NARRATIVE & IMAGES BY KEDAR KARMARKAR
This year’s Australian International Air Show was hot and hotter. The previous air show in 2017 had the focus on existing assets of the Australian Defence Forces with the Boeing EA-18G Growler and Lockheed-Martin’s F-35A Lightning II just being integrated at the time.
This year however the scene was dominated by the F-35A Lightning II flying almost every day as part of the Australian Defence Forces showcase, and the F-22 Raptor from the 90th Fighter Sqn ‘Dicemen’ from Alaska. The showcase placed the focus on Plan Jericho that the RAAF is implementing over the years to transform the Defence Force into a cohesive 5th generation fighting force with collaboration and sharing of information seen as essential to achieve that goal. The integration of surveillance systems, with command and control systems which are then networked in with offensive and defensive platforms to summon their power and capabilities onto the battlefield is seen as the way forward towards victory.
Thursday saw the arrival of the RQ-4B Gobal Hawk Unmanned Aerial System of the 69th Reece Group flown remotely all the way from Anderson AFB in Guam. The 69th Reconnaissance Group is a geographically separated unit (GSU) of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB, California. It seemed that after landing it will need to be towed away but to everyone’s surprise, it did roll off the runway and taxi near to the spot where it would be statically displayed under remote guidance. Just goes to show the capabilities of remotely-manned aerial systems.
Similarly Friday’s night show saw a fly by of a B-52H Stratofortress all the way again from Anderson AFB, Guam. This B-52H was from the 23rd Bomb Squadron from Minot AFB, North Dakota. Out deployed to Anderson AFB, it was on a 8-hour one way navigation training exercise and it flew back immediately after that one pass over the airport. Just goes to show what range these aircraft have and also the corresponding logistics training that occurs as a result of one long range bomber sortie – for example lining up tankers en route, and carry change of crews among many others.
The Japanese Air Self-Defence Force (JASDF) flew in with their Kawasaki C-2 mid-size, twin turbofan, long range transport. The JASDF had unique requirements for a new transport aircraft and reviewed the existing types on the market like the C-130J Hercules, the Airbus A-400M, Boeing C-17 Globemaster III and concluded none of them had everything they wanted. They came up with the C-2 to replace its aging fleet of C-1 transports. The Japanese were super enthusiastic about the opportunity to demonstrate their aircraft and did it with style. This example was from the Air Development and Test Wing at Gifu Air Field and was the first production model C-2.
No. 3 Sqn RAAF is one of the older squadrons in RAAF service. Based at RAAF Base Williamtown near Newcastle, New South Wales (NSW). It was established in 1916 as part of the Australian Flying Corps and operated in WW-I. By 1921, the Royal Australian Air Force was born and it fought as an Air Force squadron in WW-II. During the Cold War era, it operated CA-27 Sabres during Malaya operations, Mirage-III fighters during the Vietnam War. It was the first RAAF Squadron to receive the F/A-18A Hornets in August 1986. No. 3 Sqn was disbanded in December 2017, passing its Hornet aircraft and crew to No.77 Sqn. It was re-established at Luke AFB, AZ USA with two F-35As and is the second RAAF squadron to receive the F-35A Lightning II aircraft after No. 2 OCU. As of writing, it has four F-35As operating out of RAAF Base Williamtown. The flyby of the F-35A started as a formation fly-by with two F/A-18A Hornets of No. 2 OCU and the F-22 Raptor of the 90th FS ‘Dicemen’ from Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson (JBER) from Alaska.
This was followed by a F-22 Raptor flight display by Maj. Joshua ‘Cabo’ Gunderson. It was not the official demonstration display but nonetheless, Cabo did an awesome job of flying the display putting the Raptor through its paces with burner passes creating the ‘shock-and-awe’ effect. The narration for the flight display was done by Flt. Lt. Paul ‘Ando’ Anderton – who is an RAAF pilot – on exchange with the 90th FS. It has been a long tradition since Flying Officer Edward Mobsby was the first Australian to become a Diceman in 1942. The military personnel exchange program dates back to World War II. The Dicemen along with the RAAF, developed the program where an Australian pilot is embedded with the 90th FS ‘Dicemen,’ learns their mission and becomes one of them. “I was humbled to get to do a job that is exclusive and blown away to be able to fly the F-22 Raptor,” said Ando. “I certainly like to think skill was involved with me coming here, but I was at the right place at the right time.” Prior to becoming a Raptor pilot, Anderton spent eight years as a pilot on the Hornet garnering over 1,400 flying hours. Cabo had his views on Ando and said “Anderton has done incredibly well. We get some great quality from the pilots coming from Australia. They always send us their top-tier fighter pilots and we can’t thank them enough for that. Having him in the squadron every day has been very beneficial to us.”
