show starting in the afternoon and ending around 2100 LT at night with the C-130 Hercules flare drop followed by fireworks.
The highlight of the air show was the ‘Battlespace Hour’ conducted by the joint elements within the Royal Australian Air Force, Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Army. The Battlespace Hour highlighted the Plan Jericho that the RAAF is implementing over the years to come to transform the Air Force into a 5th generation fighting force. The acquisition of a range of state-of-the-art surveillance, command-and-control and combat platforms that are networked back to the command center and with each other enable that transformation. The primary focus is to maximize the Air Force’s delivery of joint air and space power to achieve mission objectives.
It began with the scenario that enemy forces have taken over the Avalon Airport. A Hawk 127 simulated the bad guy and a pair of F/A-18A Hornets displayed the multi role capability by shooting down the intruder and then laying suppressing fire to enable the combat helicopters to land friendly forces safely. The MRH90 combat helicopter flown by the Royal Australian Navy was escorted by an ARH Tiger armed helicopter further laying suppressing fire. After offloading some troops they went airborne again. There were reports of an enemy submarine in the adjacent bay and the P-8A Poseidon, the AP-3C Orion and the MH-60R Seahawk helicopter were active in the hunt for the submarine until it was destroyed. The battle was coordinated by the MQ-4C Triton and an E-7A Wedgetail flying overhead. The KC-30A was the force multiplier mid-air refueler extending the time on station of the F/A-18A Hornets. The C-130J Hercules landed more reinforcements for the initial troops. The C-17A Globemaster III landed troops with the Bushmaster IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle) that reinforced the troops providing armor support. Avalon was retaken successfully.
It began with the takeoff of the heavies – the force multipliers in any conflict today. The KC-30A multi role tanker transport aircraft – which is a A330 modified for use as a tanker and transport by the military of many nations – enables the RAAF to extend the range and on-station time of the fighters as well as conduct cargo lift capability at the same time. The KC-30A can refuel both probe-and-drogue aircraft as well as the boom-and-receptacle receivers. The former capability is delivered by a pair of all-electric refueling pods underneath each wing that unreel a hose with a basket at the end that the probe equipped aircraft plug into and receive fuel. The latter capability is enabled by a fly-by-wire boom that the air refueling operator (known as the boomer in the US Air Force) plugs into the receptacle of the receiving aircraft. It can carry fuel of more than 100 tons and can offload half of the load flying for up to four hours. In the transport role, it carries 270 passengers and has under-floor cargo bays that accommodate a variety of pallets and containers. The RAAF has five KC-30A operated by No. 33 Squadron based at RAAF Base Amberley. RAAF Base Amberley is the largest base on the eastern side of Australia around 40kms south west of Brisbane.
The E-7A Wedgetail also known as the ‘Flying Toaster’ because of the shape of the radar antenna at the top of the fuselage. The E-7A is based on the airframe of the civilian Boeing 737-700 aircraft. It provides the RAAF with the situational awareness and battle group coordination that is required for maintaining control and chaos during any conflict. It features a Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar and ten mission crew consoles to coordinate the command-and-control aspects of warfare. The aircraft is highly modified with a lot of external antennae that jut out of the aircraft’s fuselage and include sensors and communication system and self protection gear. It’s role is to form the airborne early warning and control platform, gathering information from a variety of sources, analyze and distribute it to other command centers, and air and surface assets. The six E-7A Wedgetails are operated by No. 2 Squadron based at RAAF Base Williamtown which is also the base for the Hornet and Hawk fighters.
The P-8A Poseidon is a maritime reconnaissance anti-submarine aircraft based again on the popular Boeing 737-800 airframe. It is heavily modified with sensors, communications and self-protection suites as well as the capability to carry weapons like torpedoes and Harpoon missiles for sub- and surface-ship hunting. Although it is specialized for a maritime role, it could also be used in the over land role for ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) missions. The RAAF P-8A were involved in the search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 going the furthest distance for the longest time. The P-8A has been built as a military platform from ground up instead of just modifying it for military rule. Unlike the E-7A that has to fly any higher altitudes, the P-8A has mission requirements that mandate low level operations. The stress of turbulence at low level on the structural components means that the main spar has to be redesigned to absorb the stress of military low level operations. The first P-8A arrived in Australia on 25th November 2016. A total of 12 P-8A are on order to replace the venerable AP-3C Orion. The P-8A is operated by No.11 Squadron based at RAF Base Edinburgh, which is north of Adelaide, in the southern part of Australia.
