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No. 33 Squadron RAAF
No. 33 Squadron's crest
Active 1942–1946
Allegiance Australia
Branch Royal Australian Air Force
Role Air-to-air refuelling
Strategic transport
Part of No. 86 Wing
Garrison/HQ RAAF Base Amberley
Motto(s) Enduring
Aircraft Airbus KC-30

World War II

Operation Solace
Operation Southern Watch
War in Afghanistan

No. 33 Squadron is a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) strategic transport and air-to-air refuelling squadron. It operates Airbus KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transports from RAAF Base Amberley, Queensland. The squadron was formed in February 1942 for service during World War II, operating Short Empire flying boats and a variety of smaller aircraft. By 1944 it had completely re-equipped with Douglas C-47 Dakota transports, which it flew in New Guinea prior to disbanding in May 1946.

The unit was re-established in February 1981 as a flight, equipped with two Boeing 707s for VIP and other long-range transport duties out of RAAF Base Richmond, New South Wales. No. 33 Flight was re-formed as a full squadron in July 1983. By 1988 it was operating six 707s, four of which were subsequently converted for aerial refuelling. The 707s saw active service during operations in Namibia, Somalia, the Persian Gulf, and Afghanistan. One of the transport jets was lost in a crash in October 1991. No. 33 Squadron relocated to Amberley and was temporarily without aircraft following the retirement of the 707s in June 2008. It began re-equipping with KC-30As in June 2011, and achieved initial operating capability with the type in February 2013.

Role and equipment

Woman in olive-green fatigues holding passenger oxygen mask in aircraft cabin

A No. 33 Squadron aircraftwoman giving a safety brief abroad an Airbus KC-30, February 2013

No. 33 Squadron is responsible for aerial refuelling and long-range transport. It is located at RAAF Base Amberley, Queensland, and controlled by No. 86 Wing, which is part of Air Lift Group. The unit headquarters comprises executive, administrative and operational components. As well as aircrew, the squadron is staffed by maintenance personnel responsible for regular aircraft service. Heavier maintenance is conducted by Qantas Defence Services.[1]

The squadron operates five Airbus KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transports, which entered service in June 2011.[2] The aircraft are crewed by pilots, refuelling operators and flight attendants. Air-to-air refuelling is considered a force multiplier, as it permits the RAAF to increase the range and loiter time of its aircraft. The ability to refuel in flight also enables aircraft to take off with more ordnance than they might otherwise.[1] The KC-30 can carry up to 100 tonnes of fuel.[3] Its dual delivery systems—probe-and-drogue in the wings and boom under the tail—are designed to refuel the RAAF's McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet and Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet multi-role fighters, Boeing C-17 Globemaster III heavy airlifters, Boeing E-7 Wedgetail early warning aircraft, or other KC-30s.[3][4] It is also capable of refuelling the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. In its transport configuration, the KC-30 can carry 270 passengers or 40 tonnes of cargo.[3][5]


World War II

Military personnel and a jeep in front of a twin-engined biplane, with jungle and a mountain range in the background

No. 33 Squadron de Havilland Dragon at Kokoda, New Guinea, in February 1943

During February and March 1942, the RAAF formed four transport units: Nos. 33, 34, 35 and 36 Squadrons. No. 33 Squadron was established on 16 February at Townsville, Queensland, under the control of North-Eastern Area Command.[6][7] It was equipped with four ex-Qantas Short Empire flying boats transferred from No. 11 Squadron, along with a number of smaller types including de Havilland Dragons and Tiger Moths, Avro Ansons and Vultee Vigilants.[7][8] Less than two weeks later the squadron suffered its first loss when one of the Empires crashed on landing at Townsville; the six crew members were killed. A second Empire was destroyed at its mooring during a Japanese air attack on Broome, Western Australia, on 3 March; another Empire was impressed from Qantas to replace the lost aircraft. One of the squadron's tasks was search-and-rescue; it lost another Empire on 8 August 1942 after it sank in heavy seas off the coast of New Guinea while trying to rescue survivors of a torpedoed ship.[7]

