The RAAF’s No. 4 Squadron has completed a rare formation flypast of the unit’s four modified Pilatus PC-9/A (F) aircraft in the New South Wales Hunter region ahead of their retirement.

The aircraft headed north to the town of Bulahdelah before turning and heading south along the coast. They passed significant local landmarks, including the Port Stephens Lighthouse and Nobbys Head, before they returned to RAAF Base Williamtown.

The aircraft are scheduled for retirement in October, with the introduction of the new PC-21 aircraft expected in early 2020.

PC-9/A aircraft from No 4 Squadron fly in tight formation over Nobbys Lighthouse near Newcastle, New South Wales. Photo: Corporal Craig Barrett

No. 4 Squadron’s executive officer, Squadron Leader P, said the ‘Forward Air Control Variant’ of the PC9/A had been invaluable in a joint ground-and-air unit.

“The crews operate them and interact closely and routinely with combat controllers, 2 Commando Regiment, the Combat Survival Training School, Forces Command or the Special Air Service Regiment, enhancing the value and effectiveness of the asset throughout integrated training,” Squadron Leader P said.

“We are exceptionally fond of our PC-9/A (F)s; They are rugged, agile, grant us access to noise-sensitive or confined airspace not suitable for fast jets, they can get the job done supporting training for troops on the ground in weather that denies typical fast jets due to its low speed and low working altitude ability.

“They have significant endurance such that Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) students can repeat training serials to meet the standard.”

The PC-9/A aircraft from No 4 Squadron fly in tight formation over the Port Stephens Lighthouse, New South Wales. Photo: Sergeant Guy Young

Based at RAAF Base Williamtown, the aircraft were modified with grey paintwork, fitted with smoke grenade dispensers for day target marking, additional radios for the complex air-ground environment, infrared laser pointers for night target marking, digital close-air support communications systems, night vision equipment, and enhanced ground situational awareness tools.

They are used to train Australian Defence Force JTACs who coordinate air support to troops on the ground, and as its fixed-wing Forward Air Controller (Airborne) capability, the only one accredited by the US military outside of the US Department of Defense.

“ADF JTACs and combat controllers that were trained or maintained proficiency with PC9/A (F) flying overhead have a soft spot for these aircraft that contributed significantly to building the skills they were able to employ in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Squadron Leader P said.

Under the Department of Defence’s Project AIR 5428, the Air Force will receive a new pilot training system underpinned by the PC-21 aircraft. No. 4 Squadron will receive four of the 49 new PC-21s, which will give an updated operational training capability

Until then, the PC-9s will continue to support Army and Air Force training.

The first aircraft will be decommissioned in September and transferred to Townsville Aviation Heritage Centre, with a second aircraft to be transferred to Fighter World at RAAF Base Williamtown.