The tactical element is covered by fighters, helicopters and transports. The RAAF operates seventy one F/A-18A/B Hornets that still form the bulk of the air force’s strength. They provide the air superiority, strike interdiction missions against land-based targets and shipping; and close air support of ground troops. The Hornets are operated by No. 3 Squadron, No. 77 Squadron, No. 2 OCU (Operational Conversion Unit) all based at RAF Base Williamtown, and No. 75 Squadron based at RAF Base Tindal. The fleet has undergone an extensive avionics upgrade that will keep it an effective fighting force for the next ten years.
The Hawk 127 is a lead-in fighter trainer and prepares crews as they graduate from turboprop to flying jets. The Hawk is operated by No. 76 Squadron based at RAAF Base Williamtown, and No. 79 Squadron based at RAAF Base Pearce, near Perth on the western part of Australia. Pilots complete a 14 week Introductory Fighter Course at RAAF Base Pearce that includes general flying, instrument flying, navigation, formation flying and night flying. Graduates then go on to a 20 week advanced course at RAAF Base Williamtown that covers air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons delivery. From here the pilots go to No. 2 OCU for operational conversion to their actual steeds – the Hornet.
The C-130 Hercules has been around since the Vietnam days and has proved extremely versatile in the transport, attack roles for military application as well as some being modified for water drops for fire fighting. There have been many variants of this aircraft that have been built over the years and continues to go strong. It is a medium tactical airlifter able to operate from short and rough fields. The 12 C-130J are operated by No. 37 Squadron based at RAAF Base Richmond in New South Wales. No. 35 Squadron based at RAAF Base Richmond temporarily, operates the C-27J Spartan. The C-27J along with the C-130J provide a large coverage to the RAAF for operations from various rudimentary airstrips to airports within the vast lands of Australia. Just to throw a number, there are over 1900 airfields in the region that the C-27J can operate from compared to 500 airfields for the C-130J.
The Royal Australian Army operates the ARH Tiger that provides the Army with an armed reconnaissance capability that it lacked earlier. The Tiger features a stealthy design incorporating composite materials in the airframe to minimize weight and radar cross-section, and also has a roof-mounted sight that enables extreme angular accuracy for day and night target designation. It can engage targets at standoff ranges with Hellfire missiles and carries a GIAT 30mm DEFA M781 cannon in a chin-mounted turret. The gun is controlled by Helmet-Mounted Sight Display that slews the gun in the direction the weapons operator is looking. The Army operates 22 ARH Tigers.
The Australian Army and Navy operate the MRH90 which is a multi-role helicopter that can be used as a troop transport, search and rescue, special operations and counter-terrorism missions. The Navy and the Army operate 47 of the MRH90 helicopters. It features a larger cabin, a rear ramp, weather radar and forward-looking infra-red to operate under adverse conditions.
The SH-60R Seahawk is an anti-submarine helicopter capable of operating from ships carries sonobuoys for submarine detection and anti-submarine Mk 54 torpedoes for destroying submarines. It can also carry Hellfire or Harpoon missiles for anti-surface warfare. Secondary missions include search and rescue, and logistics/personnel support and casualty evacuation. The helicopters operate from Anzac class frigates and the new Air Warfare destroyers.
The AP-3C Orion aircraft are primarily tasked with land and maritime surveillance, anti-submarine and anti-shipping and secondary roles include search and rescue operations. The AP-3C features a variety of sensors like a digital multi-mode radar, electronic support measure equipment, electro-optical sights with both Infra-Red (IR) and visual systems and acoustic detectors. The AP-3C force is based at RAAF Base Edinburgh. The AP-3C was also one of the primary aircraft tasked with searching for the Malaysian Airlines MH370 that went missing in the Pacific. The AP-3C is in the process of being replaced by the much more capable P-8A Poseidon and MQ-4C Triton that will take up the vital functions of long range maritime patrol.