No. 33 Squadron transferred to Port Moresby in January 1943, providing air transport to Australian forces involved in the New Guinea campaign. Transport needs were so desperate in New Guinea that even the Tiger Moths were employed, delivering a total of 77 kilograms (170 lb) per trip.[8] In September–October 1943, the squadron began taking delivery of fifteen Douglas C-47 Dakotas to replace its assortment of aircraft.[7][8] By the time it transferred to Milne Bay on 1 January 1944, it was operating Dakotas exclusively, and continued to do so for the rest of the war. The squadron relocated to Lae on 15 January 1945.[7] Following the end of hostilities in August 1945, it was tasked with repatriating service personnel and former prisoners of war.[8] No. 33 Squadron returned to Townsville on 11 March 1946, and disbanded there on 13 May.[7]

Post-war re-establishment

In 1978, the Australian government decided to purchase two passenger jets for strategic transport, primarily to mitigate what it saw as the risk of terrorist attack inherent in carrying VIPs on commercial flights. Its attempts to procure one Boeing 727 each from domestic carriers Ansett and TAA were unsuccessful but, in December, Qantas agreed to sell the government two Boeing 707s for $14.5 million.[9] Purchasing big jets for VIPs was controversial, but the 707s were also intended for general long-range transport, being capable of carrying cargo or up to 160 passengers.[10][11] The first was transferred to the RAAF in March 1979, and its inaugural Air Force flight took place on 22 April. Located at RAAF Base Richmond, New South Wales, the 707s were initially operated by No. 37 Squadron. They were formed into No. 33 Flight under the command of Wing Commander J.D. Grierson on 2 February 1981.[9][10] The flight's first mission took place the same day, when it ferried RAAF members and their families to RAAF Base Butterworth, Malaysia, a task that had previously necessitated a Qantas charter.[10]

Air-to-air view of four-engined jet transport refuelling fighter plane

No. 33 Squadron 707 refuelling a US Navy F/A-18 Hornet during the war in Afghanistan, April 2002

On 1 July 1983, after the government procured two more 707s for $7.5 million from Worldways Canada, No. 33 Flight was reorganised as No. 33 Squadron under Grierson's command.[8][9] Responsible for transporting VIPs such as members of the British Royal Family, the Governor-General, the Prime Minister, and the Pope, the 707 also became the first RAAF aircraft to land in the Soviet Union, the occasion being the funeral of Konstantin Chernenko in 1985. Along with Nos. 36 and 37 Squadrons, operating Lockheed C-130 Hercules, No. 33 Squadron came under the control of No. 86 Wing, part of the newly established Air Lift Group, in February 1987.[10] Routine servicing of the 707s and Hercules was the responsibility of No. 486 Squadron, another component of No. 86 Wing.[10][12] Qantas undertook heavier maintenance of the 707s at its jet base in Mascot.[13] The RAAF acquired three additional 707s on 25 February 1988, following a $25 million purchase from Boeing Military. One of the airframes was non-flying, for spares only, and was nicknamed "Hulksbury".[9][14]

