Richmond Airshow 2006


Today I attended the airshow at Richmond RAAF Base, west of Sydney. There was a big crowd and a number of aerial displays. Some were by old favorites like the Spitfire but many were by our current service aircraft like the F-111, F-18, P-3C, 707 tanker, Hawk jet and P-9 prop trainer. The special guest was a USAF C-17 which performed a short take-off, landing and maneuverability demonstration. The RAAF will be receiving four C-17s starting in December of this year.

I enjoyed it but it would have been better if there were less people and I could see the displays more clearly. I guess I can’t complain if it’s a popular event, though. I didn’t get many good pictures because of the crowds but I’m happy with the C-17 photo below—all the flaps, slats and gear hanging out as it comes in to a steep landing. I quite like the F-18 maneuvering hard in afterburner too, although it’s a little blurry. Click on the C-17 thumbnail for a larger image.


My favorite performer is the F-111 but unfortunately I arrived just as it was starting its set early. It was still amazing how fast it can fly at low level and how tightly it can turn for such a large plane. On the ground it’s almost impossible to take a photo of it and get more than half the craft in the frame from any reasonable distance. They may be old but I can’t believe we’re getting rid of them for a jet with a fraction of its range. I don’t care how sophisticated a `plane is, if it can’t get to the target it isn’t going to do much damage.

Anyway, many thanks to Murdoc for letting me post here while he was away. I hope I didn’t disappoint anyone too badly. Welcome back!

Update: More images from the air show, including some great ones of the F111, are here.

—Posted by Nicholas.


  1. Care to justify the need for a long range fighter/bomber? Where are those F-111s in Iraq or Afghanistan?

  2. Skrip: Aren’t you the one always carrying on (and on and on and on) about how airpower has made naval gunfire obsolete? Now long-range fighter/bombers aren’t needed for airpower? You seem to have a list of two or three systems that you support, and everything else is totally unneeded. Seems to me that, with no carriers, no fleet of long-range strategic bombers, and limited airfields outside their nation (which is, obviously, totally surrounded by water), Australia might have justification for F-111-type planes more than anyone else on earth.

  3. Airpower has made naval gunfire obsolete, or marginalized to the point where the job can be done without it… But on topic, in terms of the RAAF’s needs, they really have no use for an aircraft like the F-111. What targets are within range of those aircraft that or of serious concern to Australia’s defense? I mean seriously… why bother complaining when these aircraft arent even going to be used? At least with the F-35, the RAAF gets interoperability with allied forces and the use of some of the latest weapons. While cutting overall operating costs immensly. Then: look at their future force buildup. They are going to buy MMAs and destroyers and expand their maritime capability overall. When Australia is done upgrading their military, they will be far more capable to project power on a global sense.

  4. Skrip: I’ll hand it to you. You’re consistent. Your way is the only way. FWIW, I’m not calling for Australia to retain the F-111. Also FWIW, there’s nothing within range of those aircraft that are of serious concern to Australia’s defense…today. You seem to be operating under the luxury of using today’s situations to justify decisions for the future. Regarding Iraq and Afghanistan that you asked about, no Australian fixed-wing aircraft are in either nation that I know of…but that doesn’t mean Australia doesn’t need fixed-wing aircraft. The old saw about ‘fighting yesterday’s wars today’ is as true as ever, but so many of those who claim to have learned that particular lesson are instead planning to ‘fight today’s wars tomorrow’. And tomorrow, of course, today’s wars will be yesterday’s. I just don’t have the sense of certainty that so many seem to have. I’d like to be sure we’ll never storm an enemy-held beach or that US airpower and submarines will always be ready to help defend Australia if needed. But I’m not.

  5. Hmm, Indonesia comes quickly to mind. Same batty religion that spawned the terrorists we’re fighting in SW Asia right now.

  6. The way things are going the point is moot. The F-35 cost is going way out of control. I would not be surprised if the program is cancelled. Way to many bells and whistles have been added to a ‘low’ cost plane. All hail the rise of the Golden Eagle! … and pity the poor Navy who once again gets the shaft.

  7. Skrip, the F-111 and similar midsize aircraft can do missions other aircraft cannot. Drop-tanks and refueling have their limits, as well as carry larger munitions then othewise possible (e.g. the large bunker-busters). The need for such aircraft can be critized, but the capabilites are never going to be eqivilent.

  8. I think there are two reasons to keep the F-111 or something like it. One is when we contribute to operations overseas. We do in fact have F-18s in the ME at the moment (or at least did recently), but currently there are plenty of friendly bases near the trouble spots. It might be a different story if Iran does something stupid though. Keep in mind that F-14s were needed to hit many targets in Afghanistan initially before closer bases could be set up. Now that those are gone it’s going to be harder. We could help out quite a bit with F-111s in such a circumstance – although we wouldn’t because we keep them here for domestic protection. That’s the second reason, and if you look at the size of Australia and the size of the oceans around it, you’ll notice any nearby country which could potentially attack us (even though we currently have good relations and hope they won’t) is several thousand kilometers away. Additionally if they sent a seaborne force to land ground forces here, our aircraft may have to patrol large areas of water searching for them before we could hit them. The Jindabyne long-range early warning radars help a lot in that case though. Additionally we want to have a long-range strike capability as a deterrent to attack. If we can hit the capital cities of any nearby country in retaliation they’re less likely to attack us. Anyway the bottom line is if we want to rely on the US for all long-range overseas operations (despite the fact you’re ditching many of your longer range platforms) and if we’re going to assume nobody is going to attack us, then I suppose we can get rid of the F-111 capability. We could also probably just disband the military and cross our fingers hoping nothing bad will happen. I’m not sure that’s a very good long-term strategy though.

  9. Murdoc: I’m not 100% sure because it’s rather obfuscated, but according to this the F-18s were only deployed for a couple of months in 2003 during the height of the conflict. I thought they stayed longer, but I guess it makes sense that after that the USAF and USN were able to handle the aerial situation just fine.

  10. James: The F-35’s cost is far from spiraling out of control. The B-model is the only one having troubles in terms of technical issues which contribute to the program’s overall financial issues. The A and C variants are on time, underweight, and on budget. So: Can any of you ‘armchair’ experts tell me, with all your wonderful and whimsical intellect, why an Air Force, which had options to buy F-15E-type aircraft or even F/A-18Es, decided to stick with a single type aircraft like the F-35 for its future needs? Especially when those who are intimately involved with Australia’s defense needs feel that they will retain all neccessary capability with just the F-35? Maybe, just maybe, they had other things in mind? Like the fact the F-35 is stealthy, and will be able to operate globally using a massive logistics base that will massively reduce operations cost and allow for maximal sortie time?

  11. I would say that the reason that there were probably a myriad of reasons that they went with the F-35 over Strike Eagles and Super Hornets. First, They probably agree with your feeling that there is limited need for long range defense of the Australian continent, at least in the form of a true long range strike fighter. Second, I would bet that there was at least a little pressure to go along with the F-35 program both from the contractors themselves, and the U.S. defense establishment. I can’t back that up with facts, but it seems likely to me. There are more reasons, but my time is limited. As to the first reason, the logic does stand that there aren’t any large threats at the moment to the Australian mainland, so I can not truly fault the feeling that they do not need such a strike platform. However, I also understand the arguments from the others that have commented. Truth is that the future is always uncertain, and anything could happen. While I don’t see any state invading Australia, I could see the need for Australia to launch precision strikes from the continent to locals within its sphere of influence. This it the kind of mission that the F-111 was designed for, but the F-35’s advanced avionics and weapons capabilities may to some degree make up for its need for more refuelling. As for the second reason, I think there is always going to be pressure from all sides to buy the big new thing. Only time will tell whether or not the pressure was justified. Overall I think the F-111 is an aging platform that may be reaching the end of its illustrious career. The F-35 is a very versatile platform that will allow RAAF to achieve a large level of operational capability with a single platform that will have a much broader logistical base than the aging F-111. Will it be equivalent in the long range strike role, probably not. Will it give the RAAF a much broader capability in a single platform, almost assuredly.

  12. Actually, the C-17 is even making it’s steepest possible approach. When they REALLY want to drop out of the sky, they actually deploy the outboard thrust reversers in-flight!

  13. Skeptic : did you mean ‘isn’t’? I looked through my photos again, I can’t see any with the reverse thrusters deployed in flight, so either I missed it or they didn’t do it. Perhaps it was because it was empty for the demonstration so it wasn’t necessary?

  14. Well, the pressure to buy the F-35 stems from the fact their F/A-18s and F-111s are both starting to become old. Frankly, the RAAF is a pretty smart outfit in terms of what they need to properly fullfill their mission. I know I come across as a hardass on these issues in terms of defending the gov’t decision… but sometimes, the guys at the top making the decisions have good reasons for their choices. This is wrt to BBs and this topic. We all like to look for some travesty or mismanagment at the upper levels of gov’t… even though the decision making was somewhat sane and well thought out. There will always be the ‘Fighter Mafia’, the ‘Tomcat Club’, the ‘Battleship crowd’ sitting on the sidelines bitching about why their particular vehicle or system is still viable and needed. But their agenda’s are just as crooked as those wanting to shut them down. I may be a fool… but I actually trust the people on top.

  15. skrip, there are plenty of examples throughout history where the people at the top got lazy and did stupid things and poor grunts (or pilots, or sailors, or whomever) paid for it with their lives. Again and again and again. Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. That’s why I don’t trust ’em. It’s not that they’re trying to screw their underlings (well, maybe some of them are corrupt etc.) but I think it’s more that the wrong incentives are in place outside of wartime for military procurement. Combat effectiveness is irrelevant if you never get into a war. Which you inevitable do, eventually. But maybe not for many years, and it’s so much cheaper and easier to buy or build something that looks and sounds spiffy, than one that’s ugly and high maintenance but actually does the job you need when fighting breaks out. Look at the idiots who deleted the gun from the Phantom design, for example. Or how poor US tanks (and indeed most allied tanks) were during WW2 because officers were still obsessed with horses for so long, or just couldn’t understand why tanks were such a revolution. Or look at those who couldn’t believe that aircraft would make useful anti-ship weapons so blocked the building of carriers etc. Poor development and procurement decisions are the rule during peacetime, not the exception.

  16. I guess you can throw the lack of serious light armour development in the last decade or so and substituting utility vehicles like HMMWVs into that list.

  17. The program cost of the F-35 is $300B. The cost per airplane has already been announced to have more than doubled. For the first aircraft I believe the cost quadrupled over original ‘estimates’. The development cost has gone from $30B to over $40B and will probably top out in the $50B to $60B range. We are actually fortunate to have foreign partners in this development because they have a tendency not to allow the kinds of schedule overruns the F-22 experienced. The F-35 is supposed to replace the F-16, not the F-15 or the F/B-111. I doubt the C-17 deploys the outboard thrust reversers. It either deploys the inboards or all of them. I can’t remember which. I’ll ask an ex-C-17 pilot friend of mine tomorrow. The C-5 uses the inboard thrust reversers when it tries to come down fast.

  18. Skrip, it’s nice to believe that the current leadership in Washington is doing a good job. It makes one feel much safer. The problem is, if they’re not doing a good job and no one says anything, the situation won’t fix itself. I can tell you from personal experience things in the industry have gone from ok to bad to worse to insanely worse in the time I’ve been involved in defense. The contractors have gone from being many and very competitive to being few, and those few are extremely politically powerful. The armed forces have lost nearly all vestiges of independence from their big suppliers. If you think this is a recipe for success, well, best of luck to you. Personally I’d rather be free than feel safe. When I see how small beltway bandit defense companies have influenced prominent Congressmen like Duke Cunningham, I hardly have to wonder how many times more influence Boeing, NG, and Lockmart can bring to bear.

  19. I love blind optimism – The F-35 is costs are not spiriling out of control. Well the Dutch have issues – ‘Participation in the development of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) exposes the Netherlands to financial risks. The cost per aircraft still cannot be calculated. Development costs have risen by more than 80% since 1996. There is no insight into the further development of costs because 65% of the test phase must still be completed. In 1999 the Ministry of Defence calculated that the project would cost at least NLG 10 billion (more than EUR 4.5 billion) if 114 aircraft were procured. The latest calculation, based on 85 aircraft over 30 years, is EUR 14.6 billion. But the figure might turn out to be higher. Air Vice Marshal Criss was present at discussions between the Chief of both the United States and Australian air forces in the late nineties when the F-22 was offered to the RAAF and it was dismissed out of hand by the Australian delegate. ‘At the time very little was known about either aircraft and the F-22 was being quoted as approximately fourtimes more expensive than the JSF so I thought the Australian position was understandable at that time’. Some Austrialians are having some issues… ‘Today, and especially by the expected delivery time for the JSF in 2012 (or perhaps later), there appears to be very little if any difference in price between the two contenders and yet there is no comparison in capability, with the F-22 demonstrating proven performance well beyond anything the JSF is likely to deliver when it eventually comes off paper and into production.’ Meanwhile back at the ranch. The air force is quietly looking into upgrading the F-15 fleet to keep the air strength up. ‘Back in January 2006, DID covered Israel’s second upgrade program for its F-15 A-D fleet, aimed at making them more versatile multi-role aircraft. At the time, DID noted that the Israeli efforts were a possible model for similar American efforts, as the USAF tries to keep its fighter fleet at an acceptable strength despite the high procurement costs for its new F-22s and F-35s.’ And just for perspective, an overview of the costs. ‘The original plan had the F-35 costing from the high $20 millions, to about $40 million, depending on the model (The basic F-35A replaced the F-16, the F-35B replaced the Harrier, and the F-35C replaced the F-18, with the B and C versions more expensive than the A). A few months ago, the most expensive model’s projected cost had grown to $60 million a piece. Now, the projected average cost of an F-35 has reached $82 million, each. Considering that current plans call for buying about 2,400 F-35s (original plans had called for buying 3,000), this is not chump change. Using the $40 million figure as a baseline, this is a cost overrun of $101 billion. The project is also 93 months behind schedule.’ At this time, the fly away cost of F-35 is comming in at around 110 million a copy. I’m sorry, but the concept of a high/low mix of fighters has a lot going for it, however, the F-35 is turning into anything but the ‘low’ cost mate to the high cost F-22.

