Two additional F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft have been delivered by Lockheed Martin to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, US, for Australia.
The two aircraft are expected to join the Royal Australian Air Force fleet next year, and are expected to be used as chase aircraft to assist with the Pilot Training Centre (PTC), supporting the program that's training pilots for the F-35.
Designated A35-013 and A35-014, the two aircraft will fly alongside test planes to monitor their performance.
Air vehicle engineer Namita Jose, of the Joint Strike Fighter Division, said chase operations involved a co-operative aircraft flying at specified flight conditions and profiles, while using its radar and other equipment to test another aircraft’s performance.
“A chase aircraft is required to monitor an aircraft just off the production line to ensure it is operating as expected, by observing its flying characteristics like airspeed, altitudes and limits, as well as checking whether the weapons bay is operating as expected,” Jose said.
“The chase aircraft must ensure it maintains safe deconfliction with the test aircraft and conduct different manoeuvres as required. The chase aircraft will continue to fly with the test aircraft until the test aircraft is signed off as serviceable for use.”
Traditionally, F-16 aircraft have fulfilled the chase role; however with the ramp up in production of the F-35 program, the Joint Strike Fighter is garnering more responsibility for these activities.
Squadron Leader Keith McGrath works in the F-35 production execution team at the US F-35 Joint Program Office and said the availability of aircraft to conduct chase operations was vital for timely production acceptance and delivery of F-35 aircraft worldwide.
“To meet increased demand, the F-35 Program has requested new partner nation aircraft to be used as chase aircraft before delivery to each partner,” SQNLDR McGrath said.
“Partner obligation for each year is based on the number of partner aircraft being produced within that production lot.”