A consortium of Israel Aerospace Industries and Hawker de Havilland converted four of No. 33 Squadron's six serviceable aircraft to in-flight refuelling tankers between December 1988 and May 1992.[9] Their probe-and-drogue configuration allowed them to refuel the RAAF's F/A-18 Hornets and the Royal New Zealand Air Force's Douglas A-4K Skyhawks, but not the RAAF's General Dynamics F-111 bombers, which required a boom system; the other two 707s continued to be used purely for long-range transport.[9][11] The RAAF had argued for an air-to-air refuelling capability for both the F/A-18s and the F-111s, but the Australian government refused to fund the latter, considering the F-111's existing range sufficient for deterrent purposes. Observers such as journalist Frank Cranston speculated that aside from any cost issues, the government was concerned that extending the bombers' range would signal to the region that Australia was adopting a more aggressive defence posture.[15][16] In April 1989, one of the 707s transported 300 Australian Army personnel in two flights to Namibia as part of the Australian contribution to UNTAG, the United Nations Transition Assistance Group policing the country's transition to independence.[17] Later that year, the squadron helped ferry members of the Australian public when the two domestic airlines were grounded during an industrial dispute; it was similarly employed in 1991 following the demise of Compass Airlines. On 29 October 1991, one of the transport-configured 707s crashed into the sea during a training flight out of East Sale, Victoria; all five crew members were killed.[9] The coronial inquest into this accident found that training in the asymmetric handling manoeuvre that caused the crash was deficient, and that the RAAF lacked a proper understanding of the handling characteristics of its 707s.[18] No. 33 Squadron transported Australian troops to and from Somalia as part of Operation Solace in 1993.[19][20]

Boeing 707 nose and cockpit with toy kangaroo at open window and cartoon of a dragon on the fuselage, along with the words "33SQN B707", "Castlereagh" and "Royal International Air Tattoo 2006"
No. 33 Squadron 707 on display in 2006 at RIAT
Grey-coloured twin-engined jet on runway
No. 33 Squadron KC-30A in 2013

In January 1998, still based at Richmond, No. 33 Squadron joined Nos. 32 and 34 Squadrons under No. 84 Wing.[21][22] Two of No. 33 Squadron's aircraft were soon employed to form No. 84 Wing Detachment A in Kuwait, as part of Operation Southern Watch. On 5 March, one of the 707s undertook the first operational aerial tanker mission since the squadron's re-formation in 1983, when it refuelled six Panavia Tornados of the Royal Air Force (RAF) over Saudi Arabia. The detachment subsequently refuelled US F/A-18 Hornets, EA-6 Prowlers, and AV-8 Harriers, as well as RAF Harriers, in addition to the Tornados.[23][24] From March to September 2002, two 707s formed No. 84 Wing Detachment as part of Australia's contribution to the war in Afghanistan.[25][26] Located at Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan, the 707s provided aerial refuelling to coalition aircraft operating in the theatre, their efforts earning No. 84 Wing a Meritorious Unit Citation.[27][28]

By the mid-1990s, the ageing 707s carrying Australian VIPs overseas were no longer compliant with foreign noise and emission regulations.[13] No. 33 Squadron relinquished its VIP transport role in 2002, following the entry into service of No. 34 Squadron's Boeing 737 Business Jets and Bombardier Challenger 604s.[29][30] The 707s were retired in 2008, bringing to an end the 29-year operational history of the type in the RAAF.[31] The last one in service, an ex-Qantas jet named "Richmond Town", flew low over Sydney on 30 June in the company of smaller aircraft filming its flight, which gave rise to fear in some quarters that a 9/11-style terrorist attack was in progress.[32] Three of the 707s remained at Richmond until 2011, when they were flown out by their new operator, the US-based Omega Air Services; Omega also procured the RAAF's Boeing simulator, which had been operated by No. 285 Squadron.[33]

