BILLED AS ONE of the premier aerospace spectaculars in the Southern Hemisphere, the Australian International Airshow 99 took place at Avalon Airport, Victoria, from February 16 to 21, 1999.
This was the fourth time that AirShows DownUnder, a division of the Aerospace Foundation of Australia Limited, has staged the event. And the Foundation’s chief executive Ian Honnery announced that after successful negotiations with the Victoria State Government at least three more biennial airshows would be held at Avalon, scheduled for 2001, 2003 and 2005. The event is now highly regarded as a major public entertainment spectacle and a valuable showcase for Australian and international aerospace and aviation technology. Over 400 exhibitors from 26 countries were represented during the event. After trade days from Tuesday through to Friday, the general public was admitted for a Friday Night Alight performance which marked the start of a full weekend of airshow-style flying programmes.
With Australia about to acquire a wide range of new aircraft and state-of-the-art technology (see Australian Aspirations, March 99, p46), many of the world’s leading manufacturers were present — most obviously mindful of the spin off to other countries in the region that will follow sales to Australia. Consequently, a number of topflight commercial and military delegations were in attendance.
There was a strong British industry contingent represented by the Parliamentary
Under Secretary of State for Defence, John Spellar MR In his speech, he emphasised that Avalon is an impressive and important show, attracting substantial international support, and reflecting the considerable aerospace opportunities in the Australian market and wider region. He added that the Strategic Defence Review recently undertaken by the UK Government — to identify similar equipment requirements -would possibly result in co-operation on future tanker aircraft requirements. With some 20 British companies exhibiting at the show, the UK pavilion adopted the partnership theme to promote business and build on the close links between Britain and Australia in the areas of two-way trade, investment, aerospace and defence cooperation. Mention was also made of the major investment in Australia that British companies, like British Aerospace and GEC, had made. John Spellar stated that the UK industry’s performance in the world defence market, with annual export sales exceeding five billion pounds sterling (achieved within strict government export controls) ranked second only to the United States in the defence exports league. He went on to point out that the UK was willing to transfer technology to Australia as a close ally, and while mentioning some of the larger name players, was quite keen to see smaller companies become involved in partnerships. The British Aerospace Australia (BAe Australia) exhibition showcased a number of products from its global teaming partners. A display on the Hawk Lead in Fighter (LIF) included a cockpit simulation model, and news to hand indicated that the overall project was on schedule. The first examples are being constructed at BAe’s Broughfactory, and a maiden flight is planned by October. Acceptance of the first two RAAF Hawks is set for April 2000, while the kit for the first Australian-assembled aircraft is expected by mid-1999. The first Hunter Aerospace built aircraft is scheduled to be handed over in August 2000.
Another big attraction was the Eurofighter Typhoon avionics demonstrator, complemented by the Eurofighter Dome. Inside the Dome remarkable footage of life in the cockpit was projected onto a 180° screen — it certainly proved to be a highlight of the display judging by the long queues. Both the Hawk and Eurofighter were represented in the static display by full-scale replicas which obviously fooled the vast majority of the public, many of whom kept asking when they were going to fly!
A full-sized model of the Advanced Short Range Air to Air Missile (ASRAAM) recently purchased by Australia was also on show, as was a working model of the ALR-2002 Radar Warning Receiver developed in Australia for the F/A-18 fleet, and subsequently to be fitted to the Black Hawk helicopter fleet. Further evidence of the global partnership BAe Australia enjoys was provided by the demonstration of the Denel AH-2A Rooivalk — or Red Hawk as it is being marketed in Australia — which was appearing for the first time outside Africa. The Red Hawk arrived at Avalon inside a Safair Hercules and later flew to Canberra and Oakey Army Base for demonstrations. It was then scheduled to fly across the top end of Australia to Port Hedland for air-freighting back to South Africa. BAe Australia was approached by other contenders for the Project Air 87 competition but chose the South African Denel design because of similarities with Australia’s operating environment and defence policies.
Although symbolically handed over to the South African Air Force, the Rooivalk will remain with Denel on a sales and technical support mission until further examples are flown. Only then will the type become fully integrated into the South African Air Force which will establish an OCU to train instructors. Denel teamed up with British Aerospace to market this awesome helicopter, and no one at the show could have been left in any doubt about its capabilities. The manoeuvrability and flying display created a lasting impression which would not be lost on those making final selections.
Of the other contenders in the Project Air 87 competition, Bell showed off a brand new United States Marine Corps AH-1W Super Cobra, reputedly the last of that model to be produced. While its proposal is for the not-yet-flown AH-1Z Viper with a four-bladed main rotor, the example on show took part in the daily official flying programme, as did the Denel Red Hawk. Boeing displayed its AH-64D Apache Longbow which gave a number of local demonstration flights, though less adventurous than those flown by the Red Hawk or Super Cobra. Sikorsky brought a current model UH-60L Black Hawk for static display and a mock-up of its proposal for the S-70A Battle Hawk by modifying an early production UH-60 static test airframe. Correcting Australian Aspirations (p52) the helicopter has a cabin-mounted gun on the underside, leaving the chin-mounted Elbit targeting and sensor system as is. The manufacturer claims that the simplicity of loading this gun (minimal twists to ammunition loading), means that three times as many rounds can be carried compared with the capacity of the nearest competitor. While the Australian Army has indicated a preference for tandem-seat helicopters, Sikorsky believes it has a realistic chance with the only wide-bodied helicopter on offer, given that considerable savings in the order of AUSS300 million will be made because the Black Hawk is already in service with the Australian Army. Neither Eurocopter with the ‘Aussie Tiger’ or Agusta with the A129 Scorpion had helicopters on show and an announcement is expected in late March/early April to reveal a short list, possibly of three final contenders. A formal Request for Tender (RFT) is expected to be issued soon after.
