A distinctive F/A-18A Hornet painted with an Indigenous motif flew its last sortie from Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Williamtown on December 10. The aircraft, with the tail number A21-023, was in RAAF service for more than 30 years and clocked up 5663.1 flying hours. It is known as the Worimi jet as it honours the traditional owners of the land where RAAF Base Williamtown is located. The aircraft’s artwork, added to the aircraft more than five years ago, was designed by Australian studio Balarinji and depicts Kilyarr Kilyarr, the wedge-tailed eagle. Commander of Air Combat Group Air Commodore Timothy Alsop said the Worimi jet was a special aircraft for the RAAF operations.
The RAAF has operated McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet fighter aircraft since 1984. The Australian Government purchased 75 A and B variants of the F/A-18 in 1981 to replace the RAAF’s Dassault Mirage III fighters. Four Hornets were destroyed in flying accidents during the late 1980s and early 1990s, several have been transferred to Canada and a number of others retired. The Australian Government has offered the Hornets for sale once they are no longer needed by the RAAF, and finalised a deal to sell 25 to Canada in early 2019. Eight F/A-18s will be preserved for historical purposes in Australia and the remainder may be sold to an American air combat training company.
Maintenance of the RAAF’s Hornets is carried out by both air force personnel and civilian contractors. Until the early 1990s, all routine servicing and a significant proportion of intensive “deeper maintenance” was undertaken by the air force. BAE Systems has been the lead contractor for Hornet deeper maintenance since 2003, and Boeing Australia has also provided maintenance services for the aircraft since it won a contract to do so in 2010. In August 2017, Boeing’s contract was extended until the planned retirement of the Hornets in 2021, with the company also gaining responsibility for integrating weapons onto the type
The aircraft also features the pilot markings of the late Warrant Officer Len Waters, Air Force’s first known Indigenous fighter pilot. The McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A/B Hornet aircraft are being gradually withdrawn from service as Air Force transitions to the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II. No. 77 Squadron at Williamtown will begin flying the F-35A next year. The F/A-18A/B Hornets are deemed to be of heritage value and a number are being donated to key locations and museums around Australia. Aircraft A21-023 will be placed on display at the Fighter World Aviation Heritage Centre at RAAF Base Williamtown.