Of old Hornets and Frenchies
The Royal Australian Air Force this week bade farewell to the F-18A/B, early Hornet models they have flown since the mid-1980s.
Via the RAAF:
After more than 30 years, and nearly 408,000 total fleet flying hours, the F/A-18A/B Classic Hornet flew over Australia for the last time. Up to 12 aircraft departed RAAF Base Tindal on a final sortie over Darwin and the Northern Territory; before proceeding to Queensland.
The remaining aircraft arrived at RAAF Base Williamtown, their final destination, where Air Force held an end of era event on November 29. Since 1985, Air Force operated 71 F/A-18A/B Hornets at RAAF Base Williamtown and RAAF Base Tindal with the fleet now being retired and replaced with the F-35A Lightning II aircraft.
The RAAF also released an excellent “jet only” raw footage reel of the Hornet at work, sans any overdub or background music, which is great!
In other “F-35 as Hornet replacement” news
The Finnish Defense Force seems to have downselected the F-35 over the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Aviation Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, and the Saab Gripen E to replace their early generation C/D model Hornets.
Switzerland made a similar choice earlier this year.
In the past, Finnish Hornet drivers on exchange tours with the U.S. Navy have even pulled down carrier quals.
Rafale finally gets some love
Meanwhile, the French Navy is celebrating 20 years of operating the only nuclear-powered CATOBAR carrier in history that wasn’t on the U.S. Naval List. The 45,000-ton Charles de Gaulle (R91) is the flagship of the Marine Nationale and, while ordered in 1986 to replace the smaller, conventionally-powered Clemenceau and Foch, was not commissioned until 2001, with her first deployment being to Afghanistan as part of Operation Heracles in December.
Originally intended to fly F-8E (FN) Crusaders– the only other country to use the American “gunfighter” from a flattop- and Falklands-proven Super Étendards, De Gaulle soon switched to an all-Rafale M airwing augmented by E-2C Hawkeye AEWs and a few Panther/Caiman helicopters for CSAR/ASW work. The French Navy currently runs four squadrons of Rafale M F3-Rs, totaling around 40 active airframes. The Royal Navy cries over that one, for sure, as they will likely never operate that many British F-35s at any one time from their carriers.
Interestingly, De Gaulle can also accommodate F-18s, as the U.S. Navy has often done cross-decking with both Hornets and C-2 Greyhounds, the COD version of the Hawkeyes sans frisbee. In goose and gander terms, both USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS George H.W. Bush have embarked Rafale dets in 2008 and 2018, respectively, and the French strike fighter is the only foreign type currently cleared to operate on U.S. cats and traps.
Speaking of Rafales
In related news, the United Arab Emirates Air Force just placed a big $18 billion order for 80 Rafale F4 fighters, making them the largest non-French customer. Smaller orders have been placed by Croatia, Egypt, Greece, India, and Qatar in the past decade, but the UAE tender is the biggest to date. Canada, Indonesia, Iraq, Ukraine, and Spain, among others, are still looking at the plane.