End of an era for 2OCU Hornet pilot training

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A distinctive Tiger paint scheme on one of the first F/A-18A Hornet assigned to No 2 Operational Conversion Unit celebrates 2OCU’s final year of Classic Hornet operations.

This year marks 35 years of ‘Classic’ Hornet operations at 2OCU, used to train military pilots to fly fighter jets. 2OCU was the first RAAF unit to take delivery of the F/A-18A Hornet in 1984 at the US Navy’s NAS Lemoore in California in 1984.

Two aircraft competed a non-top 14-hour delivery flight to Australia in April 1985, a flight that to this day is still the longest non-stop Hornet flight.

Australia selected the Hornet as it’s next tactical fighter in October 1981, replacing the 1960s vintage Mirage IIIO, with an order for 57 single-seat F/A-18As and 18 twin-seat F/A-18Bs.
2 OCU’s primarily role is the conduct of operational conversion courses on the F/A-18 Hornet.

The unit takes students who have converted to fast jets with No 79 Squadron at RAAF Base Pearce and having completed lead-in fighter training at No 76 Squadron at Williamtown
2 OCU’s instructors are among the RAAF’s most experienced Hornet pilots, and often play a major role developing new tactics, in co-operation with fighter combat instructors at other No. 81 Wing units.

The unit is expected to relinquish its F/A-18s in December this year at the completion of the RAAF’s final classic Hornet operational conversion course (OPCON). But it’s not the end for 2OCU. The unit will be re-established at Luke AFB in Arizona to take delivery of its first F-35A Lightning IIs.

2OCU is scheduled to return to Williamtown with its F-35As in late 2020, in time for the RAAF to declare an initial operational capability (IOC) with the new Joint Strike Fighters.
For more than three decades, 2OCU has been the key training unit for Australian Defence Force pilots transitioning to fighter aircraft operations, and this will remain the case when the unit requips with the F-35A Lightning II.

Over the next few years, as fighter squadrons take delivery of the F-35, ‘Classic’ Hornet operations will be wound down, with the final major air defence exercise (Pitch Black 2020) expected to be the Hornet’s swansong.

Even though the RAAF will continue Hornet operations through to 2023, the F-35 and F/A-18F Super Hornet will gradually become the mainstay of RAAF air combat capability.

However, the Hornets will have a new life with the Canadian Air Force. In 2018, the Government announced that Canada would purchase 25 ex-RAAF aircraft to bolster its own CF-18 fleet. Canada needs to extend the life of its ageing CF-18s as it grapples with the decision on its replacement fighter.

As was the case with the F-111, Australia’s Hornets underwent significant upgrades of its avionics and weapon systems, so Canada is getting very capable fighter, and Australia has an aircraft that will serve it well during the transition to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.