October 28 2016 marked a special occasion for the Royal Australian Air Force with a major celebration held at RAAF base Williamtown near Newcastle, NSW. The celebration was to highlight the centenary of the first 4 Flying Squadrons – No.1,2,3 and 4 which were formed under the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) in 1916 during the middle of World War 1 (WW1).
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE AFC AND TRANSFORMATION INTO THE RAAF
The squadrons took to the skies under the new title of the Australian Flying Corps. The celebration day combined with a Squadron Family Day, which enabled Defence the opportunity to thank family members for their support and service.
WW1 was the first time that Australia utilised aviation in a military conflict. At this time aviation was still quite a new technology for military forces and was undergoing progressive development across the entire globe. Various countries tried to introduce the best available air power to project their military reach while also protecting their ground and naval forces. The then very primitive monoplanes, biplanes and triplanes of the WW1 era were used alongside more advanced versions of manned flight – lighter than air balloons and larger airships.
Concurrently 4 training squadrons were created in the UK for the AFC comprising No. 5, 6, 7 and 8 SQNs. Australia sent to Europe during WW1, 800 officers and 2,840 men who formed 8 Australian Flying Corps (AFC) squadrons. Overall these 8 squadrons were a part of the larger Australian Imperial Force (AIF). The AFC were attached to the British Royal Flying Corps, who later became the Royal Air Force.
WW1 took a toll on the AFC with 175 personnel lost in operations. At the end of WW1 No.4 SQN took part in the British occupation of Germany.
During the 1919–20 post war period many units within the AFC were disbanded. At the same time the Australian Flying Corps title changed to the Australian Air Corps. This further evolved into the Australian Air Force in early 1921. The current official title of the Royal Australian Air Force was approved by King George V after on 13 August 1921.
AFC personnel of the WW1 era such as Lawrence Wackett, Frank McNamara (VC), Richard Williams (otherwise known as the “father of the Air Force”) and many others, went onto provide effective service to the RAAF in the 1920-40s and beyond. Other helped to craft the general and civil aviation scene across Australia for the next few decades.
THE SQUADRONS CELEBRATIONS
The celebrations were held on a cloudy day with occasional heavy rain. The presentation of the full Colours Parade saw the uncasing and display of the replica AFC banner alongside the No. 1,2,3, and 4 Squadron Standards. A review of the parade personnel was undertaken by the Governor-General, His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove, as Commander-In-Chief.
At the RAAF Williamtown 2016 celebrations, Group Captain Terry van Haren was appointed as Officer-In-Charge of the Centenary Planning Committee. GPCPT van Haren said the “Centenary celebrations have been simple, yet elegant acknowledgments of the contributions and achievements of Number 1, 2, 3 and 4 Squadrons throughout the past 100 years”.
Attending the celebrations were personnel from 2,3 and 4 SQNs at RAAF Base Williamtown and their families along with former personnel, veterans and their families. Personnel from No.1 Squadron from RAAF Base Amberley traveled to Williamtown to take part in the occasion. Group Captain van Haren said that whilst the day showcased the innovation and evolution of ‘Air Power’, celebrations centered on currently serving members, veterans and families.
GPCPT van Haren further explained that “Importantly, Centenary events have brought into focus the dedication, commitment, sacrifice and exemplary service of Army and Air Force personnel past and present highlighting the enduring spirit of mateship, with the opportunity to come together as one, in celebration of a proud history that continues with ongoing operations today,”.
GPCPT van Haren also stated that “Today’s celebrations have also provided the opportunity to thank Defence family members for ‘their’ Service – acknowledging the important contributions of parents, grandparents, spouses and children and the support they have provided and continue to provide serving personnel.”
On display behind the parade personnel was parked four RAAF aircraft representing each Squadron – 1 SQN with an F/A-18F Super Hornet, 2 SQN with an E-7A Wedgetail, 3 SQN with an F-A/18 Hornet and 4 SQN with a PC-9/A (FAC).
1 SQN F/A-18F SUPER HORNET
Super Hornet and the Classic Hornet up close
2 SQN E-7A WEDGETAIL
3 SQN F/A-18A “CLASSIC” HORNET
4 SQN PC-9/A (FAC)
Some other views of the aircraft across the day.
On static display for personnel and family members to see up close the CAC Wirraway from Paul Bennet Airshows along with 2 jets from the nearby Fighter World museum. The 1950’s CAC Sabre Jet and a 1960’s GAF Mirage III-O fighter jet represented the past jet fighter heritage of the 1950-1990s as once flown by the RAAF.
During the celebration, a series of flypasts took place with a 2 SQN E-7A Wedgetail, 3 SQN F/A-18 Hornet and 4 SQN PC-9/A (FAC) flying over the base.
Later on in the afternoon when the rain had stopped, various aircraft handling displays were carried out over the base. The only flying warbird that managed to attend the celebrations was the Paul Bennet Airshows Wirraway which took to the sky for an energetic and exciting 10 minute.
A 76 SQN Bae 127 Hawk lead in fighter trainer did an energetic and tight display over the base.
The next displays included a 1 SQN F/A-18F Super Hornet performed high energy turns, numerous passes and low-speed fly bys, a 4 ship of 3 SQN F/A-18A Hornets “Purple Cobras” team in tight formation and they also conducted a simulated ground attack under PC-9/A FAC control and along with dropping flares.
