Australian DHC-4s Face Early Retirement

Feb 19, 2009
Robert Wall wall@aviationweek.com
Michael Bruno michael_bruno@aviationweek.com

Australia will put its DHC-4 Caribou airlifters to rest by year-end. Defense minister Joel Fitzgibbon said Feb. 19 that retirement of the remaining 13 Caribou will be moved forward to December, a plight he blamed on the conservative, predecessor government.

"The government has been left with little choice but to retire the Caribou and has reluctantly agreed to do so despite the fact that poor planning by the former government has denied us the opportunity to produce a replacement aircraft before 2013," Fitzgibbon asserted.

"The Caribou fleet is suffering badly from a range of ageing aircraft issues, and contains asbestos parts which I am determined to weed out of the Defense Force," Fitzgibbon says. The military can only get four or five aircraft ready for service as the fleet suffers corrosion, fatigue and obsolescence issues.

RAAF officers have long worried they will not find a suitable replacement for the Caribou, particularly its ability to operate on rough runways. Indeed, the decision to take the airlifter out of service after 45 years comes as the Royal Australian Air Force will actually face an important capability gap, something Fitzgibbon concedes is a misstep.

The eventual replacement will be bought through Project Air 8000 Phase 2, with the goal of fielding around 14 tactical transports. As part of a major "white paper" review of Australian defense acquisitions, studies underway whether the schedule can be accelerated. As a gap-filler, No. 38 squadron will operate up to eight Hawker Pacific King Air light transport aircraft. Three of those aircraft now in service with the army will shift to the air force.

The RAAF has been operating the Caribou since April 1964, the Australian defense ministry says. The aircraft was home based in Townsville and saw service in Vietnam, Kashmir, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and East Timor.

"Our nation is extremely proud of the magnificent service that the Caribou has provided to the Royal Australian Air Force over the past five decades," the minister said. "While there may be some who are saddened to hear of the Caribou's impending retirement, even the most vocal supporters of the Caribou will agree this decision is long overdue."

Photo: Australian Ministry of Defense

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