The C-17A Globemaster III provides the RAAF with strategic airlift capabilities allowing the Air Force to rapidly airlift troops, vehicles, and even helicopters to distant places in the world. It can carry a cargo payload up to 77 tons ranging from one Abrams tank, four Bushmaster IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicles), or three Blackhawk helicopters or be converted to a medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) role. The eight C-17A are based at RAAF Base Amberley and have played a role in airlift to operations in the Middle East, Afghanistan as well as humanitarian missions locally and around the Asia-Pac region.
RAAF also operates the small King Air KA350 twin-engine turboprop aircraft that has a range of over 2,000kms. It is operated by No. 38 Squadron used by the School of Air Warfare to provide training for air combat officer, maritime aviation warfare and navigation. The 8 KA350 are based at RAAF Base Townsville and RAAF Base East Sale. No. 32 Squadron is also based at RAAF Base East Sale and operates the KA350 training crew on low-level tactical fast-jet ops, maritime patrol and response ops, and air battle management.
The RAAF also operates 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets with No. 1 Squadron and No. 6 Squadron both based out of RAAF Base Amberley. The Super Hornets are larger than the classic Hornet and allows them to carry more fuel and weapons on hard points on the wing featuring advanced avionics and sensors. The Avalon Air Show featured a demonstration of the Super Hornet with weapons on station – AIM-9 Sidewinders on the wing rail launchers as well as AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles carried inboard on one of the wing hard points. It was the most fantastic demonstration of the Super Hornet I have seen anywhere with more aggressive maneuvers highlighted with a liberal use of flare dispersal.
The RAAF operates twelve EA-18G Growlers that are a modification of the F/A-18F Super Hornet for electronic attack capable of performing electronic warfare roles – radar jamming, disrupting and deceiving enemy radar and communications. The Growlers will operate as a part of joint task force with the Navy and the Army. The Growler is modified with a range of electronic sensors and pods that help in the electronic warfare role. The Communications Countermeasures Set (CCS) antenna and the SATCOM antenna are at the top of the fuselage just behind the cockpit. In addition it carries a variety of jamming pods – the ALQ-99 low band jammer pod on the centerline, a ALQ-99 high band jammer pod outboard on the wing hard point, and AQL-218 wing tip jammer pods. It features an advanced AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar in the nose cone. It also carries the AGM-88 HARM (High Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles) on the wing hard points. The Growlers will be operated by No. 6 Squadron based out of RAAF Base Amberley. While the operational conversion for Australian crews happen at NAS Whidbey Island in Washington state, there are some RAAF Growlers based out of NAWS China Lake in California for the AN/ASQ-288 ATFLIR (Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infra Red) pod and AIM-9X integration. This makes Australia the only country outside of the US operating Growlers and having the uniqueness of the ATFLIR giving the Growler an electro-optical targeting capability.
The Roulettes is an aerobatic demonstration team of the RAAF based at RAAF Base East Sale. The Roulettes fly the PC-9/A aircraft which serve as the primary training aircraft for the Air Force. The Roulettes are a six-man team that flies the display which are an extension of formation, aerobatics, low level flying and cross over maneuvers. The Roulettes fly as low as 250 feet at speeds up to 250 knots and as close as 10 feet demonstrating the expertise in visual judgement and the coordination and rapid reaction needed from processing the scene through the eyes and translating the minute inputs needed to either maintain formation or safety by the motor hand skills. Throughout the display, the pilots experience up to 6g – six times the force of gravity. The pilots are Qualified Flying Instructor (QFIs) on staff at the Central Flying School.
The Lockheed Super Constellation was like the Airbus A380 or the Boeing 787 of today. The first pressurized airliner at the time it was put in use, it set the standard for luxury in the skies. The Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) flies the Super Constellation based at Illawarra Regional Airport. Following its restoration, it is painted in a Qantas-like livery with the words ‘Connie’ replacing the otherwise ‘Qantas’ on the fuselage. It is one of two flying in the world, the other one being the Breitling Super Constellation based out of Basel in the Switzerland. It flew in the evening just near sunset on Friday – and it looked surreal. The fire in the engines glowing out of the exhaust nozzles is typical for the Super Connie. The graceful lines were accentuated by the mellow sunset lit skies in the evening. It flew some passes for the crowd and landed back.
The history section of the air show was dominated by warbirds from the Temora Aviation Museum based in New South Wales.
The Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) produced the Wirraway in Australia. The Wirraway is similar to, but different from the NAA T-6 Texan, being based on a common ancestor, the NAA NA-16. A total of 755 Wirraways were built during W.W.II. Meant as a multi-purpose type, Wirraways were outclassed as bombers in 1941 but were actively used during the initial Japanese advance in the Pacific. The aircraft that flew during the air show is a composite of factory new and restored components, rebuilt in Victoria in 1975. It was donated to the Temora Aviation Museum in December of 2000.
The Southern Knights formation aerobatic team was formed in 1997 and since then have performed at air shows around Australia. The team comprise of some of the most experienced warbird aviators in Australia, the team at Avalon including Guy Bourke, Doug Hamilton, Steve Death, Scott Taberner and with Peter Clements as one of the show’s commentators this year. They fly Harvards (the British Commonwealth wide name for the T-6 family) in close formation through loops and rolls in the W.W.II trainer. The four Harvards sport different paint schemes. The lead, flown by Doug Hamilton, in a T-6G Texan postwar US Navy markings; Guy Bourke flies a Harvard in the markings of the South African Air Force; Stephen Death flies in the ex-Royal New Zealand Air Force Harvard while Scott Taberner flies in the unusual North African desert marked Harvard.
The Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) CA-13 Boomerang is single seat fighter built in response to Australia’s urgent need for fighter aircraft in W.W.II. The design is based on the CA-16 Wirraway. Such was the urgency, that no prototype was produced, and the first production aircraft were already being constructed when the first model flew. The Boomerang is, to this day, the only fully Australian designed and built fighter aircraft to enter service. Unsurprisingly, it was, however, outclassed by the exceptionally maneuverable Japanese Zeros and Oscars and was mainly used for close air support, as better fighters arrived in time.
The Gloster Meteor is an all-metal twin jet that was the first Allied jet fighter. The F.8 was the most produced mark of Meteor, while the Meteor F.1 flew during W.W.II and shot down German V1 flying bombs flying towards England. The first Meteor flown by the RAAF was during May 1946. Flown by No. 77 Squadron, they took an active part in the Korean War in combat with North Korean MiG-15s. The F.8 that flew during the air show was acquired and transported to Australia from England in 2001; and it is the world’s only flying Gloster Meteor F.8, of only four flying Meteors worldwide. The aircraft is painted in the markings of a Korean War era F.8 operated by No. 77 Squadron and flown by Sgt. George Hale, who claimed a MiG-15 kill.
The Hudson is based on the Lockheed Model 14 Super Electra passenger transport and first flew in 1938. A total of around 3000 Hudsons were built during the war, and served with air forces of England, Canada, the US, New Zealand, Netherlands, China, Brazil and Australia. The RAAF received around 250 Hudsons in several versions. Primarily intended for maritime patrol and bombing, it also served in various roles such as meteorological reconnaissance, VIP transport, search and rescue and troop transport. US Navy and USAAF Hudsons attacked the first U Boats encountered by American forces, and Australian Hudsons fired some of the first shots of the Pacific War at Kota Bharu, Malaya. The Hudson of the Temora Aviation Museum served with No. 14 Squadron RAAF on coastal anti-submarine duties. On transfer to No. 6 Squadron, it served out of Milne Bay on armed reconnaissance and patrol, then serving with civilian airlines after the war. It is painted in the colors of No. 6 Squadron RAAF as seen during the decisive Battle of Milne Bay. Temora Aviation Museum acquired the aircraft in 2004 and flies it as a tribute to those who served on the Hudsons during W.W.II.
The Supermarine Spitfire is as famous as the P-51 Mustang, Hurricane and the P-40 Warhawk, although of these, only the Spitfire was in front line fighter service from 1939 to 1945. Around 20,000 Spitfires were built during the war, and around 1700 of them were Mk VIIIs. The Mk VIII flown by the Temora Aviation Museum was the last Spitfire that was acquired by the RAAF, built in England and shipped to Australia, it was placed in storage as unneeded at that stage of the war. This Spitfire was restored in 1985 and flies today in the green and grey camouflage colors of the RAAF defending Darwin during W.W.II and in the South West Pacific. The aircraft is painted in the ‘Grey Nurse’ shark mouth No.456 Squadron RAAF scheme devised and flown by Wing Commander R.H. (Bobby) Gibbes, one of Australia’s foremost aces. The Spitfire was donated to the Temora Aviation Museum in 2000, and is one of only two airworthy Spitfires in Australia, both of which are operated by the Museum.