“The transition from the aircraft was exciting and a challenge to do,” Ando said, talking about the performance envelope and capabilities differences between the two types, “There were definitely some similarities, like handling, but the Raptor’s performance, from the engine to what it can do is unmatched. It’s unbelievable what this jet can do.” Adding further he said “I didn’t realize how many things I have taken for granted. Flying the Hornet had become second nature to me. I didn’t have that familiarity with the Raptor, and it was a learning curve getting to know it. Now I’m certainly feeling comfortable with it.” The exchange program and other events like bilateral exercises help strengthen the U.S.-Australia relationship. Commenting on the bilateral training and events, Ando said “The program and airshow strengthens the relationship. Our tactics, techniques and procedures mirror the U.S. Air Force and ultimately means that when we fly as a coalition, we understand each other and learn the same lessons.”
The Battlespace Hour was interesting. Hawk 127 simulated the enemy 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 Chinook CH-47 flown by the Australian Army was escorted by couple ARH Tiger armed helicopters further laying suppressing fire. After offloading the troops they were airborne again. There were reports of an enemy submarine in the adjacent bay and the P-8A Poseidon, and the MH-60R Seahawk helicopter were active in the hunt for the submarine until it was destroyed. The battle was coordinated by 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 reinforcements equipped with the Bushmaster IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle) providing armor support and more firepower. The F-35A Lightning II flew afterwards with an enhanced display profile compared to 2017. The only heavies that took off from Avalon were the KC-30A and C-17. All the other heavies like the Wedgetail, Poseidon, and the Seahawk flew from other stations.
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. This was the last year of the Roulettes with the PC-9s and will be transitioning over to the PC-21 as their new steeds in the future air show season. As part of the transition they had four PC-21s fly formation after the PC-9 routine.
The warbirds from Temora Museum were also part of the flying display. 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. This Spitfire is a Mk XVI and is an ex-wartime airframe built in 1944. The aircraft’s first action was on 24th March 1945 when it crossed the English channel for an armed recce into Europe. It had an interesting history in between serving as a stage prop for a movie on Sir Douglas Bader, to being a spare for other Spitfires flown in ‘Battle of Britain’. It is one of only two airworthy Spitfires in Australia, both of which are operated by the Museum. Sir Tim Wallis acquired it in 1987 and restoring it in the current livery of No. 453 Sqn, RAAF – the same as it wore on its first day of action. Temora Aviation Museum acquired it in 2006 and has been maintaining it and flying in different events in and around Australia and New Zealand. This is one of two flying Spitfires in Australia.
The Cessna A-37B Dragonfly based on the T-37 Tweet trainer is owned and flown by Temora Aviation Museum as well. In its current form, the Tweet is modified as a ground attack aircraft and was especially developed for the Counter-Insurgency (COIN) warfare in the jungles of Vietnam. The US supplied the South Vietnamese Air Force with a number of A-37Bs and were extensively used in support of Australian ground forces with many of the missions being actually directed by Australian forward air controllers (FACs). These aircraft were captured by the North and used in the Vietnamese People’s Air Force before being sold to individuals in Australia. David Lowy bought two after they were restored to flying status and donated to the Temora Aviation Museum.
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 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 P-40N Kittyhawk is owned and flown by Allan Arthur of Albury. She, again is a war veteran flying for the RNZAF No. 2 Operational Training Unit at Ohakea airfield. After the war it changed several hands before landing with Allan with final restoration being done by Pioneer Aero Restorations. She is painted in the markings of RAF Kittyhawk FR309 which in served in Italy with 112 Sqn as GA-Q and was flown by Maurice Mathias, RAF.
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.
Some of the international flying participation included the Grumman AgCat of the Scandinavian Air Show with fireworks on Friday night and a wing walking show during the day. Johann Gustafson from Sweden flew his glider at night with some light and pyro demos as well. Jurgis Kairys from Vilnius Lithuania performed aerobatics with fireworks on Friday and normal aerobatics during the day. Paul Bennett had his share of aerobatics and fireworks with his team flying the Pitts aircraft. The Russian Roolettes performed in the Nanchang CJ-6A and Yak-52s.
The flying participation this year was a bit low key than 2017. For example, there was no participation from the US Air Force Pacific Air Force’s F-16 Viper demonstration team, nor the F-22 Raptor demonstration team. The Growler and Super Hornets were missing from the Battlespace Hour demos. There were no fly bys from the Coulson and ConAir tankers. Even less participation in the warbird arena as well. Some of the stories going around were the RAAF is preparing for their 100th anniversary celebrations in 2021 and that would be more grander than 2019. Hoping to see what the centenary celebrations might bring – in 2021.