The Royal Australian Air Force’s F-35A Joint Strike Fighter aircraft have successfully completed 1,000 flying hours at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona as the nation's acquisition and introduction of the fifth-generation air combat platform gathers pace.
Currently, the aircraft A35-001, Australia's first F-35, which was manufactured in 2014 is operated by the international Pilot Training Centre (PTC) at Luke AFB in the US.
To date, the RAAF has accepted 26 F-35A aircraft. Besides the five at the PTC, 17 are operating at No 3 Squadron and No 2 Operational Conversion Unit at RAAF Base Williamtown. The remaining four jets are scheduled to reach Australia from the US before August.
Australian F-35A pilot Flight Lieutenant Adrian Herenda was in the pilots seat of A35-001 as the clock ticked over 1,000 hours. The former F/A-18A pilot has been flying the F-35A for about 12 months and said it was a good feeling to be flying the jet when it reached the milestone.
"The F-35A provides the pilot with phenomenal situational awareness, which is a significant benefit when operating in complex threat environments," FLTLT Herenda said.
Project engineering manager Timothy Rafferty, of JSF Branch, said the milestone signified the maturity of the platform and associated support systems.
"Given A35-001 completed most of its 1000 flying hours at the PTC, this milestone highlights the contribution Australia has made to the collaborative training environment, with more than 1,000 F-35 pilots now qualified and flying with their respective services," Rafferty said.
JSF director-general Air Commodore Damien Keddie said, "It demonstrates the maturity of our F-35A capability and showcases the importance of the international F-35 partnership.
"A35-001 is one of five Australian aircraft at Luke AFB, with other F-35 partner nations also contributing aircraft to the PTC in a show of global collaboration that has been the cornerstone of the F-35 Programme since the earliest days."
Rafferty said JSF Branch personnel played a key role in the acquisition, initial certification and airworthiness management of Australia’s F-35A fleet from 2014 until mid-2018.
In 2018, the Air Combat Systems Program Office (ACSPO) in CASG assumed responsibility for airworthiness and overall sustainment management of the fleet.
"This demonstrates the critical and ongoing collaboration taking place as we work to ensure all 72 jets are delivered to Australia by the end of 2023 for final operating capability [FOC]," he said.
Squadron Leader Brook Porter said the Mission Systems team in JSF Branch was focused on ensuring Australia's needs were rolled into the weapon system as the aircraft evolved over its life cycle.
"Since 2014, we [Australia] have grown our fleet to 26 aircraft, established training systems, simulators and the complex Autonomic Logistics Information System, developed electronic warfare reprogramming capabilities and upgraded RAAF bases to handle the F-35A. We have also assisted in the creation of Australian-based industry support," SQNLDR Porter said.
This is the final year of the RAAF's contribution to the PTC. From 2021, all F-35 training is planned to be conducted in Australia.
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is billed as a catalyst for the fifth-generation revolution, changing the face and capability of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the wider Australian Defence Force (ADF).
For the RAAF, the F-35A's combination of full-spectrum low-observable stealth coatings and materials, advanced radar-dispersing shaping, network-centric sensor and communications suites – combined with a lethal strike capability – means the aircraft will be the ultimate force multiplying, air-combat platform.
Ten nations are currently flying F-35s, including the US, UK, Italy, Norway, Israel and Japan. The first of Australia’s F-35A aircraft are now based on home soil after a period of training and development at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, plus an epic Pacific Ocean crossing in December 2018.
More than 340 F-35s are operating today with partner nations, more than 700 pilots and 6,500 maintainers have been trained, and the F-35 fleet has surpassed more than 170,000 cumulative flight hours.
Over the coming years, Australia will purchase 72 of the advanced fifth-generation fighter aircraft as part of the $17 billion AIR 6000 Phase 2A/B program – which is aimed at replacing the ageing F/A-18A/B Classic Hornets that have been in service with the RAAF since 1985.