While BAe has been widely promoting the Typhoon II as a future replacement for both the F/A-18 and F-l 11 fleets in Australia, Dassault Aviation is to proceed with plans to familiarise the RAAF with the Rafale as a fourth-generation fighter.
A decision on the selection of aircraft for the Light Transport Aircraft Capability (LTAC) under Project Air 5190 is expected in mid-April. Also known as the Caribou replacement project, the need for these aircraft is becoming critical, as the Caribou is rapidly becoming a very expensive aircraft to maintain in service. The C-27J prototype being built at the Turin plant is expected to fly by year’s end, while the Aeritalia G-222 being converted is expected to fly by September. The Lockheed Martin Alenia Tactical Transport Systems (LMATTS) C-27J Spartan boasts a lot of commonality with the new-generation C-130J-30 and the company hopes that this will sway the contract its way. A French Armee de I’Air CASA CN.235M-100 made the journey from its Pacific outpost base to join the static display.
With Australia in the market for a new VIP fleet, manufacturers were keen to show off what they had on offer — Gulfstream displayed its IVSP, Bombardier its Challenger 604 and Dassault its Falcon 2000 company demonstrator. All three aircraft flew demonstrations during the week but it was after the show that the first sign of formal action took place. An Industry Brief was held in Canberra on February 23 where specific requirements for the fleet were outlined. The two large aircraft in the Boeing 737 Business Jet and Airbus Industrie A319CJ class will be required in April and November 2001, while the three smaller aircraft will be needed on strength by September 2002. It is expected that the current lease on the five Falcon 900s operated by 34 Squadron will continue until that time.
Lockheed Martin, with the permission of the Royal Australian Air Force, had a star attraction — showing off a new generation C-130J-30, one of the 12 examples ordered by the RAAF. While delays to the overall C-130J programme have been well chronicled, Lockheed Martin has overcome the latest setback with the throttle quadrant design and this aircraft has been successfully modified — the remaining aircraft will be fitted retrospectively. The aircraft will receive avionics and flight system software upgrades over the next few months and Lockheed Martin plans to deliver the first aircraft to the RAAF in late July 1999.
The outcome of the competition for the acquisition of AEW&C aircraft under Project Air 5077, better known as Project Wedgetail, ought to be known by late April 1999. This project represents a major strategic asset for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) with the platform having to comply with a number of requirements to ensure survivability, including an effective dash speed of 280 knots. As Australia has not indicated a preference between a jet and turboprop-powered platform, the competition is wide open. Should the bid by Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems (LMAS) be successful for the contract to be awarded later this year, there could be several more C-130J-30s in the RAAF inventory.
The C-130J-30 on show had in fact transported a variety of display materials, including a self-contained, trailer-mounted AEW&C mission radar system developed by the Northrop Grumman Corporation. It seems that the existing E-2C Hawkeye Group M’s AN/APS-145 radar did not have the required range, so the basic software has been utilised in the new proposal and the consortium is seriously looking at selling the greatly enhanced product back to the US Navy.
The overall operation has been set up in a typical Personal Computer Microsoft Windows environment which will simplify training and use in the field. As Australia will need training from the ground up in any of the solutions on offer, the simplicity of this suite, coupled with Lockheed Martin’s.
Advanced UHF Radar (AURA), has sound merit. While all the contenders expressed a quiet confidence in each of their products, there was no doubt among them that whoever wins will expect to become a de facto leader in the area with follow-up orders approaching 60 aircraft.
The Friday Night Alight show featured a number of well-choreographed routines, including a display by a wing walker on a modified Boeing Stearman. The beautifully-restored HARS Southern Preservation Lockheed C-121C Super Constellation then performed a number of flypasts, the exhaust flames show off to dramatic effect. As is customary at Australian airshows, the finale was a low-level, over-the-runway, dump torch and burn routine carried out by a single F-l 11G from 6 Squadron which lasted for over 30 seconds, as the aircraft climbed almost vertically to 15,000ft (4,570m).
The US military had by far the biggest hardware presence at the show — 16 including support aircraft. The fighter displays were most impressive, with the daily F-16C Fighting Falcon routine performed by the principal Pacific Air Force display pilot. Another display pilot was brought out from Langley to put the Elmendorf-based F-15C Eagle through its paces. This was the first time that an F-15 and F-16 had been displayed at the same show in Australia. While both displays were very precise — to the point of being clinical -the Eagle had the edge by virtue of sheer brute power and agility. Both types had at one time been considered by the Royal Australian Air Force as possible replacements for the Mirage III: but they lost out to the F/A-18 Hornet.
One of the star attractions in the static display was the B-52H Stratofortress 60-0051 from Minot AFB, North Dakota, wearing blue shark nose art and the appropriate name Appetite for Destruction II. This is the first time that a serving example of the veteran bomber been displayed at an Australian airshow.