Photo credits to Dion Makowski and Cameron Reynolds

25 October 2019 saw the delivery to Avalon Airport of three RAAF Pilatus PC-9/A trainer aircraft, as part of the final disbursement into retirement of the fleet as Air Force transitions into new platforms including the PC-21 trainer which replaces the PC-9/A at ARDU, Central Flying School and 4 (FAC) Squadron.

The flight, comprising PC-9/A serials; A23-007, -045 and -062, was on delivery from Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU), from their home at RAAF Edinburgh, South Australia. As callsign “Delta” the flight had full crewing of two per aircraft, it is believed the purpose of flying into Avalon airport was to deliver the trainers to the auctioneers. Two passes, followed by the traditional military pilot’s initial-and-pitch in to the circuit, signalled the last time the familiar PC-9 “twang” would be heard, at least for now, from ARDU’s fleet.

An opportunity presented to speak with the crews after a final official photo session, in front of their aircraft – where the tiny gathering of photographers were advised of the various changes made to these particular aircraft, including (but not limited to) the avionics – a/c 007 and 062 being upgraded with better GPS, ILS and comms amongst other variations on the “standard” model. It may be recalled that RAAF PC-9A(F) versions were also utilised in the Forward Air Control (FAC) role, latterly with A Flight, 4 Squadron RAAF.

The Royal Australian Air Force’s Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU) plans, conducts and analyses the results of ground and flight tests of existing and new Air Force aircraft.

Originally the formation of the Special Duties and Performance Flight (SDPF) was established in December 1941 at Laverton, Victoria. The unit was reformed as No 1 Air Performance Unit (1 APU) in December 1943, the Unit was responsible for carrying out flight trials of new aircraft as well as aircraft modifications. During World War 2, flying trials included Spitfire, Beaufighter and Boomerang performance tests, as well as evaluations on various aircraft modifications including gun, radar and bombsight installations. In addition, the Unit carried out performance tests on captured Japanese ‘Oscar’ and ‘Tony’ fighters. Following the War the Unit was involved in tests on the CA-15 prototype, a Meteor Mk3, Lincoln bomber and De-Havilland Sea Hornet.

The unit was renamed Aircraft Research and Development Unit in September 1947, with detachments operating in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales. In October 1948 ARDU moved back to Laverton with Detachment A at Mallalla, South Australia and Detachment B at Richmond, New South Wales and Detachment C at Edinburgh, South Australia.

By February 1977, all ARDU detachments had relocated to Edinburgh, South Australia, from where it continues its vital role of testing and evaluating both aircraft and weaponry in the RAAF inventory. In 2003, ARDU was re-formed into the Air Warfare Centre (AWC), incorporating several additional operational support roles including those relating to flight testing. On 14 Jan 2013, ARDU established a detachment at Amberley, Queensland.

Dion Makowski

A keen photographer from an early age, Dion developed a genuine interest in all things aviation. After cutting his teeth on historic aircraft restoration and dabbling in model plane building, Dion took things further with a passion for collecting 1:1 scale and helped establish an aviation metal fabrication shop. With a former museum colleague, together they formed the Clyde North Aeronautical Preservation Group in 1989. Many years later, Dion published the Aviation Historical Society's of Australia's Journal Aviation Heritage and News and is currently active on the Society's committee. Today, he concentrates on aviation photo-journalism, specialising in current ADF activities and as always, fast jets, warbirds and antique aircraft historical research, remain his core passions.

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