The P-40 Warhawk is restored and based at Wangaratta Airport in Victoria. It is operated by Doug Hamilton and is a full dual-control two seat modification of the original single-seat Warhawk. Following an eleven year restoration, this P-40 flew again after 70 years in March 2016. Pilot Nelson Flack of the 8th FS, USAAF 49th Fighter Group was flying this aircraft on February 14, 1944 when he was shot down over Papua New Guinea. Although injured in the crash, Flack managed to escape before flames consumed the machine. The wreck was discovered by Wangaratta based late Murray Griffiths and restoration work began. Doug Hamilton acquired the project and continued to pursue the restoration until its first flight in March 2016. It is one of several P-40s flying in Australia.
The Dakota (known as the C-47 or Skytrain in the US) is the famous W.W.II troop transport and cargo aircraft that well served the air forces that operated it. This particular example is owned by Jeff Trappett, an ex-RAAF Roulette display team leader. He also flies his own CAC Sabre (the only currently airworthy example of this type), CAC Winjeel trainer and CAC Mustang. The C-47 which flew in the air show is painted in the Vietnam-era colors of the ‘Spooky’ gunship that was used in a close air support role during the ‘Nam era. It was produced in the US and transferred to the RAAF in February 1945. It was used in the Malaya operations in a PsyOps (psychological operations) fitted out with loud speakers and broadcasting demotivating messages to the enemy troops. It returned to Australia in 1954 and sold to a civilian operator. After an on-and-off career, it was acquired by Jeffery Trappett, restored to airworthy condition and based out of Latrobe Valley Airport in Victoria.
At the end of W.W.II, the Australian de Havilland Aircraft Pty Ltd aircraft company in Sydney (DHA) was completing wartime RAAF Mosquito orders and looking for a new design to build for the civilian postwar market. It was to be a single-pilot, eight passenger replacement for the DH.84 Dragon biplane aircraft that were used in Australia at the time. Two prototypes were completed and a few orders were received as the Australian government were supporting local industry. Six were ordered by Trans Australia Airlines (TAA – Australia’s domestic airline of the era); and seven by Qantas (where the Government was a shareholder) among others. But the initial years were not good for Drovers. Qantas reported performance problems, particularly in the highlands of New Guinea, and a fatal crash with seven onboard was found out to be structural failure of the propeller, causing the engine to jump out of its mountings. In the end even after modifications, Qantas declined to accept the delivery and instead re-routed them to Fiji. In the end, only 20 Drovers were built. The example that flew at Avalon air show was built in Sydney and is fourth of the seven aircraft ordered by Qantas. After passing through many hands in many roles, it was acquired by Charlie Camilleri and Peter Hanneman in 1999. Charlie flies the Drover on display and on pleasure flights.
The initial two F-35A Lightning II aircraft had flown from Luke AFB in Arizona to RAAF Base Amberley – refueling seven times in between and landing at Guam before the final stop. 72 F-35A are supposed to have been purchased by Australia. The F-35A flew twice on the public days – once on Friday and once on Saturday. It was supposed to fly out Sunday before making its way back to RAAF Base Amberley but lightning thunderstorms over its destination made it a problem for the Lightning II since it did not have lightning protection at the time – embarrassing coincidence 😛
The county of Victoria faces a huge fire hazard during the summer months and it contracts firefighting aircraft from outside Australia as well. Coulson Flying Tankers based out of Portland, Oregon had deployed two C-130Q Hercules, as part of a service contract with the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries. The C-130Q is heavily modified for the fire-fighting role designed to carry 4000 US gallons of water/retardant in the main cargo bay. With a flow rate of 1600 US gallons per second, the tank can be emptied in 2.2 seconds. This is achieved because of the unique RADS-XXL system designed by Coulson. It is a modular system, that weighs just 2300lbs, and requires around 30 minutes to install or remove. The controller and cockpit interface makes this one of the advanced retardant delivery systems in the world. Recently Coulson also got the contract for fitting this system onto the HC-130H Hercules aircraft of the US Air Force that are modified for fire-fighting during the fire season. The C-130Q began life as a strategic communications link for the US Navy’s Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine force and as a backup communications link for the US Air Force manned strategic bomber and inter-continental ballistic missile forces. Although similar to the H model, the Q models were kitted with complex avionics, including a 6-mile long trailing wire antenna for communicating with submarines and bombers. The 84-day contract with the Victorian agency began on 15 December 2016. Prior to flying out to Australia, Bomber 390 its designation while in Australia (Tanker 131) covered 350 hours of flying time in the US, achieving 520 drops for a total of 1.77 million US gal delivered over wildfires – an average of 3,404 gallons per drop.
