Iconic aircraft retires to the War Memorial

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Group Capt Michael “Cletus” Grant and the F/A-18 Hornet.

RAAF PILOT Group Capt Michael “Cletus” Grant was “lost for words” during the farewell to an iconic piece of Australian wartime history today (December 4).

The RAAF F/A-18A Hornet (A21-022) was retired by the RAAF in June after 30 years of service and has now been welcomed into the Australian War Memorial’s National Collection.

Group Capt Grant, now director of tactics and training for the RAAF, flew the plane as part of the 75th Squadron through its long and “distinguished” service, including missions during the Iraq War. 

The aircraft made history during that conflict after it dropped the first bomb during a combat mission since the Vietnam War and the first from a fighter aircraft since the Korean War. 

The F/A-18 Hornet.

The Australian War Memorial will use the plane to help tell the story of modern combat to future generations, says director Matt Anderson.

“This aircraft, with more than 6130 flying hours, will be used to tell the story of all who have flown in it and all who have flown in that time,” he says.

Of those flying hours, many were clocked during Operation Bastille between February 16 2003 and 18 March 2003, and Operation Falconer between March 18 2003 and May 3 2003, during the early days of the invasion of Iraq. 

The aircraft later returned to Iraq during Operation Okra from October 2016 until May 2017, when the aircraft flew more than 50 combat missions, including on the final day of the operation which formed part of the international coalition to combat the Islamic State group. 

From left: Air Marshall Mel Hupfield, AWM director Matt Anderson, assistant director of national collection at the AWM, retired Maj-Gen Brian Dawson.

Group Capt Grant, whose name is printed on the aircraft after his years at the helm, says that having the plane at the War Memorial will be important to the families of those who’ve been deployed to combat involving the F/A-18 Hornet over the decades. 

“It will mean more to the people that have touched this [aircraft] or been involved in it, whether directly or not, and the family of those people,” says Group Capt Grant.

“We have to acknowledge every individual… It’s not just an [aircraft] and a pilot. There’s a huge team behind this aircraft.”

While some F/A-18 planes will continue to be flown, Group Capt Grant says their days are numbered, with the next generation of F-35A Lightning II aircraft set to be operational in 2021.

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