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Thursday, April 22, 2021

RAAF centenary celebrations take flight on the face of a coin

The Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) first female pilot, former Wing Commander Robyn Clay-Williams, flew to Canberra in a C-130 Hercules today, 4 March, to celebrate a new commemorative coin collection of iconic aircraft.

Royal Australian Mint CEO Leigh Gordon says the commemorative coin set has sentimental value for him.

As a test pilot, Ms Clay-Williams played a key role in the RAAF’s acquisition of the C-130 Hercules in the late 1990s, and gained experience flying over 20 aircraft types during her career.

The Royal Australian Mint joined forced with the Royal Australian Air Force to design the set of coins, ‘A Century of Air Power’, depicting the evolution of aviation within the RAAF.

The 11-piece collection of 50 cent coins includes 10 iconic aircraft and one coin dedicated to the people who keep them in the air.

It takes about two years to plan and launch a coin collection like today’s, so it was a happy coincidence that Royal Australian Mint CEO Leigh Gordon, who stepped into the job just one month ago after 37 years in the RAAF, was present to launch a collection which held personal significance. 

Formerly Head Joint Strike Fighter Division Air Vice-Marshal, Mr Gordon played a key role in the historic arrival of Australia’s first F-35A Lightning II aircraft in 2018, which features on one of the coins.

“This is a particularly special day for me,” he said.

Mr Gordon told Canberra Weekly the Australian Mint played a strong role helping Australia tell the story of its history – celebrating anniversaries, significant organisations and events.

“And that certainly drives the Mint, and the people in the Mint.”

In January, the Mint launched a series of coins that told the stories of RAAF heroes, including Air Marshal Sir Richard Williams, who was the first military pilot trained in Australia, and Wing Commander Robyn Clay-Williams.

The Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules.

The Hercules has a 63-year long story within the RAAF, and Ms Clay-Williams said it was a classic.

“It’s a real workhorse; it’s the transport aircraft that can go into the unprepared strips, and it can do everything from tactical right through to commercial type transport,” she said. 

“It’s a very, very versatile aircraft, it’s a lovely aircraft to fly.

“And I think it’s beautiful looking, as well.

“There’s no other aircraft in the world that looks like it, so it really stands out.”

Ms Clay-Williams said the commemorative coin collections were special because they were enduring.

“It’s the sort of thing you might bury in a time capsule and dig up in 500 years and it would still be intact.”

Mr Gordon said the new collection dwells on the importance of aircraft in the RAAF, throughout its history.

“From the SE 5A that was in service when the Air Force was formed in 1921 through to some household names like the Lancaster bomber and the F-111.

The contents of the commemorative coin set.

“And, indeed, to the iconic F-35 which certainly holds a special place in my service, which represents the Air Force of today.”

Deputy Chief of Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal Stephen Meredith, said the new collection was an outstanding way to honour the service and sacrifice of the 350,000 people who served and the 11,100 who lost their lives in service to Australia over the last 100 years.

“From our modest beginnings in 1921, the Air Force has grown into a formidable, world class air force which can be relied upon both in conflict and in peace.”

The coin set is available in a limited mintage of 15,000, retailing for $175.

Visitors to the Mint can also press their own Royal Australian Air Force coin from the Gallery Press.

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