The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) says the first two F-35A pilots to be trained locally flew the aircraft for the first time on July 15.
While all RAAF F-35A pilots to date have been trained at the United States Air Force (USAF) 61st Fighter Squadron’s International “schoolhouse” at Luke Air Force Base (AFB) in Arizona or at the Integrated Training Centre (ITC) at Eglin AFB in Florida, this is the first transition course to be run in Australia.
Run by 3SQN at Williamtown near Newcastle, the course was tailored for experienced fast jet pilots who had previously flown fighters.
“The F-35A training is unique in that there is no two-seat variant to aid airborne instruction,” SQNLDR William “Gradz” Grady, a former RAAF F/A-18A/B Hornet and exchange USAF F-22A pilot said in a statement on July 25.
“As a result, we do comparatively more simulator training before flying for the first time. It has been an intensive few months, but I’m happy to say the training is first class.”
The transition course comprised two months of academic and simulator training at the RAAF’s new F-35 ITC at Williamtown, before the first flight.
“Being able to watch the launch of the first two Australian-trained pilots on their first flight was a proud moment,” 3SQN Commanding Officer WGCDR Darren Clare said.
“Although we currently still send pilots to the US for training, this shows Australia is quickly becoming self-sufficient and it all contributes to our F-35A squadrons reaching combat readiness as planned.”
WGCDR Clare said it was in January when the RAAF began testing how the F-35A integrated with the Australian logistics, base support and local training systems.
“So the credit for today’s milestone goes to all those who have worked tirelessly to ensure the F-35A has had a smooth introduction to service,” WGCDR Clare said.
“The Air Force’s first pilots to complete a RAAF F-35A Joint Strike Fighter transition course in Australia have flown the aircraft for the first time.”
There are currently four F-35As at RAAF Base Williamtown, with the third and fourth aircraft, A35-011 and A35-012, arriving in early April 2019. The pair joined A35-009 and A35-010, which were ferried from Luke in December 2018.
Six more F-35As were expected to be delivered to RAAF Base Williamtown by the end of calendar 2019.
The RAAF planned to maintain 10 F-35As embedded with the USAF 61st Fighter Squadron at the international training centre at Luke AFB until at least the end of 2021.
RAAF F-35A training will be taken over by 2OCU from 2020 after it relocates to Luke AFB to transition to the jet, and then returns home in preparation to an initial operational capability (IOC) forecast to occur in late 2020.
VIDEO: A look at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) F-35As conducting a flypast along the New South Wales Hunter Coast in December 2018 from the RAAF YouTube channel.