  20. They both use all the same technology. They are both being designed with the same goal in mind, to maximize the amount of money they can suck from the US taxpayer. Why would one cost significantly less? Every part I designed for the F-22 cost a friggen fortune. Every suggestion I made for cutting cost got canned. I made one suggestion that would have eliminated the need to buy 3 custom aluminum extrusions and replaced those parts with brake formed sheet metal. I even did complete drawings of the parts. Not just ‘no’ but ‘hell no’. Is it any wonder why I’m just a wee bit cynical?

  21. I saw an Aussie ‘Vark at the NZ Air Show Warbirds of Wanaka in April. A very good show if you can get there. They happen Easter Weekend every even numbered year. The Vark did a number of passes, finally aweing the crowd with a ‘Dump & Burn.’ The ‘Dump & Burn’ is a maneuver by the Vark where they do a nose-high pass, while dumping fuel with lit afterburners. It creates a ‘Dragontail’ about 100 feet long. Quite impressive!

  22. They are both being designed with the same goal in mind, to maximize the amount of money they can suck from the US taxpayer. ‘ 100% agreement with that thought. The ‘cost savings’ for the F-35 was supposed to be that alot of the R&D work had already been done with the F-22. (Sort of like the line that the DDX R&D will be used on a future family of ships….right) But lets not just blame the contactors. I cluster&F&*#$ we had to order a restrainging bolt for Phantom. The bolt was no longer in stock so we had to go to the vendor. The vendor offered to run the line and produce 100 bolts. That got nixed by commander. ‘We only needed 1 plus 1 spare’ End result we had to pay for the entire production run of a 100 but only got the 2 bolts – the rest we melted down.

  23. I love when allies who are practically getting a free stealth strike fighter, WHINE about ‘costs’. Dfens, im not advocating everyone quiet down on the issue. Im just saying, since everyone loves jumping on the ‘rag the gov’t’ bandwagon, i prefer giving them the benefit of the doubt. Also, while yes, the Defense Industry has gone from bad to worse… have they failed to deliver?

  24. I think we have failed to deliver. I think we consistently fail to deliver. The game is the gov’t gives us detailed requirements. We try to barely meet the letter of those requirements while spending as much money as possible. Typically whenever we run into a problem we either get relief on the requirements or more money (or both). Innovation is a thing of the past. We no longer have groups of people who are aircraft designers. We expect a design to manifest itself from a requirements soup. The kind of design that results from this process often makes no sense at all in the larger scheme of things, and this is generally the criticism you will see leveled against weapons systems both here on this blog and in private conversations among those of us in the industry. It is design by committee in the worst possible way. There is no accountability, responsibility, or ownership of any vehicle. You can see the result at a macro level. What’s the latest great technology since stealth in the early ’70s? Nothing.

  25. Lockheed Martin has delivered unsafe and ineffective patrol boats to the U.S. Coast Guard, according to one former employee. Michael DeKort, an engineer with 12 years’ experience at the firm, says the 123-foot boats — part of the Coast Guard’s $24-billion Deepwater modernization effort — … ‘While corporate legal maintains all of my issues are baseless, the Inspector General [of] the Department of Homeland Security has informed me recently that all of my allegations are indeed accurate, [that] the U.S. Coast Guard is undertaking a complete review.’ … Coast Guard Inspector General Richard Skinner has released a report criticizing the service’s handling of Deepwater electronics. ‘Due to limited oversight as well as unclear contract requirements, the agency cannot ensure that the contractor is making the best decisions towards accomplishing the Deepwater [Information Technology] goals.’ …. he Coast Guard received eight converted boats through 2005 then abruptly halted work on the program, citing buckling in the boats’ hull extensions and problems with their electronics suite. In August, the service cancelled the remaining 41 conversions and accelerated a new class of boats to replace the Island class beginning next year. ***,15240,113266,00.html Lockheed indeed delivered