The Royal Australian Air Force ordered 57 F/A-18A fighters (A21-001 to -057) and 18 F/A-18B two-seat trainers (A21-101 to -118), to replace its Dassault Mirage IIIOs, in October, 1981. The Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation won substantial US contracts for the supply of F/A-18 Hornet airframe and engine components, including the manufacture of General Electric F404 engines.
The aircraft were delivered over a five-year period between October, 1984 and May, 1990. The first two aircraft, A21-101 and A21-102, were produced in the US and flown to Australia, landing at RAAF Williamtown on 17 May, 1985. The remaining aircraft were assembled in Australia at the Government Aircraft Factories, Avalon facility.
No 2 Operational Conversion Unit was the first squadron equipped with the Hornet and commenced the training of pilots converting to the new type, in August 1985.
Commencing in 1999 the comprehensive ten-year multiphase Hornet Upgrade Program (HUG) saw the enhancement of the Hornet’s avionics, sensors, weapons and various structural elements including replacing the original APG-65 radar, with the much more capable APG-73.
A21-023 entered RAAF Service on 8 February, 1988. The manufacturer’s construction number was AF-23 (Block 20). The aircraft flew a total of 5,663 hours, rotating through all the current fighter squadrons (No 3, 75 and 77), before being retired in December 2020 at RAAF Base Williamtown.
The aircraft was deployed on Operation BASTILLE (pre-deployment of forces to the Middle East including acclimatisation and in-theatre training) from 16 Feb 2003 to 18 Mar 2003 and remained in-situ during Operation FALCONER (combat operations to disarm Iraq) until 3 May, 2003.
While located in the Middle East it flew approximately 150 hours on 30 combat missions delivering ordnance on at least seven of those missions.
On 12 April, 2003, A21-023 took part in the first Close Air Support (CAS) missions for Australian land forces (Special Air Services Regiment) since Australia’s participation in the Vietnam War ended in January, 1973.
Prior to returning to Australia the aircraft participated in an Anzac Day flypast of the Royal Australian Navy fleet on 25 April, 2003.
In February, 2015 the aboriginal artwork was unveiled at the Avalon Airshow by Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Geoff Brown, demonstrating Air Force’s commitment to Indigenous men and women who have served and continue to serve, in the Australian Defence Force. The livery was designed by the Balarinji design agency and the aircraft features the pilot markings of the late Warrant Officer Len Waters, Air Force’s first known Aboriginal fighter pilot.
The Worimi people are the traditional owners of the land on which RAAF Williamtown stands today.