The local base S-76 rescue helicopter all flew during the handling display.
After the parade was completed, DUAN was able to briefly interview a few RAAF and former RAAF personnel for their thoughts regarding the celebration and some insights to their service.
Firstly I interviewed AIRCDRE Heap, the Senior Australian Defence Force Officer for RAAF base Williamtown and the CO of the Surveillance and Response Group (SRG), regarding his involvement in the celebrations and how he felt about the RAAF Squadrons turning 100 years. AIRCRDE Heap praised the service and contribution of current and past RAAF members of No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 SQNs who have ensured that these Squadrons have maintained an ongoing high standard. AIRCRDE Heap explained that it was critical that the public recognised the service undertaken by the ADF members in the past and more modern overseas conflicts like the current Middle East campaigns. He also noted that airpower has changed the RAAF from the early days into a very modern, high technology, quick deployment and dynamic military force. AIRCDRE Heap joined the RAAF in the mid 1980s and after graduating from pilot training flew various VIP aircraft and the UH-1H helicopter. By the 1990s he progressed onto the P-3 Orion and then became an instructor
at Central Flying School at RAAF East Sale. He has also served in the Middle East in the past decade as a Task Group Commander, commanded 10 SQN and since then has undertaken a series of senior leadership and command roles prior to arriving at RAAF base Williamtown in late 2015.
We also spoke to WGCDR Jason, CO of No. 1 Squadron which is based at RAAF Amberley near Brisbane, Queensland. WGCDR Jason has served as a pilot firstly flying the F/A-18A “Classic Hornet” since 1995 and since 2013 he progressed to the newer and advanced F/A-18F Super Hornet at 1 SQN. Over the 20 years of flying the Hornets Jason has trained to become a qualified Fighter Combat Instructor (FCI). Qualified FCIs are considered to be the most advanced and experienced RAAF fighter pilots. An FCI’s role in a squadron is to inspire development of relevant fighter tactics and help determine how such tactics can be used to enhance the day to day RAAF capabilities. Jason described to DUAN how the Super Hornet has brought a range of extra capabilities way above the F-111 to the RAAF. He said that having a 2 man crew enables better in flight multitasking and this reduces the workload on the pilot in strike missions via having an Air Combat Officer (ACO) in the back seat. The ACO also provides an extra set of eyes and ears during flight and any battle. Jason commented that it is hoped that the F/A-18F after further upgrades, will serve out to around the 2030 timeframe. This long term service will be achieved by implementing spiral upgrades of combat systems to the fleet and by the introduction of further new weapon systems. Jason explained how the RAAF has to have a flexible workforce and efficiencies in order to gain the best from its weapon capabilities. The Super Hornet currently enables the RAAF to experience and utilise a 4.5 generation fighter while waiting on the F-35 which will be a very high level 5th generation fighter. WGCDR Jason is looking forward to integrating the Super Hornets of 1 SQN into strike package operations alongside the RAAF’s soon to arrive new F/A-18G “Growler” EW aircraft.
DUAN also spoke with former RAAF member and Vietnam War veteran Lance Halvorson. Lance served in the RAAF from 1963 through to the late 1980s across a number of squadrons and project roles. Lance was able to describe his initial training years in the RAAF and then his posting to 1 SQN where he served as a Navigator on the GAF Canberra B.20 bomber. He then served in 2 SQN in Malaysia and by 1967 was deployed with 2SQN to Vietnam for combat operations with the Canberra bombers. Lance then returned back to Australia in 1968 and was posted to the new F-111 aircrew training group who were then delayed when the entire F-111 program experienced technical issues. During this period he was chosen for the F-111 stop gap platform – the interim yet highly capable McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II. He was selected to be an F-4E Weapons System Operator (WSO) and underwent training on the F-4E Phantom in the USA during 1970. Lance was part of the delivery flights of the F-4E Phantom to the RAAF during 1970. A mix of USAF and RAAF crews completed the ferries across the Pacific with the last two F-4E Phantoms reaching RAAF Amberley on 4 October 1970 with then FLTLT Lance Halvorson crewing the second last aircraft (69-7234). After spending time in the Phantom operations he was transferred to the F-111 community. Lance worked on various F-111 projects such as during the 1979-82 time frame which involved integrating the AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile into the approved weapons carriage. The F-111 fleet was eventually modified in 1987 to carry the Harpoon. Lance retired from the RAAF in the late 1980s as a Wing Commander.
It is a remarkable achievement that an organisation such as the RAAF can celebrate a 100th anniversary with such honour and pride in a world which constantly changes. With the RAAF’s foundations dating from a combat environment over 100years ago, the RAAF is well set to continue with its future airpower plans as it expands with the introduction of F-35, P-8 and F/A-18G operations during the next few years.
DUAN wishes to thank the helpful and professional RAAF Public Affairs team who enabled DUAN to be on base and for arranging the interviews on the day. DUAN would like to thank WGCDR Susan, SQN LDR Skye, SQN LDR September and FL LT Shaun. DUAN would also like to acknowledge the personnel at RAAF base Williamtown who assisted on the day and appreciated the various Squadron pilots who put on the flying displays across the day.