Images courtesy Department of Defence
In 2021, TAE Aerospace joins many others around the nation to acknowledge and celebrate the centenary of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
We are proud of our long association with Air Force. When Andrew Sanderson first established TAE in 2000, the RAAF was our foundation customer.
Over the past 21 years, our team has worked on sixteen types of RAAF aircraft: the F-111, B707, DHC-4 Caribou, C-130H, AP-3C, C-130J, F/A-18A, F/A-18B, PC-9, C-17, F-35A, F/A-18F, KC-30A, E-7A, EA-18G, C-27J and, this year, the Hawk 127.
Through the years we’ve provided painting, electroplating, component and structural repairs, engine maintenance, parts manufacture, wheel and brake maintenance and fire protection services. Today we are proud to support more than 70% of the current RAAF fleet.
The connection with RAAF and its aircraft is strong on both a company and personal level. Along with many of our team members, our CEO, Andrew Sanderson, and company Director, Air Vice Marshal (Retd) Mark Skidmore, worked extensively with F-111s throughout their RAAF careers.
As a young engineering graduate, Andrew led airframe and engine maintenance teams to keep F-111s operational. He later worked on the ‘coal face’ at Amberley, designing modifications and repairs to the aircraft.
While stationed at McClellan Air Force Base in California, Andrew and his team facilitated the purchase of 15 surplus US Air Force F-111G aircraft by the Australian government. These were subsequently introduced into RAAF service, supplementing the existing fleet of F-111Cs. Andrew and a US-based team also conducted Cold Proof Load testing on F-111 aircraft to test their structural integrity.
“We froze the aircraft to minus 40 to simulate flying at high altitude and applied 6G of load to the wings to see if anything broke or failed. I think you’d call it potentially destructive testing,” Andrew said.
On returning to Australia, Andrew worked in Headquarters, managing the careers of RAAF engineers, before coming back to Amberley as an F-111 Squadron Senior Engineering Officer.
Likewise, TAE Aerospace Director Mark Skidmore (Skates) has a close affinity with the F-111. He flew them for many years, along with several other RAAF aircraft.
“I did my training on the mighty CT-4 Air Trainer at Point Cook, got my pilot’s wings and was posted to an operational squadron. There were options for graduates to fly jets, transports or helicopters at the time. I was lucky enough to be selected to fly F-111s straight off the course. It was great experience and such an exciting time,” Skates said.
Rising through the ranks, Skates flew in Malaysia, New Zealand and with the US Navy as an F-111 test pilot based in Patuxent River, Maryland.
In 1993, Skates led a team of RAAF personnel and their families on the F-111C Avionics Update Program in Palmdale and Sacremento, California, where the group was stationed for three years.
Skates said he was fortunate to have so many opportunities throughout his varied RAAF career, including flying F-111, Mirage III and Macchi MB-326H aircraft, spending time in the Middle East as COAC Director, and overseeing Air Force operations as Air Commander Australia.
“The people make the RAAF. It was like a big family with great leaders and mentors to learn from. They have come a long way and their professionalism now is outstanding. It is exciting to imagine what they can accomplish over the next 100 years.”
After retiring from the RAAF, Skates said he was honoured to fly a replica of the Australian military’s first aircraft, the Bristol Boxkite.
“It’s an interesting aircraft and very well built. The feeling of being up there with nothing around you is amazing – a lot different to flying a jet at twice the speed of sound. It’s probably the most scared and excited I’ve been in an aircraft. I’d definitely do it again.”
As TAE Aerospace continues to expand globally, Andrew said our long-term partnership with Defence remains central to our business.
“We’ve helped keep RAAF aircraft flying for 21 years, and we also keep the gas-turbine engines of the Abrams Main Battle Tanks flying along fast for Army.”
“Defence is looking for capable Australian industry partners to meet its Sovereign Industrial Capability Priorities, and we have the knowledge and track record to deliver world-leading engine sustainment outcomes across platforms.”
From small beginnings, our relationship with Air Force has grown into one of our most valued partnerships.
Today and into the future, we are proud to help keep the RAAF flying.