Australia shows off legacy Hornets in stunning photo shoot

Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)-operated Boeing F/A-18A Hornets graced the skies on October 29 for a special photo shoot ahead of the multi-role fighter’s retirement next year – and the images are spectacular!

The photo shoot took place off the coast of Newcastle, New South Wales (NSW), and comprised three F/A-18As from No 77 Squadron at RAAF Base Williamtown, NSW. It provided an opportunity for Air Force Imagery Specialists from No 28 Squadron to capture some final air-to-air images of the multi-role fighter in RAAF service. The formation flight was supported by a two-seat F/A-18B, which flew as a camera ship, along with an RAAF-operated Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Super Hercules from RAAF Base Richmond, NSW.

The three F/A-18As involved in the formation flight were serials A21-07, A21-23 and A21-39. Adding to the already spectacular air-to-air images captured by the RAAF photographers was the stunning special paint schemes applied to two of the F/A-18As.

RAAF F/A-18A [Commonwealth of Australia - Department of Defence/Sgt David Gibbs]
Boeing F/A-18A Hornet - serial A21-39 - in flight during the October 29 photo shoot off the coast of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. Note that the aircraft conducted the formation flight with a full weapons loadout. Commonwealth of Australia - Department of Defence/Sgt David Gibbs

The first – serial A21-39 – celebrates 33 years of Hornet operations with No 77 Squadron. The aircraft’s spine and tail is painted dark grey and features the words “1987-2020 33 Years Hornet” in white lettering. On the inside of the aircraft’s vertical stabilisers, the drawing of an oriental temple lion – as found on the No 77 Squadron crest – can be found.

During the shoot, A21-39 flew with a full weapons payload (also known as ‘beast mode’) and was pictured carrying a mix of AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs) and AIM-132 Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (ASRAAMs).

The second – serial A21-23 – is the ‘Worimi Hornet’, which was unveiled on February 24, 2015, at the Australian International Airshow at Avalon Airport in Geelong, Victoria. The F/A-18A was painted to reflect the RAAF’s commitment to the Indigenous men and women who have served or continue to serve in the Australian Defence Forces (ADF). The aircraft wears artwork from Australian design studio, Balarinji, and depicts Kilyarr Kilyarr, or the Wedgetail Eagle.

RAAF F/A-18A [Commonwealth of Australia - Department of Defence/Cpl David Said]
Three F/A-18As from No 77 Squadron at RAAF Base Williamtown fly in formation during the October 29 photo shoot. The aircraft serials (from top) are: A21-07, A21-23 and A21-39. Commonwealth of Australia - Department of Defence/Cpl David Said

In total, the RAAF operated 75 legacy Hornets, comprising 57 single-seat F/A-18As and 18 two-seat F/A-18Bs. Though the air arm will retire its remaining aircraft from service next year, RAAF F/A-18A/Bs will continue to serve under different operators going forward.

The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) will operate a total of 25 former-Australian examples to supplement its CF-188A/B Hornet fleet until a suitable replacement is selected. Air USA also plans to acquire a number of ex-RAAF F/A-18A/Bs for use as contractor-owned/contractor-operated (COCO) adversary aircraft in dissimilar air combat training (DACT) operations.

No 77 Squadron is expected to replace its legacy Hornet fleet with the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighter.

Check out some of the superb imagery taken in the October 29 photo shoot below: