by Robert Dougherty

Defence has confirmed it still intends to sell 46 of its retired Hornets to a private US firm that poses as the enemy in air-to-air combat training.

The Australian government initially announced its intention to sell the aircraft to Air USA – now rebranded as RAVN Aerospace – in March 2020, with initial delivery three or four years from that date.

The ADF withdrew the legacy Hornets and their support equipment from January 2019 to December 2021. They were then replaced with Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.

“Department of Defence is in contract with Air USA for the sale of up to 46 former Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A/B Hornets,” a defence spokesperson said.

“The contract between the Department of Defence and Air USA was initially executed in February 2020 and is still valid.”

One retired Hornet has been allocated as a training aid to the Defence Explosive Ordnance Training School in NSW, eight are allocated for heritage purposes, and six aircraft will continue to be owned by the RAAF heritage and history units.

Hornets were previously sold to the Royal Canada Air Force. The first two, A21-53 and A21-55, arrived at Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake in Alberta in February 2019.

The sale to Canada, which was confirmed in December 2017, covered a total of 25 aircraft – 18 RAAF Hornets as interim fighters to complement their fleet of similarly configured CF-18s, and a further seven jets to be used as spares and test articles.

Since entering into service with the RAAF in 1986, Air Force has welcomed 75 Classic Hornets, operated by Number 75 Squadron at RAAF Base Tindal, and Number 3 and 77 Squadron at RAAF Base Williamtown.

In its over three decades of service, the Classic Hornet multirole fighter fleet has completed more than 400,000 flight hours across thousands of missions.

To honour the occasion, the RAAF hosted a ceremony in November 2021 at RAAF Base Williamtown, attended by then-Defence Minister Peter Dutton and nearly 500 people.

The entry of the Hornet into the RAAF fleet, at the time, marked one of the biggest leaps in technology RAAF had seen.

The first two fighters were delivered nonstop from California to Williamtown in May 1985, after a 15-hour flight spanning over 12,000 kilometres. Each Hornet was refuelled 13 times throughout the flight by accompanying US Air Force tankers.

In the 36 years since then, the fleet has been deployed on a number of key military operations, most notably the NATO-led mission following the 9/11 terrorist attack in the US.

Missions included the safeguarding of the US air base in Diego Garcia from where operations in Afghanistan were launched, and its deployment in Iraq, where it attacked enemy targets and provided air cover for the SAS.

Many of those who previously worked on the Classic Hornet moved on to the F-35A, or the F/A-18F Super Hornet.


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