- A.N. Other
- Naval Aviation
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Albatross (Shore Establishment), 805 Squadron, HMAS Melbourne II
- December 2011 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Once under way, however, the first OFS progressed most satisfactorily and was completed in December 1968. The pilots on that Course were fortunate in that whilst Melbourne was still undergoing a major refit and modification in preparation for the embarkation of the new generation of aircraft, the Royal Navy’s HMS Hermes had paid an operational visit to Australia and kindly made its deck available for RAN pilots to gain deck-landing experience.
The group of pilots who completed the initial Skyhawk OFS formed the first Front Line Skyhawk Squadron (LCDR Fred Lane) and eventually embarked in Melbourne as 805 Squadron (later VF805). The OFS Squadron at NAS Nowra was relabelled as 724 Squadron (later VC724) and continued with subsequent Skyhawk OFS training. So began a most successful period of Skyhawk operations in the Fleet, prematurely brought to an end in the early 1980s by the ‘paying off’, without replacement, of the aging Melbourne.
Despair and disappointment
The A4G Skyhawk was, of course, still a very capable aircraft. Indeed it was the only specialist Ground Attack aircraft in the Australian Defence Force’s inventory at the time. Further, its continued operation from shore bases would have provided invaluable Close Air Support for the Army and air defence training for Australian Fleet units (FRU). However, to the despair and bitter disappointment of RAN Skyhawk personnel, a Government decision was made to cease Skyhawk operations and to dispose of the aircraft to the RNZAF; Fleet requirements for air defence training were to be provided by the RAAF’s new F/A18 aircraft. This bitter pill was compounded when the RAAF subsequently argued that it did not have the capacity to meet the FRU commitment with the F/A18. That led to the Australian Government funding the deployment, for some years, of a RNZAF Squadron of Skyhawks (including ex-RAN aircraft) to NAS Nowra, specifically to meet the RAN’s FRU requirements.