2021 will see the largest collection of Australian Defence Force aircraft ever seen in the Illawarra.

Each year Wings Over Illawarra is supported by all three arms of the Australian Defence Force, with air displays and static exhibits from the Royal Australian Air Force, Royal Australian Navy and Australian Army. Although the Defence line-up for Wings Over Illawarra 2021 is yet to be finalised, here’s what made all of the noise in the past:

Royal Australian Air Force

The RAAF F/A-18A/B Hornet is a multi-role fighter designed for both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. It is capable of air interception, air combat, close air support of ground troops, and interdiction of enemy supply lines including shipping. The two Hornets that brought the house down in the 2018 airshow were from No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2OCU), RAAF Base Williamtown, who train pilots transferring to Hornet squadrons. The Hornet was developed for the US Navy and Marine Corps and has been a very successful aircraft. It is also used by Canada, Finland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Spain and Switzerland.

The C-17A Globemaster III provides Air Force with an unprecedented capacity for strategic air lift. It allows Australia to rapidly deploy troops, supplies, combat vehicles, heavy equipment and helicopters anywhere in the world. The C-17A Globemaster is a high-wing four-engine heavy transport. It has three times the carrying capacity of the C-130 Hercules, allowing Australia to rapidly deploy troops, supplies, combat vehicles, heavy equipment and helicopters anywhere in the world. It can carry up to 77 tonnes, ranging from an Abrams Tank, four Bushmaster vehicles, three Black Hawk helicopters, or be converted to an aero-medical evacuation capacity. Based at RAAF Base Amberley, the eight C-17As provided the backbone of the air link for Operation SLIPPER in Afghanistan. Capable of landing on dirt strips as short as 3,500 feet, it carried supplies and personnel between Australia and the Middle East.

The C-130J Hercules is a medium-sized tactical air lifter. Capable of carrying 120 passengers, or seven pallets of cargo, their ability to land on short or unsurfaced airstrips makes them highly desirable for regional air lift in conjunction with the C-27J Spartan. Based at RAAF Base Richmond, the 12 C-130J Hercules are also capable of air dropping supplies and parachuting personnel. The C-130J Hercules are an important air link with the Middle East, carrying supplies and personnel between locations in theatre. The C-130J is also an important asset in Australia’s search and survivor assistance and disaster relief efforts. The C-130J aircraft were an integral part of Operation PAKISTAN ASSIST II, Operation PACIFIC ASSIST, Operation CHRISTCHURCH ASSIST, Operation YASI ASSIST, Operation ACCORDION and Operation OKRA.

The RAAF’s elite formation aerobatic display team, the Roulettes, will be putting on a sensational display in the new Pilatus PC-21, one the most advanced training aircraft in the world. Roulette displays are flown all around Australia and consist of a number of manoeuvres flown in various formations at low level. Flying as close as three metres apart, the Roulettes fly as low as 250 feet (80 m) at speeds of up to 370 knots to 685km/h and pilots can experience up to 6 ‘G’, or 6 times, the force of gravity during a display. Roulette pilots are Qualified Flying Instructors who work at the Central Flying School, based at RAAF Base East Sale in Victoria. Between displays, they teach other Air Force pilots to become instructors.

The Hawk 127 lead-in fighter prepares qualified Air Force pilots for conversion to F/A-18A and F/A-18B Hornets and F/A-18F Super Hornets. The Hawk is operated by Number 76 Squadron at RAAF Base Williamtown near Newcastle, and Number 79 Squadron at RAAF Base Pearce near Perth. The Hawk is a low-wing, all-metal aircraft, fitted with a navigation and attack system, and powered by a single Adour Mk 871 turbofan engine. The Hawk 127 weapons and equipment system allows for the carriage, aiming and release, or firing of practice weapons, conventional and laser-guided bombs, AIM-9M “Sidewinder” missiles and a 30mm cannon.

Based at RAAF Base Edinburgh, the P-8A Poseidon is an important part of Australia’s future maritime patrol and response strategy. The P-8A and the MQ-4C Triton UAS will replace the AP-3C Orions, which are currently being withdrawn from service. The Poseidon has advanced sensors and mission systems, including a state-of-the-art multi-role radar, high definition cameras, and an acoustic system with four times the processing capacity of the Orions. An internal fuel capacity of almost 34 tonnes allows the P-8A to conduct low level anti-submarine warfare missions greater than 2,000 kilometres from home base.

The E-7A Wedgetail provides Australia with one of the most advanced air battlespace management capabilities in the world. Based at RAAF Base Williamtown, our six E-7A Wedgetails significantly improve the effectiveness of the ADF. They are capable of communicating with other aircraft and providing air control from the sky, and can cover four million square kilometres during a single 10-hour mission. The E-7A Wedgetail is based on a Boeing 737-700, with the addition of an advanced Multi-Role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar, and 10 state-of-the-art mission crew consoles which can track airborne and maritime targets simultaneously.

Royal Australian Navy

The EC-135 T2+ was recently brought into service to replace the retiring S-70B-2 Squirrel as the Navy’s primary aircrew trainer. Operated by 723 Squadron at Navy Air Station, HMAS Albatross, the EC-135 is a military training helicopter that offers a glass cockpit with high visibility, a multi-axis auto-pilot, plus other advanced technologies to help instructors perform training missions. With the performance and safety of a twin-engine helicopter, it is similar to the multi-role and combat helicopters now in service with the ADF.

725 Squadron’s MH-60R Seahawk is the Royal Australian Navy’s next generation submarine hunter and anti-surface warfare helicopter and will form a very important part of it’s operations for years to come. The MH-60R is equipped with a highly sophisticated combat systems designed to employ Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and the Mark 54 anti-submarine torpedo. The primary missions of the ‘Romeo’ helicopter is anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare. Secondary missions include search and rescue, logistics support, personnel transport and medical evacuation.

The RAN MRH-90 Taipan helicopter, also from HMAS Albatross in Nowra, is operated by 808 Squadron. The Multi Role Helicopter (MRH) will replace the ADF’s existing Black Hawk and Sea King fleets with increased and improved capability, ability and capacity to meet emerging requirements. 46 MRH90 aircraft are being acquired for Navy and Army. The MRH90 capability has more built-in safety features that meet or exceed today’s requirements and utilises the latest technology including composite materials and fly-by-wire systems that provide more efficient maintenance.

Australian Army

The S70 Black Hawk is a multi-role helicopter ideally suited to its primary role of providing air mobility for troops and equipment in the battle zone. Black Hawks can also carry out aerial reconnaissance, observation, direction of artillery fire, casualty evacuation and aerial fire support. When required the aircraft plays a vital role in community support tasks such as Search and Rescue and the provision of flood relief.