The BAe RJ85 (based on the Model 146) is also a multi role civilian regional jet that is retrofitted with a water tank to disperse water during fire fighting. ConAir Aerial Firefighting is a similar company like Coulson Aviation that supports counties around the world in firefighting. Four engines provide the RJ85 with excellent short field performance along with quadruple redundancy. The low speed and high speed performance makes the RJ85 an ideal firefighting tanker in any terrain. Its high rate of climb, turning performance and maneuverability with slow speed characteristics lends itself to the complex task of aerial firefighting. Bomber 391 (or Tanker 131) delivered more than 119,000 gallons of retardant, foam and gel onto forest fires in Victoria and New South Wales for various agencies. Tanker 391 has now safely returned back to Canada.
The Turbo Commander acts like a lead plane coordinating the ingress, drop zones, and egress by both verbal target descriptions or by leading the way for the air tankers over the drop zone. It marks the drop zone with colored or white smoke that the air tankers can see and prepare for dropping water or retardant.
The show also included two tactical demonstrations flown by the PACAF (Pacific Air Force) Viper Demo team and the F-22 Raptor Demo team. The demonstrations were much more aggressive than what is seen stateside. With lots of humidity in the air, the condensation vapor was generous during the flying displays. Not many folks here in the continental US realize that like the Viper West and Viper East demo teams, there is one more demo team based in the Pacific out of Misawa AB in Japan – called the PACAF Viper demo team. Personnel from the 35th Fighter Wing make up the PACAF Viper demo team flying the Lockheed Martin F-16C Block 50. The demo team is made up of two pilots, a safety observer, and eight maintainers which are experts in every aspect of the Viper. The demo team’s main mission is to drive recruitment but the secondary mission is to represent the traditions and the combat power of the US Air Force. The current aircraft is from 13th FS ‘Panthers’ based at Misawa AB. Both squadrons fly the Wild Weasel role in combat operations – Wild Weasel refers to SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) operations that are carried out destroying enemy radars and Surface-to-Air missile (SAM) systems paving the way for the strike package to get to their targets.
The F-22A Demo team is based out of Langley AFB and they fly precision aerial display to showcase the unique capabilities of the world’s only fifth generation operational fighter, apart from the F-35 which is still ramping up. The demo was flown by Maj. Daniel ‘Rock’ Dickinson who has more than 800 hours on the Raptor. He is an operational Raptor instructor pilot assigned to the 1st Operations Group at Langley AFB. The team is comprised of 19 personnel from pilots, safety observer, and maintainers. For the Avalon show, a F-22 Raptor from the 90th FS ‘The Dicemen” was borrowed by the F-22 Demo team – it being easier to fly the Raptor from Alaska down to Australia than drag one all the way from Langley.
All in all, the Avalon International Air Show was a great event. The timelines in flight – beginning from the Sopwith Snipe, Pup and Tigermoth from WW-I, to the Dak, Spitfire, Kittyhawk, Meteor of WW-II, to the modern day F-35A – were covered at the show. There are interesting times ahead for the RAAF – especially with integrating the new Poseidons, Growlers, the Super-Hornets, and the F-35A into the fleet. The 2017 show was apparently the largest ever public attendance at the show, with an estimated more than 200,000 people turning up for the show. Before I end, I would like to thank James Kightly for his help on the information on warbirds, that was written in this article.