In the late 1950s the Aermacchi MB-326 was a new Italian produced military jet trainer which saw a production run of nearly twenty-five years. 776 of the trainers were built, 502 of them under licence, including ones for the Royal Australian Air Force.

Cover photo: Daniel Tanner  /  Video cover: John Bartels

It was during the 1960s that the RAAF was looking to replace its Vampire and Winjeel trainers for an all-jet pilot training syllabus and the Aermacchi MB-326H (simply known as the Macchi) was selected for this purpose in August 1965. The tandem cockpit proved better for advanced flying training and the layout was considered similar to the Mirage III and Royal Australian Navy’s A-4 Skyhawk fighters.

87 of the trainers were ordered plus ten for the Royal Australian Navy. The Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation became the prime contractor for local production who built 67 of the aircraft, while 18 were assembled from kits and 12 came directly from Italy. CAC was also responsible for local production of the Macchi’s Rolls-Royce Viper turbojet engine. The first Australian Macchi was handed over in October 1968 and the ninety-seventh and last was delivered in September 1972.

The Central Flying School at East Sale in Victoria were the first to use the aircraft. It was here that a number of aerobatic teams were formed – the Telstars, and the Roulettes. The Roulettes would go on to be Australia’s best known display team, operating the Macchi from 1970 to 1989 when it was replaced by the Pilatus PC-9/A.

Macchis were also delivered to number 2 Flying Training School at Pearce, Western Australia in 1969, where they were used for advanced pilot training. For a short time during the Vietnam war the Macchi was used as an all-through trainer, but this philosophy of “all-through jet pilot training” lasted for only two courses before reverting to basic training on the piston-engined Winjeel, followed by advanced training on the Macchi.

Several aircraft also went to the Aircraft Research and Development Unit and the ten navy aircraft were used for A-4 Skyhawk transition training and pilot development. Number 2 Operational Conversion Unit and number 5 Operational Training Unit also operated the Macchi as well as numbers 25, 76, 77 and 79 squadrons.

The Macchi suffered a number of losses early in its RAAF service, including several fatal accidents and a number of ejections. Some of these accidents were as a result of the aircraft suffering from a fuel leak and engine fire problem. One of the more notable accidents was a mid-air collision in March 1988 when two Roulettes collided during flying display practice for the 1988 Bicentennial Air Show. Twenty-six Macchis were lost in just over three decades of service.

The Life Of Type Extension programme by the RAAF and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation in the early 1980s addressed fatigue issues of the airframe.

In 1983, with the demise of the Royal Australian Navy Fleet Air Arm carrier borne fixed-wing element, the RAAF absorbed their Macchi fleet.

From 1989, the Pilatus PC-9/A replaced the Macchi in the advanced pilot training role and the BAE Systems Hawk 127 replaced the Macchis for numbers 25, 76 and 79 Squadrons in 2000.

By the early 1990s the Macchis were limited in number due to fatigue issues and G-limits were imposed on the aircraft, further limiting their usefulness. The BAE Systems Hawk was ordered in June 1997 with deliveries starting in 2000 from both British and local production. The Macchi’s last public appearance was at the 2001 Australian International Airshow at Avalon.