Following the retirement of the Boeing 707, No. 33 Squadron relocated to RAAF Base Amberley, Queensland, on 1 July 2008 and temporarily had no aircraft.[33] It was subsequently equipped with five Airbus KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transports, the first being delivered on 1 June 2011.[2] The KC-30 could carry one-and-a-half times as much fuel as the 707 and was configured with both probe-and-drogue and boom delivery systems.[5] These aircraft had originally been scheduled to enter service late in 2008, and the RAAF had to lease tankers from the United States Air Force and Omega Air to meet its aerial refuelling needs while Airbus rectified problems with the boom system and completed essential technical documentation.[34][35] In March 2012, one of the KC-30s set a record for the number of passengers carried on an RAAF aircraft, 220 cadets from the Australian Defence Force Academy.[36] The squadron received its fifth and final KC-30 on 3 December 2012, and achieved initial operating capability in February 2013.[4][37] It is expected to reach final operating capability, with both the boom and the probe-and-drogue delivery systems, in 2014.[38]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "No. 33 Squadron's role". Royal Australian Air Force. Retrieved 20 July 2013. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "First KC-30A arrived". Air Power Development Centre. 1 June 2011. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "No. 33 Squadron's aircraft". Royal Australian Air Force. Retrieved 20 July 2013. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "RAAF's KC-30 service ready". Australian Aviation. 26 February 2013. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "New tankers to take on many roles". Air Force News. Retrieved 28 March 2013. 
  6. Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force, p. 481
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 RAAF Historical Section, Maritime and Transport Units, pp. 35–58
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Eather, Flying Squadrons, pp. 68–69
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 RAAF Historical Section, Maritime and Transport Units, pp. 38–40
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Roylance, Air Base Richmond, pp. 107–108
  11. 11.0 11.1 "33 Squadron: operational airline". Air Force Today, Vol. 1, No. 1. May 1996. p. pp. 28–29. 
  12. RAAF Historical Section, Maintenance Units, pp. 70–71
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Keeping the Boeing going". Air Force Today, Vol. 1, No. 2. July 1996. p. p. 32. 
  14. Lewis, David (1 July 2008). "Last RAAF 707 gives Sydney a scare". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  15. Lax, From Controversy to Cutting Edge, pp. 178–180
  16. Stephens, Power Plus Attitude, p. 178
  17. "No 33 Squadron B-707 ferried troops to Namibia". Air Power Development Centre. 14 April 1989. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  18. "B-707 lost in training accident". Air Power Development Centre. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  19. "Advance party headed for Somalia". Air Power Development Centre. Retrieved 2 April 2013. 
  20. "Airlift returned Army battalion from Somalia". Air Power Development Centre. Retrieved 2 April 2013. 
  21. "Bulletin board". Air Force News, Vol. 41, No. 9. October 1999. p. p. 18. 
  22. Odgers, Air Force Australia, p. 206
  23. "Gulf 707s operational". Air Force News, Vol. 40, No. 3. April 1998. p. p. 1. 
  24. "Australian Defence Force contingent deployment to the Gulf to continue". Department of Defence. 8 May 1998. Archived from the original on 2 May 2012. Retrieved 28 July 2013. 
  25. "Farewell of 84 WG Detachment". Department of Defence. 15 March 2002. Archived from the original on 19 August 2008. Retrieved 28 July 2013. 
  26. Caddaye, Ben (10 October 2002). "Well done". Air Force, Vol. 44, No. 19. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  27. Seah, Mike. "84 Wing Detachment, Ganci Air Base, Manas, Kyrgyzstan". Department of Defence. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  28. "84WG awarded unit citation". Air Force, Vol. 44, No. 19. 10 October 2002. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  29. "Challenger CL 604". RAAF Museum. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  30. "Answers to questions on notice from the Department of Defence". Budget Supplementary Estimates; October 2008. Department of Defence. 27 January 2009. Retrieved 6 June 2013. 
  31. "Boeing 707 Farewell Flights Over Sydney and Hawkesbury". Department of Defence. Retrieved 13 December 2008. 
  32. "Farewell B-707 flight". Air Power Development Centre. 30 June 2008. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  33. 33.0 33.1 "Former RAAF 707s flown out by Omega". Australian Aviation. 23 October 2011. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  34. "Airbus misses RAAF KC-30 MRTT delivery deadline". Australian Aviation. 22 December 2010. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  35. "Boom or bust! – RAAF KC-30 loses boom". Australian Aviation. 20 January 2011. Retrieved 19 June 2013. 
  36. "New passenger record set". Air Power Development Centre. 12 March 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  37. "Airbus Military delivers final A330 MRTT to Royal Australian Air Force". Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter. 11 December 2012. Retrieved 19 June 2013. 
  38. "Improvements heading KC-30A towards FOC". Australian Aviation. 30 May 2013. Retrieved 22 July 2013. 


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